Lingering doubts about the Brett Favre acquisition were silenced yesterday afternoon amid a record-breaking barrage of touchdown passes, as the resurgent New York Jets defeated the Arizona Cardinals by a score of 56-35 at the New Jersey Meadowlands. Capitalizing on an uncharacteristically aggressive game plan, Favre connected on a career-best six touchdown passes, propelling the franchise to its greatest offensive output in 23 years and pulling the team’s season back from the brink of oblivion. In many ways, yesterday’s game was a microcosm of a storied career marked by headstrong misadventure and stunning, overwhelming redemption, all within the span of minutes.
On the team’s second drive, and after an uninspired three-and-out to start the game, Favre took the snap on third and one from the Cardinals’ 48. Rolling right and finding no one, he heaved an astonishingly ill-advised pass back across the field, against his momentum, and into the left flat for fullback Tony Richardson, he of one catch all season. It was the kind of thing one would expect from a rookie, not an 18-year veteran whose bust in Canton is already on backorder. And as the ball fell so predictably into the hands of streaking Cardinals linebacker Chike Okeafor, the man so accustomed to unending cheers and goodwill in Green Bay met with the same ordinary boos and pessimism that defined the tenure of his many Jets predecessors.
The fans, after all, had seen that before. But it’s what they hadn’t seen that would follow for the rest of the game: a display of aerial brilliance absent since Joe Namath tossed six touchdowns in a game 36 years ago. On the very next drive, Favre took over on the Cardinals 49 following Kris Jenkins’s block of a Neil Rackers field-goal attempt. Favre marched the Jets to the Arizona 1 before a holding penalty negated a 2-yard touchdown flip to tight end Bubba Franks on first and goal. And after Favre’s second-down attempt for Laveranues Coles fell incomplete, the Jets faced third and goal from the 12. Ordinarily, this would have been where Jets mailed it in with a draw play or yet another wide-receiver screen—anything to foreclose the possibility of actually scoring a touchdown. But not this time.
For once, and to his credit, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer wasn’t content to settle for the latest in a long series of deflating field goals. Perhaps this was an outgrowth of the well-deserved criticism of his unimaginative play calling to date, but whatever the reason, Favre took full advantage, stepping up in the pocket and firing a whistling bullet to Laveranues Coles at the back of the end zone for a touchdown and an eventual seven-point lead that the team would never relinquish despite a defense seemingly committed to a Cardinals comeback.
Five more touchdown passes would follow, and were it not for a rare drop by Coles near the end of the first half, the total number would have been seven.
Remarkably, not six weeks removed from walking into Jets camp admittedly out of shape and without the slightest knowledge of the playbook, the nearly 39-year-old Favre now leads the NFL in touchdown passes and quarterback rating, which, at 110.8, is more than ten points above his single-season career high.
There have been some growing pains, of course. The early-season effort to assimilate Favre into the context of the broader offense was a predictable failure that lies at the feet of the coaching staff. The notion that Brian Schottenheimer, the 34-year-old progeny of Martyball and the steward of two utterly lackluster seasons as offensive coordinator, was going to remake the Hall of Fame quarterback by suppressing the very tendencies that made him great was as arrogant as it was stupid. Apparently, Schottenheimer lost sight of what ought to have been obvious: Brett Favre was brought here to bring the Jets up to his level, not be brought down to theirs. After all, Schottenheimer’s affection for fancy shifts, odd alignments, and game-managing quarterbacks saw the Jets rank 18th and 25th in total points in 2006 and 2007, respectively. It was time to hand the keys to Brett Favre.
Of course, it should have happened sooner. It is said that the Jets had reservations about affording Favre too much deference too soon lest they offend certain factions of the locker room by creating an air of Favre exceptionalism similar to that which purportedly prevailed in Green Bay. From the much-publicized penalty laps in training camp to the almost-forced observations that Favre was “just a regular guy,” the coaching staff seemed to protest too much.
In reality, of course, Favre is not just a regular guy. He could never be. He was brought here precisely because he wasn’t, and the Jets shouldn’t want him to be. Brett Favre’s job is to be Brett Favre at his worst and best, and to the Jets’ incredible good fortune, it appears as though he is poised to do just that over the remaining 12 games.
With one quarter of the 2008 season now complete and the team’s record even at 2-2, the maelstrom of irrational exuberance and knee-jerk negativity that defined the last four weeks has resolved into a temporary calm as the Jets enter the bye week and prepare for the remainder of the schedule, which begins with an array of eminently winnable ball games including upcoming dates with the moribund Cincinnati Bengals (0-4), the apparently coachless Oakland Raiders (1-3), and the Herm Edwards-helmed Kansas City Chiefs (1-3). By rights, the Jets ought to win all three games and head into their November 2 showdown with division-leading Buffalo at a handsome 5-2.
Of course, much can happen between now and then, just as much happened between Monday night and yesterday afternoon, but even if many questions remain, one has been answered: the man whom the Jets acquired from Green Bay was not the man who wore “Namath” on the back of a Rams uniform in 1977. Nor is he the man who wore “Unitas” in San Diego—–or even the guy who wore #19 for the Kansas City Chiefs. No, he’s the same guy he always was. He’s Brett Favre.