Cute story? Not anymore. Packers are deadly serious
After an impressive win over the Lions, the Packers are no longer just a charming afterthought, writes Jeffri Chadiha.
DETROIT -- There was a brief moment in Green Bay's 37-26 win over Detroit when it seemed like the Packers might be in trouble. It came on their first possession of the game, actually on their first play, when quarterback Brett Favre stumbled and fumbled while attempting a handoff to Ryan Grant. The scent of an upset wafted through Ford Field when Lions defensive end Jared DeVries recovered the ball.
In retrospect, that was the only time all game when Favre looked human.
What's becoming quite clear is that Favre isn't just enjoying a renaissance for a Packers team that has surprised everybody with its current 10-1 record. He's actually engineering something that has the potential to be far more magical, and for Green Bay fans, far more memorable.
No longer are the Packers simply a charming story of how far faith, dedication and ambition can take a young team trying to make it in the NFL. They're starting to look very much like a team that could beat anybody in this league -- including the team they will face next week, the Cowboys, in what will be a heavily hyped NFC showdown on Thursday.
After all, Favre didn't just torch the Lions. He abused them in front of 63,257 fans who had postponed their Thanksgiving meals and a national television audience that should be quite accustomed to his weekly brilliance. Along with completing 31 of 41 passes for 381 yards and three touchdowns, Favre set a team record with 20 consecutive completions.
"I wasn't even aware of the record," Favre said. "I just knew that we were passing the ball efficiently. It's what was working today, so we just went with the flow."
Favre's play on Thursday was just another example of how remarkable he has been all season. The beauty of his play is that he's no longer the reckless gunslinger who threw 38 touchdown passes and 47 interceptions the previous two seasons. He's managing the game now with his deft decision making. He's controlling the tempo with his masterful touch and he's still dangerous enough to burn unsuspecting defensive backs downfield.
Instead of trying to carry the Packers on his 38-year-old shoulders, Favre has been willing to just do his part while his younger teammates do theirs.
Of course, the irony here is that Favre didn't really believe this team could be this good when the season started. He spent the offseason fuming about the Packers' decision to not trade for Randy Moss. He wondered why running back Ahman Green wasn't re-signed when the backfield lacked another proven runner. Even when Favre talked about skipping a May minicamp that he later attended, he gave the impression he was miffed at management for not surrounding him with better players.
It's clear now that Favre sees the vision that general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy had for a team that won 12 games the previous two years. He also is glad that his teammates understood his frustrations.
"Brett Favre has been playing in this league for 17 years," Packers wide receiver Donald Driver said. "When you've been around that long, all you care about is winning. And that's what Brett was concerned with [during the offseason]. He just wanted to know we were doing everything possible to win."
Favre's impression of this team has changed so much that he doesn't even think the Cowboys game will be the ultimate test of their ability.
"I think I've learned a lot already," Favre said. "One game won't decide how good or bad we are because we've overcome a lot this season. There have been different scenarios all season that make you say, 'Maybe we are pretty good.' And there have been situations in the past where we might have lost some of the games we've won."
There's little question that a fair share of that success results from the trust Favre has with his receivers, which was evident on Thursday. He connected on slant passes to Greg Jennings. He exploited the Lions' coverage with crossing routes to Driver -- who caught 10 passes for 147 yards -- and James Jones.
Frankly, it really didn't matter who was catching the balls and who was trying to defend them after a certain point. Favre was displaying the kind of rhythm that would make Justin Timberlake envious.
It's that efficiency that has made the Packers' offense, a unit that has averaged 33.8 points in its last four games, even more potent as the season has progressed. Favre has seven 300-yard passing games this season, which ties his career high. He's also had a passer rating of at least 100 in his last five games, which also matches the best run of his career.
Even more important, he's helped give the Packers a four-game lead over the Lions in the NFC North, which means Green Bay could wrap up the division title as early as next week.
Favre clearly was happiest about that kind of opportunity following the game. He's already had a historical season, in which he has set NFL records for wins, touchdown passes and interceptions. But this season has been made even more rewarding because of Green Bay's playoff potential. Not bad considering that a year ago, the Packers were in the midst of a three-game losing streak that dropped them to 4-8, before a four-game winning streak in December salvaged a .500 season.
"Things weren't looking so good at this point last year, but now we've put ourselves in position to have some options at the end," Favre said. "Only one team can win it all, and hopefully, we can be that team."
That thought seemed laughable when this season began. But now, after yet another great performance by a future Hall of Famer, anything appears possible for Favre's Packers.
Jeffri Chadiha is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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