Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson thought he’d earned a nice souvenir in Minnesota earlier this month, only to have it taken away on a pass interference penalty.
Now comes Woodson’s next big chance at an interception off former teammate Brett Favre.
“I thought I had one,” Woodson said. “So we’ll take another shot at it on Sunday.”
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But going into Sunday’s mega-matchup between the Packers and Vikings at Lambeau Field, those Favre interceptions suddenly are a lot harder to come by.
The formula that made Favre the NFL’s career interceptions leader was simple. He’d regularly throw into coverage, then shrug his shoulders and say he was just trying to make a play. But seven games into his tenure with the Vikings, Favre has been picked off only three times and is completing 68.9 percent of his passes – more than seven points above his career average.
OK, gray-haired guy with the purple helmet: Who are you, and what have you done with the ol’ gunslinger?
“All the pressure isn’t on his back,” Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe said. “He has a lot of elite players around him, playing at high levels as well. So the weight is distributed. It’s not pressure for him to put the whole team on his back. Every skill position is pretty much elite here.”
Surrounded by star running back Adrian Peterson, a strong offensive line and good receivers, Favre is staying within the structure of the Vikings‘ offense and not taking his characteristic chances with the football. He’s suddenly more surgeon than slinger, a ruthlessly efficient quarterback with a 6-1 record.
Still, it’s not clear whether “Bad Brett” is on permanent vacation or just a temporary hiatus. And Sunday’s game at Lambeau Field will be a significant test of his newfound discipline.
Favre will have to handle an improving Packers defense, a potentially ornery crowd – and, most important, his own emotions about returning to the place where he starred for 16 NFL seasons.
Favre said there’s no secret to channeling emotional energy into productive play.
“I wish I had a secret, because in all big games I would have played that way,” Favre said. “We’re all human and we make mistakes or make plays sometimes. At least for me, I look back and say, ‘Wow. I don’t know how I did that.’ Or I look back and say, ‘If you had just held it a little bit longer for this or that.’ To me, being able to focus, being relaxed, kind of seeing things clearly as they’re happening, is a much better and more productive way to play.”
The Packers will do their best to conjure Bad Brett, just for old times’ sake.
“This is the National Football League. Everybody makes mistakes,” Packers safety Atari Bigby said. “It’s just a matter of capitalizing off those mistakes and making a team pay. If we do that, we’ll be good.”
The Packers didn’t do a very good job of that in their first crack at Favre, a 30-23 loss at Minnesota Oct. 5.
Green Bay held Adrian Peterson to 55 yards on 25 carries, but wasn’t able to sack Favre and barely laid a hand on him. Favre picked apart the defense, completing 24 of 31 passes for 271 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
And if Favre’s emotions were revving against his former team, his controlled play didn’t show it.
Favre is perhaps the NFL’s most emotion-driven player, but that hasn’t always been to his benefit.
While everybody remembers him throwing four touchdowns against Oakland the day after his father died in 2003, they sometimes forget he threw four interceptions in a loss to Seattle the first time he faced former coach Mike Holmgren in 1999.
And Favre hasn’t been at his best under playoff pressure of late, going 3-5 with 14 touchdowns and 16 interceptions in the postseason since 2002. Packers fans still haven’t forgotten his overtime interception in an NFC title game loss to the New York Giants in frigid conditions at Lambeau in January 2008.
Going into Sunday, Favre is guarding against letting his emotions get the best of him. But he doesn’t want to become a robot, either.
“I don’t want to take that away,” Favre said. “At any point in my career, if I thought that, ‘So what, we’re playing in the Super Bowl, this is a big game, who cares?’ That in itself is a sure sign that it doesn’t mean anything to you. But trying to hold those things in check is a different story.”