Tuesday December 14th, 2010

A special Monday night doubleheader edition of musings, observations and the occasional insight as we watch the Favre-less Vikings fall 21-3 to the road-weary Giants in Detroit, while the Ravens hang on by their fingernails to outlast the Texans 34-28 in an overtime thriller ...

• Now that it's over, and part of the history books instead of the NFL's week-to-week reality, Brett Favre's 297 consecutive starts streak deservedly will go down as one of the greatest individual accomplishments in sports. And nothing will ever change that, or lessen its impact.

Playing the toughest game of all, Favre's track record of durability proves him the toughest quarterback who ever suited up. To argue otherwise is folly. The beauty of a consecutive-games streak is that it has a quality of perfection to it --and you can't beat perfection. For almost 19 seasons, the man played every chance he had to play. Case closed. End of story.

Though nothing has been decided yet, it certainly sounds like we've already seen the last of Favre in an NFL uniform. When he was listed as inactive for the Vikings' transplanted and rescheduled game in Detroit -- the first game he has missed in exactly 6,651 days -- it seemed to close out an era in the NFL.

Favre's throwing shoulder is damaged, and his right hand keeps going numb because of it. Minnesota might try to suit him up once more in one of their last three meaningless games, but I'd say the odds are much better that Favre is placed on the injured reserve list, ending his season and his career after 20 years.

As it turns out, Favre wasn't indestructible after all. Just less destructible than any other quarterback in NFL history. But at 41 years, 2 months, his body finally conceded defeat and treated him like he was any other player. Favre just cheated fate on the injury front longer than anyone ever dreamed possible. Until this particular NFL gameday, he was always the winner in that respect.

• Let's clear one thing up right now: The real number is 321. Not 297. If you're talking about a starting streak, where every game matters equally in the making of such a record, you count every game. Regular season and playoffs.

It's not as if Favre missed a playoff start at some point over the past 19 seasons, but could claim 297 straight regular-season starts, so that became the operative number. He answered the bell 321 times in a row, no matter if the game fell in September, October, November, December or January. In this case, no distinction needs to be made. He never missed a game and the streak needs no asterisk.

• It's just my opinion and not necessarily in the mainstream of thought, but Favre's feat would resonate even more if his entire streak had been entirely played out with the Packers.

It's still a tremendously impressive accomplishment, but it's just not as singular in some ways as Lou Gehrig completing his streak with the Yankees and only the Yankees, and Cal Ripken never playing for anyone other than the Orioles.

Don't read too much into my point. I'm not saying Favre's streak was second-class in any way. I'm just saying he was a Packer, Jet and Viking during his streak, and that makes it a little different than Gehrig and Ripken's feats. Favre will be remembered as a Packer, of course, but his days in New York and Minnesota are part of his legacy, too.

And for the record, football and baseball are too widely divergent to truly compare. One game is far more physically demanding, but the other sport gets played almost every day for six months, with no six days to heal up between games. So there's no right or wrong answer as to which streak is pre-eminent.

• What a potentially huge win that was for those NFL vagabonds known as the Giants. New York absolutely had to improve to 9-4 and stay tied with the first-place Eagles, in advance of their Sunday showdown at the new Meadowlands.

It's a short week of work for the Giants, but at least now they go home with a victory, a three-game winning streak and their fate in their own hands. If they can beat Philadelphia, they've got a one-game lead in the division to protect with two games to play. The NFC is likely to have a 10-win team miss the playoffs -- due to the NFC West champion getting one of the top four seeds -- and the Giants are doing their part, so far, to not be the unlucky double-digit win team.

New York doesn't have it easy after its game against Philly, because the Giants face road games at Green Bay and Washington to end their season. But New York has one advantage in its corner if it comes down to a tiebreaker with other NFC playoff hopefuls, like the Eagles and Bears. The Giants beat Chicago earlier this season, while Philly lost at the Bears.

• New York's dominating and two-headed ground game is definitely back to being a force. The Giants dented Minnesota's run defense for 213 yards on just 28 carries, at 7.6 yards per pop. Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw both topped 100 yards, and together they churned out 219 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries. Jacobs ripped off a career-long 74-yard non-scoring run, and Bradshaw galloped for a 48-yard touchdown in the third quarter.

That's very good news for a New York team that needs to rush the passer and rush the ball in order to win consistently. Two hundred rushing yards and four sacks is the Giants' best possible recipe for victory.

• The turnover problems continue to plague Eli Manning. The Giants quarterback threw two more picks against the Vikings, giving him an NFL-worst 19 this season, one shy of his career high total (20 in 2007). Combined with his five fumbles lost, Manning (24 giveaways) has turned the ball over more than any NFL player.

It's difficult to see the Giants being a legitimate Super Bowl contender in the NFC playoffs, if Manning's turnover trend continues. Either Eli tightens it up, or it'll eventually come back to end New York's season.

• After watching Baltimore blow a 21-point lead in the fourth quarter --giving up touchdown drives of 99 and 95 yards -- it should finally dawn on everyone that the Ravens' once-dominant defense is no longer deserving of that designation.

