Brett Favre and Antonio Freeman have hooked up for 14 touchdowns this season
Eighty-four yards, touchdown. Eighty yards, touchdown. Six total scores over 50 yards.
Quarterback Brett Favre and wide receiver Antonio Freeman were an unconscious tandem in 1998. Favre seemed to have Freeman Radar built into his helmet, and Freeman displayed a sixth sense to know just when the ball was coming. It showed in the statistics:
- 1,424 receiving yards by Freeman, third on the club's all-time list, behind Sterling Sharpe's 1,461 in 1992 and Robert Brooks' 1,497 in 1995.
- 14 touchdowns by Freeman, third all-time in team history behind Sharpe's 18 (1994) and Hall of Famer Don Hutson's 17 (1942).
- The six touchdowns over 50 yards is the most in almost a quarter century, when the Houston Oilers' Ken Burrough reached the mark. The Vikings' Randy Moss also had six such catches this season.
Perhaps even more impressive is that Freeman played in one less game than Moss this year, and one less than Brooks and Sharpe in their record-setting seasons. Freeman led the league in catches and receiving yards virtually all season until a crushing hit from Eagles safety Michael Zordich broke his jaw and forced him to miss the Tampa Bay game on December 7.
"Really," Favre says, "the unique thing about it is Antonio plays 'X' (split end). The history of this offense has always been the flanker position (Brooks and Sharpe) that has had the big years. Jerry Rice, for example."
This year, there's no question it's Freeman.
"It seemed like every time I turned around he was open and making big plays," Favre says. "What happens is you throw the ball to a guy and he's making plays, in the back of your mind, even if he's not the primary guy, you start depending on him a little bit. If you don't cover the guy, you keep throwing it to him. We always say, 'Why don't you triple-team a guy like that?' Well, eventually a good player's going to find a way to rise to the top. And 'Free's' that kind of player."
Grit. Favre and Freeman are two of the grittiest players in the league. Favre faced the Tennessee Oilers in Week 15 with a sore toe, a painful hip injury and bumps and bruises on his hand, and still threw three passes to Freeman for 129 yards and two touchdowns - in the first quarter. Freeman, playing with a broken jaw, finished the game with a third score and 186 total yards.
Big Games. The tandem also shines in prime time. Against San Francisco, the Packers' gunslinger hit number 86 for two touchdowns, one for 62 yards and another for 80. Freeman racked up a career-high 193 yards. Against Detroit on a Thursday night, the Baltimore native caught two other scores, including a 67-yarder, en route to a 126-yard performance.
"We've got the best quarterback in the league at finding anyone on the field and getting them the ball," Freeman says.
Favre, for his part, has found ways to make big plays in 1998 despite losing Pro Bowl running back Dorsey Levens, all four top wide receivers and both top receiving tight ends at some point in the season.
"Course, the interceptions are up (23)," Favre says, "but so is every other stat that I have."
Indeed. His 4,212 yards is up from the last two Super Bowl seasons, and the second-best of his career (4,413 in 1995). It also led the NFL this season.
His 62.9 completion percentage also led the league. It is third to his 1992 season (64.1 percent) and 1995 (63.0), but is up from the last two years.
His six scores over 50 yards ties his 1996 effort. The 84-yarder to Freeman is second only to his 99-yarder to Brooks in 1995.
"Anything can happen when we get guys back healthy," Favre says. "The bottom line is getting the team in the playoffs. We're in the playoffs - again."