By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Credit
Wednesday, October 6, 2010; 12:21 AM
When Brett Favre beat the Green Bay Packers twice last season and nearly guided the Minnesota Vikings to the Super Bowl, it seemed that the future Hall of Famer might have been repaying the Packers for refusing to welcome him back in the summer of 2008, after the first of his two retirement announcements.
But as the Packers prepare to face the Washington Redskins on Sunday at FedEx Field, they're tied for first place in the NFC North, ahead of Favre and the Vikings, and Aaron Rodgers could be en route to a third straight stellar season as Favre's successor as Green Bay's quarterback.
It seems increasingly likely that the Packers' brain trust of President Mark Murphy, General Manager Ted Thompson and Coach Mike McCarthy will be remembered not for rejecting a quarterbacking legend, but for making the proper choice when they stuck to their plan to make Rodgers their starter. The standoff ended with Favre's trade to the New York Jets.
"Brett had a great, illustrious career in Green Bay," former Packers wide receiver Antonio Freeman said this week. "But all good things come to an end. Whether Brett was ready for it or not, that's what they had to do. When you use a first-round draft pick on a quarterback and invest that in him, he's going to get his chance at some point."
Said former San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman Randy Cross, an NFL analyst for CBS: "Just look at how many guys have had the success that Aaron Rodgers has had the last two years. It's not too many. Ted Thompson didn't mind being viewed as the bad guy."
The Packers will enter the matchup with the Redskins with a record of 3-1, tied with the Chicago Bears atop the NFC North. The Packers are a Super Bowl favorite of many who analyze the NFC. Rodgers is tied for eighth in this season's NFL passer ratings. He already is the first quarterback in league history to top 4,000 passing yards in each of his first two seasons as a starter and, at 26, he's 14 years younger than Favre.
But back in the summer of 2008, no one knew whether Rodgers would succeed. He'd played in only seven games in three seasons as Favre's backup, and he'd thrown 59 regular season passes at that point.
When Favre changed his mind and wanted to rejoin the Packers in training camp, there was some sentiment in Green Bay that he should be given back his job. But the Packers didn't yield.
"If anyone was going to not be treated that way, it was Brett," said Freeman, formerly Favre's teammate and top wide receiver. "He was so popular there. He could have run for mayor and won. I was totally shocked they made that decision. I remember Brett was so mad, he went back there and basically said, 'Why don't we have a tryout?' But it happened. That's football. You saw the same thing just happen in Philly with Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb.
"You have to think about the future. . . . Brett couldn't keep that team on hold. For two years, Rodgers prepared as if it were his team. Every year that Brett came back and Rodgers spent another year holding a clipboard, it was another year down the drain for him," Freeman said.
Favre spent one season with the Jets. He announced his retirement a second time but changed his mind again, and now is in his second season with the Vikings.
He took the Vikings to the NFC title game last season, losing in overtime in New Orleans, and finished fourth in the league most valuable player voting in what he calls the finest season of his career. But he and the Vikings have struggled early this season after Favre again contemplated retirement but agreed to play a 20th NFL season. The Vikings have a record of 1-2 and Favre has thrown six interceptions in three games.
The Packers, meantime, also have had some early-season issues. They lost tailback Ryan Grant to a season-ending ankle injury suffered during an opening win at Philadelphia. They started 2-0 but committed a franchise-record 18 penalties during a Monday night loss at Chicago, then rebounded with a two-point triumph at home over the winless Detroit Lions last Sunday that might have been a bit too close for comfort.
Rodgers created a bit of a stir by saying during his postgame news conference Sunday that he thought the Packers had to regain their offensive identify and had to focus on having their best players on the field in formations featuring plenty of receivers to make opposing defenses stretch to cover the entire field. McCarthy replied Monday by saying that coaches coach and players play. But McCarthy also said Monday that he and Rodgers were on the same page, and both have expressed satisfaction with the team's spot in the standings.
"We're 3-1," Rodgers said after Sunday's game. "I think that's the most important thing."
McCarthy said at a news conference Monday: "The Super Bowl, they don't play that until February. Frankly, the only team that really deserves to even talk about the Super Bowl is the New Orleans Saints. They're the champion until someone takes it away from them. I think we all understand that in our locker room. Our goal is to win and improve weekly and we've got a lot of room for improvement, and we're just going to stay the course."