Jets buoyed by Favre's play, personality
Brett Favre came to the Jets to win. He also wanted to have fun. So far, he's doing well on both fronts, writes Greg Garber.
For Brett Favre, it was another day in wind-chilled paradise, just another summer day back at Lambeau Field.
While most players moved briskly to the next drill, Favre pantomimed a slow-motion jog that drew laughs. He lined up linebacker Eric Barton for an emphatic butt-slap and later caught backup quarterback Kellen Clemens with the same stinging, signature maneuver.
The Jets are coming off four straight victories and, at 7-3, are a game ahead of the pack in the AFC East. New York is in sole possession of first place for the first time in seven years. The Jets meet the 10-0 Tennessee Titans on Sunday, and by the way they went about their business this week at their new facility in suburban New Jersey, you'd swear they think they have a chance.
This time last year, the record was 2-8 and the atmosphere in Hempstead, N.Y., was funereal. What's different? Sure, nose tackle Kris Jenkins has been huge (literally, at a listed 349 pounds) in stopping the run and, yes, the offensive line has been terrific with the addition of guard Alan Faneca. Favre, of course, was one of the highest-profile acquisitions in the history of the league, but it's not just his play on the field that has elevated the Jets.
Favre is 39 years old. But his enthusiasm, his obvious joy for the game, has changed the Jets' chemistry and, maybe, something even greater.
"He's changed the culture totally," wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery said. "When I first met him, he was saying that the two things he was going to do was score touchdowns and have fun. And we've been scoring touchdowns, and we've been having a lot of fun.
"It's more relaxed. Guys are having fun each and every day. Guys are happy to be here."
The veterans will tell you that "fun" was not a word that surfaced often in coach Eric Mangini's two previous seasons.
"Believe me," Favre said, "there's nothing fun about meetings. There's not a whole lot of fun in practice. There's not a whole lot of fun in losing, but you can make it as easy or as hard as you want. I try to make it easy.
"No one is as competitive as me. No one has as much fun as me. I love to play the game. There's nothing like throwing a touchdown pass. There's nothing like going into Foxborough and beating [the Patriots] when no one gave us a chance."
Mangini has been impressed.
"He can be focused, get his work done, but keep the group light, keep practice fun, keep the guys excited about each day," Mangini said. "He's got that passion for football, that love of the game, that's very contagious."
Since arriving for his 18th season on Aug. 7, Favre has been working to assimilate the Jets' offense and the particular skills of his teammates. As always with Favre, it has not been a straight-line affair. This, after all, is the man who is the NFL's all-time leader in touchdowns (460) and interceptions (300). Favre threw seven interceptions in a span of three games, but there has been only one over the past three games.
Favre has thrown for 18 touchdowns, balanced by 12 interceptions, and has a tidy 93.0 passer rating, better than his career average of 86.0. Ten games in, he said he is more comfortable with all the moving parts. The biggest play in last week's 34-31 victory over the Patriots came on the winning drive in overtime when Favre converted a third-and-15 with a 16-yard quick seam pass to tight end Dustin Keller. Favre said that this was the first game the Jets had included the play in the game plan and that he worked with Keller through the previous week on mastering its intricacies.
Still, there is always time for horseplay.
"He is the notorious butt-slapper," Cotchery said. "You have to watch out for him because you may be stretching out or something, and he just comes out of nowhere."
Mangini himself was victimized on national television after the Thursday night game Nov. 13. Moments after the Jets had defeated the Patriots, Favre accepted a hug from Mangini, then as Mangini walked away -- whack!
"At that point, it was perfectly fine," Mangini said. "No problem. I didn't even feel it. Shoot with what I'm working with, I wouldn't feel much."
When Jenkins said earlier this week, "I think that's the oldest 12-year-old playing in the league," the nose tackle meant it in a nice way.
Favre understands he's on the backside of his career. His news conference answers are exceedingly thoughtful, approaching earnest. When he visits stadiums, he remembers to savor the memories because it could be the last time.
Despite the gee-whiz attitude, the grab-ass antics, Favre feels his age every day.
"If you're chasing your kids around the house, whatever, 'Let's go one more time.' You go, 'Oh ' Believe me, I'm no different," Favre said. "I'm 39 years old. I'm out there running around, and sometimes I'm going, 'Whew, I need to take a break.'
"It's still fun. There's nothing like going to play the undefeated team in football right now. All eyes will be on us. I hope we win the football game. I'm going to do everything I can, but I'm going to have fun in the process."
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.