Imig: Giants 'rematch' missing only Favre

Imig: Giants 'rematch' missing only Favre

Published Jan. 10, 2012 7:14 p.m. ET

GREEN BAY, Wis. — It's hard to imagine that it was
only four years ago Brett Favre was preparing to lead the Packers into their
NFC Championship Game matchup against Eli Manning and the New York Giants.

Since then, Favre has been traded to the New York Jets, played two seasons for
Green Bay's division rival in Minnesota, become a grandfather, and retired --
this time, officially. Favre is, however, still real comfortable in his jeans
of choice.

Favre also found time in his retirement to express surprise that it took the
young quarterback who sat behind him for three seasons "so long" to
win a Super Bowl despite the fact Aaron Rodgers earned his first championship
ring in his third season as a starter.

But with the Giants traveling to Green Bay for this weekend's playoff game,
it's a reminder of just how similar the circumstances are from the game four
years ago ... with one major exception at quarterback.

In that game, the 14-3 Packers were heavy favorites to win and playing at home.
The same is true this weekend. Green Bay was a high-scoring, pass-first offense
in 2007 (fourth in points, second in yards). This season, the Packers were the
league's highest-scoring team and third in total yards.

Ryan Grant was Green Bay’s featured running back then — though he gained only
29 yards against the Giants in the NFC Championship Game — and, with James
Starks not fully recovered from knee and ankle injuries, will likely receive
the bulk of the carries again this weekend.

Greg Jennings is still catching passes in the green and
gold, though in a much larger role. Donald Driver is still around too, albeit
in a smaller role. And most important, it's a very similar offense with head
coach Mike McCarthy calling the plays.

However, defensively, the team is not trending in the direction that will allow
Packers fans to rest comfortably in the coming days. Green Bay's 2007 defense
was in the top third of the NFL in nearly every statistical category, whereas
this season's unit has struggled.

But if you take Jennings at his word regarding comments he made earlier this
week, the difference of having Rodgers -- whom the Packers wide receiver said was better than Favre -- can
more than make up for any shortcomings.

Rodgers was nearly everything during the regular season that Favre wasn't late
in his career. Rodgers threw 45 touchdown passes and six interceptions this
season. In 2007, Favre's final year in Green Bay, he had 28 touchdown passes
and 15 interceptions, which was a marked improvement over his previous two
seasons (including a 20-touchdown, 29-interception 2005). Favre was the
gunslinger. Rodgers, after three seasons of watching the do’s and don'ts of NFL
quarterbacking, has been the complete opposite. Favre also never believed his
job description included mentoring backup quarterbacks, which left Rodgers to
fend for himself early on.

Now Rodgers, in a situation where he could do as his predecessor did, has taken
Matt Flynn under his wing, going so far as to say that he hopes Flynn is able
to have an even more successful career in the NFL than he does. There were no
backhanded compliments from Rodgers after Flynn threw for 480 yards and six
touchdowns while Rodgers rested during the team's regular-season finale.

Rodgers was given the opportunity to be the Packers' starter after Favre's
illustrious 16-year career in Green Bay ended with the Giants celebrating at
Lambeau Field four years ago. An overtime interception thrown by No. 4 sent New
York to the Super Bowl and Favre to the trading block. In the frigid conditions
that day, Favre's mind seemed more focused on staying warm in a bulky jacket on
the sideline than on his costly error.

But without that interception, who knows where Rodgers or the Packers
organization would be? It's unlikely the Packers would have traded Favre after
his brief first retirement if he had led them to the Super Bowl. Don't forget
the trade rumors the previous summer in which Rodgers' name reportedly came up
as part of a deal to Oakland in exchange for Randy Moss. It's doubtful that a
first-round draft pick like Rodgers would have spent his first four seasons in
the league on the bench.

When the Giants take the field on Sunday, not even they will look much
different. Manning is still the quarterback, and the running back duo of Ahmad
Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs has remained in place. While the one-sided Plaxico
Burress-Al Harris matchup of 2007 won't be on display Sunday, the Packers'
shaky secondary mixed with a young, talented group of Giants wide receivers led
by Victor Cruz could produce similar results.

But with Rodgers efficiently leading Green Bay to a franchise-record 15 wins
this seasons, the Giants shouldn't count on an overtime interception to be the
difference this time around.

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