Black, Blue and Back
Monday, September 8, 2008
MIAMI, Sept. 7 -- Brett Favre loosened the drawstring on his dirt-stained football pants and slid his sockless feet into rubber shower shoes. He pulled off his grimy jersey and shoulder pads and tugged a crisp New York Jets visor on his head, then hobbled to the tiny interview room at Dolphin Stadium with a piece of medical tape sticking to his ankle.
There, framed by television cameras from the chest up, Favre stood over microphones looking neat, clean and carefree as he rehashed the Jets' 20-14 victory, which had been absolutely nothing of the sort.
In his first non-exhibition game since last season's frigid and snowy NFC championship game in Green Bay, Favre took a considerable beating from the Miami Dolphins in steamy, near-90-degree conditions Sunday. Yet he emerged a victorious and almost heroic figure.
Despite just a month of work with the Jets, his first team after 16 seasons with the Packers, Favre balanced obvious struggles -- and rattling hits -- with spectacular scoring plays in one of the most anticipated opening games he has played.
And there have been many. Sunday's game was his 254th straight regular season start.
"The last full game I played in was 120 degrees cooler," he said with a grin. "I knew that it was going to be a battle for a lot of reasons, just because of the newness for me and having to overcome three-and-a-half weeks of work."
Favre, 38, opened the scoring with a 56-yard touchdown lob to Jerricho Cotchery after freezing Miami's secondary on a textbook play-action fake. He added another touchdown in the second quarter on a fourth-down pass that he released while falling in the clutches of about three defenders. And Favre completed three of four attempts on what proved to be the winning drive late in the third quarter, giving the Jets what appeared to be a comfortable 20-7 lead.
But he also fumbled deep in Miami territory. He missed receivers. He risked interceptions. He worried that his coach didn't feel comfortable calling a full range of plays for him. And he "got knocked silly for about 30 seconds," he said, recalling the hit he took from Matt Roth that drew a personal foul.
"I'll probably be sore as heck tomorrow," he said. "But leaving the field with a win makes it easier."
Miami quarterback Chad Pennington, who played eight seasons for the Jets before they released him after acquiring Favre in August, perhaps wished he could say the same. For a few fleeting minutes, it looked as if he might ruin Favre's debut, sweeten his own and allow the Dolphins to match their win total from last season.
But it didn't work out that way. Though Pennington threw an 11-yard touchdown to David Martin with just more than three minutes remaining and then led Miami on a potential game-winning drive, the threat came to an abrupt end with an interception in the end zone with five seconds left. The Dolphins came within 18 yards of an upset.
After Darrelle Revis wildly celebrated his game-saving interception, Pennington complained of no hurts -- except for one. When asked if he was in any physical pain given the four sacks he absorbed, Pennington pointed to his chest.
"Right here," he said, "in my heart."
He also said: "I just hate losing. I hate it as bad as you can imagine. . . . It doesn't matter if it's the Jets or any other of the 31 teams."
Pennington seemed to have more miscommunications with receivers and more wild throws than Favre, but he ended the afternoon with decent numbers: 26-of-43 passing for 251 yards, 2 touchdowns and an 82.6 rating. Favre hit 15 of 22 for 194 yards with no interceptions and a 125.9 rating.
In the game's other debut, Miami running back Ricky Williams, returning from a reconsidered retirement and a later drug suspension, started and tag-teamed with Ronnie Brown. Williams gained 24 yards on 10 attempts.
It was Favre's second touchdown that will be repeated on highlight shows. Because of a strained thigh to place kicker Mike Nugent, the Jets were forced to go for a fourth-and-13 play from the Miami 22 midway through the second quarter. Under a heavy rush, Favre eluded one tackler but was in the process of being dragged down by several others when he launched the ball awkwardly -- and weakly. It appeared to be intended for Laveranues Coles in the back of the end zone, but it didn't make it that far.
"That ball was just like a shot put," Favre said. "I can't believe it went as far as it did."
Chansi Stuckey ran under it at the goal line and grabbed it for the score.
"That's all luck," Miami linebacker Joey Porter said. "You don't practice that. You don't practice close-my-eyes-and-just-throw-up-a-Hail-Mary. I can't give him too much credit. . . . Trust me, they don't practice that."
Whether aided by blind luck or a bevy of experience, Favre survived what has been an extraordinary ordeal since he announced his retirement after last season. When Favre decided to return just months later, Green Bay officials refused to welcome him back, sending him to the Jets after weeks of unpleasant maneuvering by both sides.
Favre said despite late nights of studying his playbook -- including Saturday night -- he remained only about 75 percent prepared for the season. His body hurts, too; he speculated he would be in pain through Wednesday.
"I'd be lying if I sat here and told you I feel real confident in the passing offense right now," he said. But, "I said this from Day One, I know I made the right decision. I enjoy these games."