Brett Favre was back on the practice field Friday afternoon, gingerly testing out his broken ankle. Meanwhile, the man who would replace him, Tarvaris Jackson, continues to prepare as though he is going to start on Sunday against the Patriots. Whether T-Jack actually gets the starting nod is something we likely won’t know until literally minutes before game time. I have a sneaking suspicion that, if Brad Childress had everything entirely his way, Favre would already be benched and T-Jack would know he was starting. But, as we know, Favre won’t allow anyone else to decide for him when and how his famed consecutive games streak will end; when Favre can no longer continue he will let Childress know, and until then, Chilly just has to stick to Brett’s playbook. Doing things Brett’s way is likely more irksome to Chilly this week than ever before given how Favre played Sunday night against the Packers, but that’s the burden you take on when you elect to join the Brett Favre Traveling Circus.
Fans have been debating all week whether the Vikings would be better off benching Favre in favor of Jackson, who hasn’t seen significant action in a season-and-a-half. The pro-Favre crowd says that even an injured Favre is better than the notoriously inconsistent Jackson. The pro-Jackson lobby would tell the Favre people that their guy is clearly finished and it’s time to give Jackson his shot. The middle-ground people agree that things don’t look good for Favre, but at the same time, aren’t convinced Jackson can get the job done either. And then there are the somewhat angry folks out there who would like to point out that, at one time, the Vikings had a third option named Sage Rosenfels, who might at this point have been better than either broken Favre or healthy T-Jack. But of course the Vikings elected to trade Rosenfels away, possibly for financial reasons, possibly because he was leaking unflattering information about Chilly. Scattered around Viking Nation are those who have already given up on the whole mess and are just waiting for next year when, maybe, Donovan McNabb will ride in and save us from all this madness.
Here’s one thing I know for sure: I don’t envy Brad Childress. Whatever decision Chilly ultimately makes, somebody is going to be mad at him. If he benches Favre it will infuriate Brett and all his loyal followers (not to mention Fox who are drooling at the prospect of a Brett Favre/Tom Brady match-up). If he lets Favre play it will anger those who think he needs to stand up to The Silver Fox and end the bullcrap. As things stand now, the most sane move would be to give Favre a week off and see if he feels any better next week. But what happens if T-Jack then plays lights-out against New England? Could you seriously consider re-benching T-Jack and turning to Favre who, even with a week off, will be nowhere near 100% healthy? And then there’s the truly Apocalyptic scenario: You play T-Jack and he gets hurt, leaving you with Joe Webb who hasn’t played a snap in a regular season game and wasn’t even drafted to be a quarterback. If you think T-Jack has no shot against New England, imagine the carnage that would ensue if Webb were pressed into service.
Yes fans, after a year of Favre-induced calm, quarterback chaos has returned to Minnesota. Tarvaris Jackson is once again right in the middle of it, as he was in 2008 when he got benched for Gus Frerotte then returned after Gus was injured. And who can forget 2007 when we started T-Jack, Kelly Holcomb and Brooks Bollinger on the way to an 8-8 season? Oh, and remember good old 2005? Daunte Culpepper stinking the place up at the start of the season (no Randy Moss, you see) then blowing his knee out…and Brad Johnson coming in with the team at 2-5 and somehow leading us on a six-game winning streak? That 2005 season has particular resonance when you look at our situation now. Cause here we sit at 2-4, probably headed for 2-5, with our veteran starter on the verge of being physically unable to continue. The difference is, this time we don’t have old reliable Brad Johnson to take over. And for that extra bit of cosmic symmetry, Randy Moss is now back. What must Randy think of this situation? He probably longs for the good-old-days of Mike Tice, when the weekly messes seemed small by comparison.
The whole Favre meltdown – a situation we should’ve seen coming for weeks, in all honesty – would be much easier to stomach if we only had a Brad Johnson or, hell, even a Gus Frerotte to turn to. But we don’t have Brad Johnson or Gus Frerotte (or Jeff George or Randall Cunningham), we have Tarvaris Jackson. Plenty of fans are advocating for Jackson to play, but this is only because they are desperate. And in their desperation, some of these fans have even begun fooling themselves into thinking T-Jack may have gotten better since he last played a game a year and 10 months ago. Well, I’m willing to concede that T-Jack may have improved slightly by getting to observe Favre during 2009 (let’s hope he hasn’t been watching as closely this year). Unfortunately, T-Jack needed much more than a slight improvement to become anything more than a mediocre NFL quarterback. Much as I’d love to invest my hope in T-Jack, I can’t bring myself to believe that the light is suddenly going to click on Sunday afternoon. My sad suspicion is that T-Jack is the same T-Jack we came to know and not like very much in his three years as the on-again/off-again starter. The same T-Jack who infuriated us on a weekly basis with his inability to complete simple passes with any consistency. The same T-Jack who, under any kind of pressure, took on a quality sadly reminiscent of a deer frozen in headlights. The same T-Jack who couldn’t hit a receiver downfield to save his life (That was why we wanted Gus, remember? Cause he could throw the deep ball). I dearly wish I could erase these T-Jack memories the same way some Viking fans seem to be doing right now, but I can’t. If Favre doesn’t play and T-Jack does, the Vikings have no shot at getting back in the race. Unfortunately, Favre is probably too far-gone to be any help either.
Yes, it’s gotten dire. The only shred of hope now – and it’s a very thin shred – is that the defense and running game can dominate enough the second half of the season to prop up Jackson or hobbled-Favre, and that the easier schedule will allow for a run of ugly D-and-AD-driven wins. The hope is that the NFC is weak enough that a 9-7 Viking squad could still squeak in, either as a Wild Card or the division winner. And by then maybe Favre will be healthy enough for one last playoff run? Let’s think about that…but only because thinking about the other thing, a 5-11 nightmare season, is too dreadful for words.