Vikings need a December to remember from Favre

BY foxsports • December 10, 2009

Brett Favre was once renowned for his remarkable success when the weather went cold. Lately, winter has mostly brought problems for NFL's all-time leading passer. The Minnesota Vikings are counting on the hardier version of Favre for the fourth quarter of this season. With his right arm falling apart, Favre faded last year - throwing eight interceptions against two touchdowns in the final four games - while the New York Jets fell out of the playoff chase. After helping guide Green Bay to a 13-3 finish in the 2007 season and a division-round victory in the snow, Favre had a flat performance and a costly interception in the NFC championship game loss to the New York Giants. Wait, there's more. Though the Packers were well on their way to missing the playoffs in 2005 and 2006, Favre's December numbers in those years were not good, either. And though he was quite sharp down the stretch in leading Green Bay to the postseason in 2002, 2003 and 2004, his playoff record in that period was 1-3. All of the losses were outdoors, featuring plenty of forced passes by Favre. So when he threw two interceptions and nearly had two other passes picked off in the 30-17 defeat at Arizona last Sunday, alarms went off in bars and basements across Minnesota. "I'm sure people are saying - you guys may have already said - 'Well, here we go,"' Favre said Wednesday. Coach Brad Childress blamed an imbalance on offense and an overall lack of rhythm for Minnesota's worst of 12 games this year. "You can't explain away the turnovers. I don't expect him to throw any interceptions, ever. And I'm sure that's his intentions as well," Childress said. "But things happen. I would just say that it was across the board. I wouldn't put it in one area. I wouldn't put it in his cart." In fairness, health was a major factor in Favre's dismal December last season. As for that letdown at Lambeau Field the year before, perhaps the biggest disappointment of his Packers tenure? "The last pass I threw against the Giants was not very good. But I thought up until that play, it was a pretty good year," said Favre, who had 28 touchdowns, 15 interceptions and 4,155 yards, the third-most of his career, in 2007. "Had they dropped that interception and we somehow go down and kick a field goal, everybody would say, 'He's great late in the year."' It's easy to take a simple set of statistics and point to a trend, but much more difficult to truly determine whether the Vikings (10-2) truly have reason to be anxious about how their 40-year-old quarterback will fare in the final four games as they try to lock up the NFC North title. The Packers, interestingly, have the NFL's best December record at 52-29 since the current 12-team playoff format was started in 1990. Favre was their quarterback for 16 of those 20 years. And though most of this feat stems merely from longevity, Peyton Manning is the only player with more touchdowns and yards passing in December than Favre this decade. For now, Minnesota's greatest concern is health. Favre is fine there, for now, but middle linebacker E.J. Henderson was placed on injured reserve on Wednesday and 12 other starters appeared on the injury report after practice. "Physically, I'm probably more concerned about the rest of our guys," Favre said. Mental fatigue might have played a part in Favre's previous late-season fades. "It's tough for anyone. I'm not going to sit here and lie and say that mentally I feel great, that I woke up this morning, looked outside and said, 'Man, I'm excited about going over to practice today,"' Favre said. With a Super Bowl-caliber team, it ought to be easier to fight through the December doldrums. "This year really hasn't been any different than any years past, as far as late in the season," Favre said. "You've got to challenge yourself maybe more so than you do earlier in the year, but we're 10-2. Up to this point it's been a lot of fun. Winning games sure helps." Fortunately for the Vikings, two of their last four games are at home and only one - Monday night, Dec. 28, at Chicago - promises to be played in winter weather. Their other road game is at Carolina, where conditions are typically mild. And assuming they don't suffer a colossal collapse and can clinch the second seed for the playoffs, with New Orleans (12-0) on top of the conference Minnesota won't be forced to play on any frozen fields in the postseason. "It's easy to relate it to age I guess," Favre said. "We old people don't really like cold weather, which is true. Most of us old people don't have to play in it." Favre was self-critical of his performance against the Cardinals, blaming bad decisions and frustration for the interceptions. "That's just the way it is when you press," he said. But the Vikings are moving on. "I'm sure everybody on this team has the same confidence," wide receiver Sidney Rice said. "As I said it was on us as a team. We needed to pick our tempo up, and that's a loss we can learn from. It's a little bit of a reality check. We've just got to get back to doing what we were doing before."