On Second Thought: Don't blame Brett Favre
This is the first installment of CBCSports.ca's "On Second Thought" series, in which our writers make a case against conventional wisdom on a high-profile sports issue, event or play. This week, it's Brett Favre's key interception late in the fourth quarter of Sunday's NFC championship game, which the veteran quarterback's Minnesota Vikings eventually lost to the New Orleans Saints.
The football fans and observers who tired of Brett Favre's indecisive career planning in the twilight of his playing days are revelling in the schadenfreude of the veteran quarterback's throwing a back-breaking interception on what may have been the final pass of his NFL career.
The Minnesota Vikings QB's ugly toss was picked off by New Orleans in the dying seconds of the fourth quarter of Sunday's NFC championship game. The Saints went on to kick the game-winning field goal in overtime to book their ticket to the Super Bowl on Feb. 7.
That the 40-year-old Favre is the NFL's all-time leader in interceptions seems to make it a fitting potential end to the narrative of his career, rendering the paltry seven interceptions he threw this season as meaningless in the grand scheme.
Except, this seems to be a case of trying to make events fit the narrative.
If Favre pulls down the ball and doesn't make that throw, the game at the Superdome in New Orleans probably still heads to overtime. Preceding events put Favre in a position where he had little choice but to try and complete a pass in order to give his kicker a realistic shot at making a game-winning field goal.
Television analyst Troy Aikman did a huge disservice, giving armchair football "experts" fodder by suggesting that Favre could have run for several yards on the pivotal play. Never mind that Favre was visibly hobbled after getting an ankle caught between two giant Saints about 30 minutes earlier.
Things always look makeable on replay, when defenders are frozen in place.
Running no longer part of Favre's arsenal
It also should be pointed out that Aikman, for all his wonderful qualities as a three-time Super Bowl champion quarterback, rushed for 2.13 yards per carry over the last 10 years of his career.
Favre himself said after the game that "in hindsight" he should have run.
To quote Pulp Fiction, that's just pride talkin'.
Folks, Favre rushed for nine yards on seven attempts this season. That's right, seven attempts. An average of 0.8 yards per carry.
In a late December game, he attempted to throw a pass from a full two yards past the line of scrimmage. It's unlikely that a 40-year-old quarterback doesn't know where the line of scrimmage is: that decision suggested a wily vet who thought perchance the officials might not call the infraction, and one for whom running is not even on the table as an option at this stage of his career.
The run argument doesn't seem to hunt at all, but for the sake of humouring:
Given that Favre was still a couple of yards behind the line of scrimmage, there's just no way he outruns a defender to the spot where the Vikings needed to be to attempt a field goal that had a realistic chance.
Being extremely charitable, let's give him three yards on the play, putting the Vikings on the 35.
Veteran Vikings placekicker Ryan Longwell made two 52-yard field goals this season, both in his own building. During his fine career, which has spanned 13 seasons, he's never made anything beyond 45 yards in the playoffs.
We're really going to consider the possibility of Longwell making a kick from 53 to 56 yards out a realistic one in these circumstances? In a boisterous Superdome? For a team and its fans that still remember "automatic" Gary Anderson missing an OT kick in the 1999 conference title game?
The larger culprit in all of this is Brad Childress. When the Vikings started their final drive from their own 20 with 2:37 left, their head coach seemed inexplicably content to let the clock run out, calling for two running plays and letting 37 seconds tick away after the first play when he had timeouts in hand.
After Favre jumpstarted the offence with a pair of completions, Chester Taylor ripped off a 14-yard run to put the Vikings in good position at the New Orleans 33. They needed five or six more yards for a makeable field goal.
Time for a play-action pass to terrific tight end Visanthe Shianchoe (who'd been gashing the Saints for big gains all second half), right?
Nope. The Vikings called a pair of run plays, the type that made it seem like they were on the New Orleans 13-yard line and just looking for a better spot for the field goal. They then compounded matters by putting 12 players on the field, taking a crucial five-yard penalty.
Which sets up the fateful pass attempt. Obviously there was a risk that the interception gets returned all the way back, with Favre, the aging gunslinger, left in the dust on his final act.
But in the end, was the Favre pass attempt more ludicrous than Eli Manning's desperate heave into the area of David Tyree late in Super Bowl XLII? Football 101 goes out the window when you absolutely, positively have to complete a pass.
Given the unlikelihood of Longwell's making a 50-plus-yard field goal, Favre had to complete a pass.
Sure, Favre definitely shares in the blame for the poor clock management and play calling in the final two minutes. He's no novice, after all. There was also an earlier Favre pick, a case of fumbleitis from his teammates, and a really questionable pass interference call that gave New Orleans prime field position in overtime to set up their winning kick.
But, in breaking down how Minnesota again tortured its fans on the brink of a Super Bowl appearance, "the play" wasn't the thing.