Houston produced a mind-boggling 301 yards of offense in the second half, with the Texans running 51 plays compared to Baltimore's 16. Matt Schaub's 62nd and final pass of the night was intercepted by Ravens cornerback Josh Wilson for a 12-yard game-winning touchdown return in overtime, but I don't know if I've ever seen a defense more out of gas than Baltimore's in the game's waning moments.

• Was that not the most quintessential loss in Houston's mostly tortured nine-season history? The Texans are the NFL's ultimate tease, but they so rarely please. A historic 21-point fourth-quarter comeback goes for naught, and the Texans sink to 5-8, assuring themselves a non-winning season for the eighth time in nine years.

No matter how hard he tries, Texans head coach Gary Kubiak can't seem to change the dynamic in Houston. As superb as their offense can look at times, the Texans remain defensively challenged and somehow do whatever it takes to lose. When will Kubiak finally be held accountable for those failures? Texans owner Bob McNair is the only man who can answer the question that has hung heavy in the air for the last two seasons.

• Schaub entered Monday night needing 249 yards to break David Carr's career passing yardage mark, one of the less-hallowed records in all of sports. Carr threw for 13,391 yards with the Texans, after being the franchise's largely disappointing No. 1 overall pick in 2002.

Schaub threw for 393 yards against the Ravens, completing 31 of a whopping 62 passes, for three touchdowns and two interceptions. But, of course, this being Houston, the milestone came amidst another disappointing loss.

• Not even one full quarter into his first start of the season, Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson banged knees with Adrian Peterson, and they both stayed down on the turf for a while, writhing in pain. Later in the game, Jackson was beat up pretty good by the Giants' pass rush, sacking him four times and briefly knocked him out in the third quarter with a foot injury.

Looks like Favre's record is at least safe from assault from Jackson, who likely will not be nicknamed the Iron Horse anytime soon.

• I don't know how anyone could watch Jackson's work on Monday night and feel as if the Vikings definitely have Favre's 2011 replacement on hand. Jackson was a ragged 15 of 30 for 118 yards, with one horrible interception, a fumble, no touchdowns and four sacks absorbed.

Jackson is scheduled to be a free agent in the offseason, and while Minnesota might care to re-sign him and let him battle for the starting job next season, the Vikings clearly can't put all their eggs at quarterback in that basket. Minnesota has to either draft or acquire another starting QB option between now and its next opening day.

• I think we still don't yet whether the Vikings will stick with Leslie Frazier and make him the full-time head coach next season. My guess is the glass remains half-full when it comes to Frazier, who's now 2-1 as the team's interim coach. And he might get something of a pass from team owner Zygi Wilf for this week's uninspiring performance, given the chaos the Vikings endured this weekend.

• Favre looked kind of bored and lost while roaming the Vikings sidelines on Monday, as if he didn't quite know what to do with himself.

I'm hoping that's not a portent of things to come for Favre's post-retirement years, because most veteran Favre-watchers wonder how he's going to fill his non-football days, weeks and months?

Do us all a favor, Brett. Don't end up pulling a sad, Pete Rose act and start showing up at every collector's card show that will set up a table for you to sell autographs.

• On something of a surreal night for the Vikings -- playing a home game in Detroit, without Favre under center -- there was a part of me hoping that it could only end one possible way: With ex-Vikings reserve quarterback Sage Rosenfels playing for the Giants and beating Minnesota ... with Tarvaris Jackson and Favre looking on.

That would have been coming full circle on the funky ride that was the 2010 Vikings.

• Could any NFL division have a weirder time of it than the NFC North in Week 14? The Metrodome roof collapses. The Lions win a division game for the first time since Week 8 of 2007, and then see their Ford Field painted in the colors of a division rival. The big, bad Bears absolutely wilt in the snow and cold in Chicago. And now Favre sits one out for the first time since George H.W. Bush was running for re-election against some guy named Clinton.

Strange days indeed in the Black and Blue division.

• Would have paid way more than a penny for the thoughts of one Brad Childress on Monday night, specifically when he heard the news that Favre was finally unable to go? The Vikings' exiled head coach played a bigger role than anyone in every chapter of the Favre saga in Minnesota, until almost the very end of it.

As it turned out, Childress never did pull the trigger and bench Favre as he contemplated doing both last season and again this year. And that's a good thing, because a benching would have been the worst way to see the streak end.

Childress wasn't part of the story Monday night, but without him, there never would have been a Favre era in Minnestoa.

• Strange that when the streak finally did come to a close, Favre was rendered just another spectator, like all those Detroit-area fans who got into Ford Field for free. Don't you wonder how many Lions fans might have tried to get into the freebie game if there was a good chance the injured Favre was going to play?

• At least early on, the Texans really went over the top with that all-red look at home. Red jerseys, red pants, and after Baltimore took that 21-0 lead late in the first half, the Texans were even left red-faced before their frustrated fans.

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