Favre vs. Rodgers: Round One

Saturday was the first day that both Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers took to the football field as starters, inviting comparisons that will likely last throughout the upcoming NFL season.

Sunday morning, Packer fans have to be hoping that the comparison is closer once the regular season starts.

Frankly, when I decided to write a blog comparing Favre’s first preseason start as a New York Jet to Aaron Rodgers’s second preseason game as the undisputed starting quarterback of the Packers, I figured the conclusion would read something like, “in the end, both teams will be fine.” 

Well, I can’t write that summary after what transpired on Saturday. Favre was great in his Jets debut (though after a bizarre finish, the Jets lost to the Redskins 13-10), while Rodgers and the Packers took a whopping step back from their first preseason game as they were completely dominated by San Francisco to the tune of 34-6.

Now on many levels it’s ridiculous to compare Favre’s and Rodgers’s performances from Saturday. Favre stayed in for only 14 offensive plays. Rodgers played the entire first half. Favre was in front of his new home crowd. Rodgers was in San Francisco (though, since Rodgers hails from Chico, California, about a three-hour drive from Frisco, he was presumably playing in front of some friends and family — his parents were shown in the stands on the broadcast). Favre has had about a week to learn the Jets offense. Rodgers has been studying under Mike McCarthy for two seasons. But, let’s face it, the football world will be comparing these two on a weekly basis until one of them retires (most likely Favre) or suffers a season-ending injury (more likely Rodgers). So, I figure, why wait?

The interesting comparisons between Favre and Rodgers came before play even started, with the montage sequences that opened up each broadcast. New York’s WCBS Jets/Redskins opening saluted “Broadway Brett,” and called Saturday’s game “the most anticipated preseason game in Jets history,” which I guess is one step above it being referred to as “the most anticipated game of absolutely no relevance in Jets history” (and if any NFL franchise has had its share of irrelevant games, it’s the Jets). The Packers’ broadcast began with a series of recent highlights all carefully edited to remove any images of a certain recently-traded quarterback. The montage was introduced with the tagline, “Teams Win Championships, Not Individuals.” Both montages served to underscore the marketing message for both teams as the 2008 season begins: The Jets want fans to believe that Favre will take a 4-12 team and make it a Super Bowl contender, while the Packers want fans to believe that the loss of Favre will mean a 13-3 team can remain a Super Bowl contender. Both were ridiculous — does an image of Favre meeting Mayor Bloomberg mean anything except the Mayor of one of the world’s largest cities has apparently too much free time? — but the Packers one was especially insulting, as if fans wouldn’t remember who was on the throwing end of all of those Donald Driver receptions. It may take a team to win championships, but it also takes a quarterback to throw a football.

Favre took the field about 6 pm CST, two hours earlier than Rodgers did, and if there were any worries from Kevin James — sorry, I mean head coach Eric Mangini — that “Jet” Favre was a work in progress, those worries were dispelled with Favre’s first throw, an 11-yard-strike to Jerricho Cotchery. The perfect throw on the quick slant route was reminiscent of hundreds that Favre threw as a Packer, but certainly more so of throws made just last year as Favre began to master McCarthy’s system of short, quick receiver routes.

On that first drive Favre made two other sharp throws, starting off his Jet career 3-for-3. But then Favre took a sack on a Redskins blitz and then made his first poor throw as a Jet, forcing his team to punt on a 4th-and-16. After a three-and-out by Washington (are the Jets going to play defense this year?), the Jets took over near mid-field and needed only six plays to score their first touchdown of the game and Favre’s first touchdown as a Jet, a four-yard pass to Dustin Keller. Favre finished his night –including a very pretty 19-yard-pass to Cotchery on that second drive — 5-for-6 for 48 yards, one touchdown, and one sack. A short night’s work, but an impressive one, and one that compared pretty favorably to Aaron Rodgers’s successful start against Cincinnati on Monday night. 

Unfortunately, whatever confidence Rodgers had instilled in Packer fans after Monday’s game took a hit on Saturday night. The first drive started OK — Rodgers went 3-of-3 for 23 yards — but then things turned ugly. Playing the whole of the first half, Rodgers would complete only six of his next thirteen passes for 35 measly more yards while taking four sacks. Worse than the statistics was the lack of any semblance of crispness to the passing game — Rodgers seemed out of sync with his receivers while receiving poor protection from his offensive line. Now of course Rodgers can’t be entirely blamed for poor protection up front, but he clearly wasn’t comfortable in the face of the 49ers’ pass rush and he wasn’t able to release the ball as quickly as his predecessor could in the face of trouble. Even his lone scramble was troublesome, as he went out of bounds a yard too early as the Packers tried to mount a scoring drive late in the first half.

In Rodgers’s defense, he did throw a nice ball to Donald Lee in the end zone on the first play after an interception by Charles Woodson gave the Packers a first down in San Francisco’s red zone. Lee dropped the easy touchdown and the drive sputtered after yet another sack, leading to a field goal and the only point-producing drive (a drive in which they actually lost a total of six yards) of Rodgers’s night. With that field goal, the Packers took a 3-0 lead, but that lead soon evaporated as the Packers’ second-tier defense (particularly beleaguered cornerback Jarrett Bush) made journeyman quarterback J.T. O’Sullivan — who entered training camp third on San Francisco’s laughable quarterback depth chart — look like the second coming of Ken “Lung Brush” Stabler.

So does Saturday night mean that the Packers’ decision to cease playing the retirement game with Brett Favre and move on with Rodgers as their starter was a clear mistake? Of course not. It’s one bad half of preseason football for Rodgers and one scoring drive for Brett Favre. But it does mean that for at least one night, for whatever it’s worth, the Jets and their fans are feeling better about having Brett Favre than the Packers and their fans are feeling about not having Brett Favre. 

[One of the more curious sidebars to come out of both the Jets’ and Packers’ second preseason games is that the third-string quarterback for both teams seems likely to come out of the preseason as the number two. Brett Ratliff for the Jets has clearly outplayed Kellen Clemens, while Matt Flynn has been much more effective than Brian Brohm for Green Bay. I expect both Brohm and Flynn to stay on the team, unless Rodgers has more outings like Saturday and the Packers decide to bring in a veteran to back him up as insurance. But I don’t think that’s likely.]

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One Response

  1. STOP! How can anyone compare Farve with Rodgers after their past game. You are telling everyone that a player with 4 years in the league should hold up to a player with 17 years. That would be like comparing you Jeff or some other sport writer with some one who has been doing it for 20 years or more. Which one has made the awards and who is still learning? It’s time to forget the Favre/Packers battle. Move on and get behind Rodgers and the Pack. He has all the players Farve had and now needs time to gel with them and show he is ready.

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