Commentary

Favre-Rodgers saga didn't have to end this way

Updated: January 2, 2009, 6:54 PM ET
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

The e-mails began arriving shortly after the New York Jets' season ended.

"Get ready to print your retraction," read one.

Brett Favre

Favre

Quarterback
New York Jets

Profile

2008 Season Stats
Att Comp Yds TD Int Rat
522 343 3472 22 22 81.0

"I'll bet you don't remember me," began another. "I'm the guy who said, 'I think you're wrong about Brett Favre. I think he's washed up."'

And "[Aaron] Rodgers is, right now, much, much better than Favre -- not a little, a whole lot better."

Turns out some Green Bay Packers fans have long memories, except when it comes to the Packers' 6-10 record this season. They also have blind spots; we all do. I have one for Favre and will never apologize for it. I also have one for the Packers. It's my favorite pro team, favorite stadium, favorite helmet logo, favorite game-day experience. I grew up on that franchise.

Aaron Rodgers

Rodgers

Quarterback
Green Bay Packers

Profile

2008 Season Stats
Att Comp Yds TD Int Rat
536 341 4038 28 13 93.8
But sorry, there won't be any retractions. Just because Rodgers had a better statistical season doesn't mean the Packers were a better team without Favre.

First of all, the numbers don't always make the man. If they did, then six of the top 10 quarterbacks by passing yards and six of the top 10 by touchdowns wouldn't be done with their seasons. But they are, including Rodgers and Favre.

I wrote before the season's start that Packers management botched the entire Favre situation. I stand by that. Favre changed his mind about retirement, but the Packers just as clumsily changed their minds about Favre.

I wrote that Favre was the best QB on the roster: "Again, nothing against Rodgers, who finds himself between a rock and a legacy, but if the goal is to win as many games as possible, then [general manager Ted] Thompson has to embrace Favre's possible return." I stand by that, too.

Rodgers played well this season. He played hurt. He played in the blinding light of the post-Favre era and did so with poise and heart. If he stays healthy (he played much of the season with a shoulder injury), the Packers have themselves a quarterback.

But Favre played well, too -- not as often as Rodgers did, but well enough that the Jets were 8-3 after beating the then-undefeated Tennessee Titans on the road. You remember: That was the same week the Packers got beat 51-29 by New Orleans to drop to 5-6 and start a five-game losing streak. Weird. I don't remember getting any "Favre's washed up" e-mails then.

Turns out Favre played hurt, too. No surprise there. But a now-diagnosed torn biceps tendon affected his arm strength down the stretch.

His critics say he looked old. Duh -- he's 39. But isn't there the possibility that he simply looked injured? Big difference.

The mistake people make is trying to compare Rodgers' season with Favre's. Rodgers had more passing yards, more touchdowns, fewer interceptions, more rushing yards and a higher passer rating -- so he's clearly the better quarterback.

But do wins count for anything? Favre's Jets had nine compared to the Packers' six. They beat three playoff-bound teams; the Packers defeated one. Favre's Jets gagged away their division lead in the last month, but they still had a chance at the playoffs. The Packers were officially eliminated with two weeks remaining in the season.

Do divisions count for anything? Favre's Jets played in an AFC East in which two teams finished with 11 wins and the worst team finished with seven. Compare that to the mediocre NFC North, home of only one double-digit-win team (the Minnesota Vikings) and the 0-16 Detroit Lions. One-third of the Packers' victories came against the losingest team in the history of the NFL.

Do circumstances count for anything? Favre didn't have the benefit of a full training camp or a full playbook. Everything was a work in progress with the Jets -- and stayed that way. (And yes, I know Chad Pennington made a similar transition from the Jets to the Miami Dolphins and thrived. It was a remarkable season for him. Pennington deserves much of the credit, but it helped that he was in Jets/Dolphins camp for the entire time. And it's clear now that Tony Sparano and his Miami staff were more nimble and better prepared for the transition than the Jets' Eric Mangini and his staff.)

Rodgers had the pressure of replacing Favre, but he also had an entire offseason and training camp to prepare for it. And there can't be any debate that the Packers' skill players, especially at wide receiver, were better than the Jets'.

Anyway, the move from the Packers to Jets doesn't absolve Favre from throwing a league-leading 22 interceptions. Some of those INTs were killers. But the same goes for Rodgers, whose late-game interceptions in Week 14 against Houston and Week 15 against Jacksonville ended comeback attempts. In fact, Rodgers was 0-8 in comeback situations this season.

The simple truth is we'll never know if the Packers would have been better or worse with Favre this season. That's because it was never an option.

All we know for sure is that the inconsistent and underachieving Packers moved on. Did they move forward? I don't know -- is 6-10 moving forward after playing in an NFC Championship Game with Favre a season earlier?

I'm not blaming Rodgers for the mess. He wasn't perfect, but he also wasn't the problem -- just like Favre wasn't the main problem with the Jets. I see why Thompson was willing to make a leap of faith with Rodgers, but Favre's departure could have -- and should have -- been handled better by Packers management.

What I don't see is why it had to end this way, with some Packers fans reveling in the Jets' failures and Favre's injury and struggles. It's as if they can live with a 6-win season as long as Favre and the Jets suffer, too. Dumb.

So no retractions. Favre did what he could. So did Rodgers. As it turns out, neither was enough.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter

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