The NFL

September 30, 2007

Higher Ground

A rejuvenatedBrett Favre is showing that this Packers season will be much more than just arun for the records

AS BRETT FAVRErallied the Packers to the 38th fourth-quarter, come-from-behind win of hiscareer on Sunday, throwing for 369 yards and three touchdowns in a 31--24defeat of the Chargers at Lambeau Field, Greg Jennings turned to fellow GreenBay wide receiver Donald Driver and said what many in the sellout crowd of70,733 were probably thinking to themselves, "The old Brett isback."

Combining ayouthful enthusiasm that belied his fast-approaching 38th birthday with thepoise and wisdom of a player who has seen it all over 17 NFL seasons, Favredissected the San Diego secondary, led the Packers to their first 3--0 startsince 2001 and tied Dan Marino's career record of 420 touchdown passes. For thefirst time since 2004, Green Bay has sole possession of first place in the NFCNorth, with suddenly winnable division games at Minnesota and against the Bearscoming up in the next two weeks.

It's been astunning turnaround for a Green Bay club that dropped 12 games in 2005 andstarted 4--8 in '06, its first season under coach Mike McCarthy. Last year thePackers struck bottom after losses to the Patriots and the Jets by an aggregate73--10 in Weeks 11 and 13. Since then they have won seven straight, with all oftheir victories this season over teams that went to the playoffs last winter:the Eagles, Giants and Chargers. McCarthy had circled San Diego on the schedulebecause the Chargers play a 3--4 style similar to the Patriots and the Jets,and because he wanted to prove that the Packers, who were just 2--10 againstthe AFC over the last three season, could beat a playoff-caliber team from thatconference.

"It was a bigwin for our program because we're doing it one step at a time," saidMcCarthy on Sunday night. "We knew [the Chargers] were going to try to comein here and pound the ball, so I thought we definitely responded to that. Andin that fourth quarter we matched them blow for blow, punch for punch, big playfor big play. That's what you have to do to win those types of games. That'swhat we're pushing, that's what we're selling, and these guys are believing it.It's fun when it works out your way."

No one was havingmore fun than Favre on Sunday. When the Packers, trailing 21--17, failed toscore on a first-and-goal from the one midway through the fourth quarter, thegame seemed lost. But after Green Bay forced a punt with 2:27 remaining, Favreshowed he can still conjure magic with his right arm. On second-and-10 he tooka three-step drop and, without hesitation, fired to the backside of theformation, where Jennings had broken free on a slant route after freezingnickelback Antonio Cromartie with a stutter step. The ball hit Jennings instride, and he raced 57 yards for the go-ahead, Marino-tying touchdown.

"I used towatch the Packers when I was growing up, and I hated them because they alwayspulled out that game that you just knew they were going to lose," saidJennings, 24, a Kalamazoo, Mich., native who cheered for Lions running backBarry Sanders as a kid. "I couldn't stand Brett, the Packers or anything todo with a Cheesehead because they always found a way to win. That's what[Sunday] kind of reminded me of. The Pack's got the swagger back."

The comeback andthe playmaking may have been vintage Favre, but the approach was not. Longknown for his eagerness to take chances and air it out, Favre was instructed bythe coaches to make less risky choices this season. Well aware that theChargers led the league in sacks last season and that his offensive line wasbanged up—Green Bay listed 17 players on the injury report during the week,including three offensive linemen and a tight end—Favre followed orders onSunday. He released the ball quickly rather than daring the rush to get him andoften relied on three-step drops. At one point on the goal line he evensuggested a run to McCarthy, something a younger, more rambunctious Favre wouldnever have done.

"He's beenextremely sharp the last two weeks," McCarthy said of Favre, who has a 93.5passer rating through three games, after 70.9 in 2005 and 72.7 in '06. "Hisability to make that quick decision is second to none. Hopefully he's hit astride that we're going to stay in for a long time."

ONLY AT SI.COMPeter King's Monday Morning Quarterback.

Trotter's Take

Expect Dallas to open contract talks with QB Tony Romosoon. A source familiar with the situation says the team wanted to wait untilafter the first month to begin discussions, presumably to see if Romo, anunrestricted free agent after this season, would suffer a drop-off. Hasn'thappened.... With 514 yards from scrimmage, Eagles back Brian Westbrook (right)is on pace for 2,741, which would shatter Marshall Faulk's league record. Thequestion is whether the oft-injured Westbrook can hold up. He's alreadybothered by an abdominal strain.... After QB Philip Rivers failed to go torunning back LaDainian Tomlinson on a third-down pass, the two had words.Tomlinson told Rivers, "Just do what you're supposed to do." The samecould be said for other Chargers. Tomlinson has just 130 rushing yards throughthree games because defenses don't respect San Diego's passing attack.

PHOTOJOHN BIEVERALL 4 ONE Favre's touchdown toss to Jennings tied the record and won the game. PHOTOJOHN BIEVER[See caption above] PHOTOERIC HARTLINE/US PRESSWIRE (WESTBROOK)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)