GREEN BAY, Wis. - It’s supposed to be Brett Favre versus the Green Bay Packers, an intense one-game referendum on whether Favre’s former team made the right choice when it sent the three-time MVP packing last season.
And if Aaron Rodgers steals the show with a big performance against the Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome on Monday night, he could take a huge step toward proving the Packers right.
If Rodgers feels any extra incentive this week, he’s not letting on. The second-year starter insisted it’s just another game between the bitter NFC North rivals.
He didn’t even have an opinion to share on Favre’s last-minute, 32-yard zinger to beat San Francisco last Sunday.
“I didn’t watch the film of him,” Rodgers said. “I just watched the Vikings’ defense.”
But one of Rodgers’ best friends in football, former Packers receiver Ruvell Martin, knows Rodgers can handle the pressure.
“I’m sure he’s going to be fine,” said Martin, who signed with St. Louis when the Packers cut him before the season. “I guess the bad thing is, it’s not just going to be, ’Oh, hey, Aaron, you had a good game.’ It’s going to be, what did he do compared to Brett Favre?”
Favre and Rodgers weren’t particularly close during their time together in Green Bay.
When asked this week if he had talked to Rodgers recently, Favre said, “For what?”. Rodgers said any communication — or lack of same — between he and Favre was a private matter.
After the Packers took Rodgers in the 2005 draft, Favre made it clear that he wasn’t interested in mentoring a young quarterback.
And when Favre went public with his last-minute desire to unretire last summer and the Packers decided not to take him back, Rogers was left to absorb most of the fan backlash. He even was booed during a scrimmage at Lambeau Field.
It would have been hard to follow Favre in Green Bay under any circumstances, but did Favre’s unretirement make it even tougher on Rodgers?
“I don’t know that answer for sure,” Favre said. “But I think he’s done a very good job, and I’m not surprised by it at all.”
Rodgers had won over most of the fans by the end of the year, playing through a painful shoulder injury to start all 16 games, throwing for 4,038 yards with 28 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
“(I) learned a lot on the fly, started to figure things out a little bit,” Rodgers said. “But I’m just continually trying to be critical of myself every time I watch film, and continue to improve.”
Vikings coach Brad Childress expects his defense to be challenged by Rodgers’ strong arm and underrated mobility. Rodgers rushed eight times for 38 yards in Sunday’s win at St. Louis.
“Those are demoralizing things for a defense that’s got everybody covered,” Childress said. “But (he has) very good athleticism, and I just see him continue to grow in that system. There’s not any indecisiveness that I’m able to tell.”
Still, Favre will be the main attraction. Will his emotions get the best of him?
Everybody remembers Favre’s four-touchdown performance in Oakland after his father died in 2003. But when matched up against a Seattle team led by ex-Packers coach and Favre mentor Mike Holmgren in 1999, Favre threw four interceptions in a 27-7 loss.
Current Packers coach Mike McCarthy was Favre’s position coach at the time, and said he didn’t do a very good job calming down Favre that day.
“I could remember the first interception like it was yesterday because he tried to throw it through three people to the post down in the red zone,” McCarthy said. “He was gunned up for that game. But frankly, he was in some tough spots in that game, too. I’m not just crying because I was his position coach and it didn’t go very well. But that was a rough night.”
Childress has talked to Favre about controlling his emotions this week, just as he would with any player facing his former team. For the Vikings to go far this year, Favre will have to stick to the system.
“You do yourself the best service staying within the system,” Childress said. “That’s what it’s there for. You’re going to get called on to make those off-schedule plays from time to time, but there’s a reason that system’s there.”
Favre isn’t worried about controlling his emotions or staying within the system, given the talent he has around him.
“I think what helps here, obviously, is more than anything, is having a running game with Adrian Peterson,” Favre said. “That’s not to say he won’t be stopped. I thought San Francisco did a heck of a job. But you feel like that’s always kind of a crutch for you to fall back on. A pretty good one, too.”
For all the Favre hype, this game could come down to each team’s apparent weaknesses. Neither has done a particularly good job protecting its quarterback, although the Packers could get a boost if veteran left tackle Chad Clifton returns from a right ankle injury.
Beyond that, the Packers’ new 3-4 defense needs to stop Peterson, and the Vikings’ improved pass defense needs to prevent Rodgers from getting the ball downfield to a talented group of receivers.
But Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell, who also played in Green Bay, knows people will be tuning in for No. 4.
“I told my kids that ’High School Musical’ is the highest-rated cable show ever,” Longwell said. “This will probably beat it out.”
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