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Favre Delivers Old Magic When Needed


Maybe Brett Favre isn't the elite quarterback he once was.

Maybe the Green Bay Packers have become a run-first, throw-second team.

It still doesn't mean Favre is going to quietly settle into the background of a prime-time game. Monday Night Football always has been the Brett Favre Show, and the Packers' 24-14 season-opening victory against the Carolina Panthers was no exception.

Sure, for most of the night, Favre's right arm was busy thrusting toward the bellies of his running backs as he made handoff after handoff.

But on those limited occasions when he had the green light to throw, Favre did what he can still do better than many other players at his position. He fired bullets that picked up key first downs -- converting 5-of-6 third downs with his arm -- and put the Packers in scoring range. He rolled out, stepped up, and bought time. He even threw a touchdown pass, extending to 26 his streak of games with at least one.

Nothing spectacular. Nothing flashy. Just a productive, efficient performance wrapped up in a tidy 15-for-22, 143-yard package.

"You have to stick with (the run)," Favre said. "I mean, I love to pass, but I love to win. I'd much rather win than pile up a lot of statistics."

Ultimately, this game came down to the fact the Packers' offensive line performed well -- opening big rushing holes and providing mostly solid pass protection against one of the best defensive lines in the NFL -- and the Panthers' offensive line didn't.

Yet Favre played a significant role in the outcome, just as we've come to expect him to through a legendary career.

"He was pretty much Brett Favre out there," Packers coach Mike Sherman said. "He made some pretty special throws. Maybe not a ton of throws, with only 15 completions, but the ones he made were pretty important."

Jake Delhomme is a good quarterback and he earned his place in the national spotlight after his impressive showing in the last Super Bowl. But, poor protection or not, Favre's presence clearly overshadowed him. That would add him to a fairly long list that includes more highly accomplished passers.

Through most of the first half, Favre quietly was going about the business of handing off as Ahman Green started out on his 119-yard, two-touchdown rushing performance. Green would finish with 33 carries, tying him for the second-highest single-game total in Packers history. The team's 47 rushing attempts were the second most in the Favre era.

Before the game, Packers offensive coordinator Tom Rossley talked with Favre about the fact it would be particularly important to pound the ball in order to help neutralize Carolina's dominant front four.

"I was kind of agreeing with him," Favre recalled. "But I was thinking, in the back of my mind, 'At some point, we're going to have to open it up.'"

That point came late in the second quarter, after the Panthers took a 7-3 lead on a 1-yard touchdown pass from Delhomme to Brad Hoover.

Favre pulled the not-as-golden-as-it-used-to-be-but-still-effective arm out of the mothballs and went to work. He connected on 4-of-5 passes, including his long of the night (a 24-yarder to Javon Walker) to set up a 6-yard scoring run by Green. That gave the Packers a 10-7 lead they would never relinquish.

After that, Favre did what a quarterback in his 14th NFL season should do. He made the Panthers pay dearly for a pair of killer mistakes. One was a fumbled exchange between Delhomme and Hoover the Packers recovered at the Carolina 31 early in the third quarter. Favre promptly led the Packers to the 3-yard line, from where Green ran for his second touchdown of the night.

The other big Panthers blunder was a Delhomme interception, off a deflection, on Carolina's next possession. Favre cashed in on this turnover by leading the Packers on an 11-play, 67-yard drive that ended with his 3-yard touchdown pass to Green to give Green Bay a 24-7 lead late in the third quarter. On the play, Favre rolled to his right and had to duck under the rush of defensive end Julius Peppers to find Green in the back corner of the end zone.

At the end of the night, Green represented the bulk of the Packers' offense. That is how it is supposed to be in their run-first, throw-second approach.

But Favre still did what he has done so well throughout his career. That, too, is how it is supposed to be.

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