Favre unspectacular, but in a good way
In his official Vikings debut, Favre does just enough for the W
CLEVELAND -- Brett Favre turns 40 in less than a month. It's a nice age to retire, but a bad age to get blitzed. Forty in football years is like Joe Paterno in real years. It's old.
Favre got blitzed. He got sacked. He spent enough time on the Cleveland Browns Stadium turf to qualify for plant life.
But he also won. And at this point, in the long shadows of his 19-year NFL career, Favre is more about letters (W) than big numbers. Good thing, too, since his game stats in the Minnesota Vikings' 34-20 victory Sunday were as modest as a nun.
"It wasn't a 400-yard passing game, but it doesn't have to be," Favre said. "I'll be the first to tell you I'll take that any day of the week. As long as we win. That's what it's all about."
Favre's performance won't be featured in his Hall of Fame video clip. He completed 14 of 21 passes, but for only 110 yards and one touchdown. That's half of a first quarter for Drew Brees.
But Favre wasn't romanced and signed by the Vikings so he could pretend it was 1995 again. They don't need him to throw for 4,400 yards and 38 touchdowns. They need him to keep Minnesota in the playoff fast lane and make sure the Vikings don't suffer any head-on crashes.
Favre did that Sunday. He completed just enough passes to keep the Browns' defense sort of honest. He didn't throw any interceptions. And he did what all Vikings quarterbacks have to do: hand the ball to Adrian Peterson early and often.
"I haven't played with a running back like that," Favre said. "The guy's pretty awesome. I guess that's an understatement."
Favre is one of five Vikings co-captains, but this is Peterson's team. They will go as far as Peterson -- and Minnesota's defense -- carries them.
Peterson left purple bruise marks on the Browns, rushing for 180 yards and three TDs. He broke one, two, three, four, five tackles on his 64-yard TD run late in the fourth quarter. You almost felt sorry for the Browns.
Meanwhile, Minnesota's defense gave up two field goals and an oh-by-the-way touchdown with 28 seconds left in the game. That's it.
So sure, it was the Browns they beat (a Cleveland fan wore a Tim Couch jersey, but the C was covered with a strip of duct tape). But now you understand why the Vikings are favored to win the NFC North, and perhaps much more. And for the first time in his career, Favre is a passenger, not the driver of the bus.
"I told the team the other day when I had a chance to speak with them I have one agenda, and that is to win football games," Favre said, "however that needs to be done."
On Sunday it was by dinks and dunks, and, of course, giving the ball to Peterson, who was so light-headed early on he needed an IV. Of those 21 Favre pass attempts, only four of them traveled farther than 5 yards in the air. And if you're a Favre history buff, it was the fifth-lowest yardage total for him in a win.
Favre's first play as a Viking was as a facilitator: he handed off to Peterson. He'll do that a lot this season. Peterson gained 1 yard on the off-tackle pile driver. Favre's first pass as a Viking wasn't much better. Actually, it was worse. The flip pass to Chester Taylor lost a yard. You could hear the snickers in Green Bay and New York.
By my count, the Browns blitzed four times in the first quarter, three times in the second quarter, three times in the third quarter and once in the fourth quarter. He was sacked four times.
The Vikings are going to get blitzed to death this year. Not necessarily because of Favre, but because of Peterson. Favre said most of the blitzes came when Minnesota was in a run formation.
"I know Eric [Mangini]," Favre said, referring to the Browns coach whom he played for last season with the Jets. "I know he said, no secret, 'We got to stop Adrian Peterson.' Why would he say, 'We're going to come in and stop Brett Favre, or Sidney Rice, Bernard Berrian, or Percy Harvin? We got to stop Adrian Peterson first.'"
But some of those blitzes left holes and creases for Peterson. And on occasion, it created opportunities for Favre.
It was weird to see Favre in Jets green last season, but at least it was green. Favre in Vikings purple and white is like Bill Belichick wearing a velvet tux on the sidelines instead of a hoodie.
Still, Favre can attract a crowd. LeBron James was at the game. The press box was full, too. Everybody wanted to see how the old man would do.
"Workmanlike," said Vikings coach Brad Childress. "No blips. Don't make it sound like unspectacular is a bad thing. Making the routine plays routinely -- I talk about that all the time."
But Childress is right: Favre was unspectacular. But in a good way.
After all, this wasn't a game, or an opponent, for which he had to carry his team on his shoulder pads. But there were moments when he had to make a play. He did it too, including a 6-yard scoring pass to Harvin, the rookie from Florida.
It was Harvin's first TD pass of his NFL career. And it was Favre's first as a Viking. So naturally, Favre sprinted toward Harvin in the end zone and did what all almost-40-somethings do: He tackled him. Someone asked Favre if that was the first time he'd done that. Favre did a double take.
"You must be new," he said.
And Favre must be old. He emerged from the end zone pileup and said he felt a cramp in his hamstring. Not that he was complaining.
"I had a lot of fun today," Favre said. "I really did. Of course, winning helps. Handing to Adrian helps."
By the looks of it, Favre should get used to doing both.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at email@example.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.