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Nothing but a number: At 40, Favre is at his best

They say that Father Time catches up with every athlete.

But watching 40-year-old Brett Favre enjoy one of the finest seasons of his career, it's apparent the venerable veteran has turned back the clock.

Wilcots: Favre's impact
Where Brett Favre helps the Vikings win the most is his influence. With Favre on this team, he helps everyone else play better. They play better because they know they have No. 4. That higher level of plays means they actually don't have to rely on Favre as much.

His role, in a way, is as an inspirational motivator. The fact that he's there gives the Vikings an unspoken confidence that they'll win when they take the field. Now, everyone is playing harder. Everyone is playing better. Everyone is inspired. And at the end of the day, when they have a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter, do they really need Favre to win? I don't believe so.

With Favre there, this team knows it can win. I had a similar experience during our Super Bowl season in Cincinnati in 1988, when we belived we would win every time we took the field. The Vikings are one of four teams in the NFL who have that same swagger right now.

-- Solomon Wilcots

» Blogs: The Wisdom of Solomon

Favre, who is in in his 19th season, is posting numbers that dwarf his production from any of his previous seasons at this point. The three-time most valuable player is completing more than 69 percent of his passes with 24 touchdowns and only three interceptions. His gaudy 112.1 passer rating ranks only behind Drew Brees among starters and, if it stands, would represent the first time in his illustrious career that he's posted a rating over 100 in a season.

"I don't think anyone expected him to play this well," said an NFC personnel man.

Whereas in the past Favre would giveaway nearly as many plays as he made, he has been outstanding as a game manager this season. In addition to just the three interceptions, the 10-time Pro Bowler has only fumbled the ball once in 11 games, keeping him on pace to have the fewest number of turnovers in his career.

While some would snicker at the notion of Favre maturing as a decision-maker after watching him routinely take unfathomable risks in Green Bay, it's obvious the veteran is taking a different approach in the Twin Cities.

Rather than force the ball up field against tight coverage with hopes of generating big plays, Favre is seemingly content to efficiently move the Vikings offense with an assortment of underneath throws. Although Favre ranks third in the league with 10 completions over 40 yards, his robust completion percentage highlights his willingness to make the safe throws this season.

Part of the reasoning behind his newfound approach may be the presence of an outstanding surrounding cast. Favre shocked many earlier this season by proclaiming the Vikings as the "best team that he has ever been on." But it's hard to dispute that statement after watching the Vikings move the ball at will.

Led by running back Adrian Peterson and a star-studded offensive line, the Vikings are loaded at every position. Additionally, the team has a cast of young pass-catchers that are maturing into dynamic playmakers under Favre's tutelage.

David Stluka / Associated Press
Rookie wide receiver Percy Harvin has thrived under Brett Favre's tutelage.

"This is a great situation for Favre," said an NFC personnel director. "He is playing in an offensive system that is comfortable for him, and he has a talented cast surrounding him that alleviates the pressure on him to carry the offense."

Although Favre has played for talented offensive teams as recently as 2007 -- when his Packers team lost to the Giants in the NFC Championship game -- the Vikings' offense has so much talent that it's seemingly impossible to slow down the juggernaut.

"They have the talent to counter every defensive tactic," said an NFC personnel man. "If you play soft coverage to stop Favre, then Adrian Peterson runs wild. If you opt to stop Peterson, Favre wears you out with passes to (Bernard) Berrian, Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice. ... Prior to the season, you would count on Favre making a mistake if you put the game on his shoulders, but he is taking care of the ball and that is making their offense very difficult to stop."

Given his sensational play, Favre may get his hands on his fourth MVP award and get another shot at his second Vince Lombardi trophy.

Fewell retools the Bills' offense

Lost amid the endless speculation regarding the Bills' head coaching vacancy has been the bold decisions of interim head coach Perry Fewell in reviving the team's dormant offense.

In the two weeks since taking over for Dick Jauron, Fewell has benched starting quarterback Trent Edwards and running back Marshawn Lynch, and replaced them with a pair of backups in Ryan Fitzpatrick and Fred Jackson, who have played well in their new roles.

Fitzpatrick, who is 2-2 in four starts this season, has completed 61.4 percent of his passes for 543 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. Although those numbers aren't eye-popping on the surface, a closer examination reveals that Fitzpatrick is averaging a whopping 9.5 yards per attempt. The robust number indicates that the fourth-year pro is throwing the ball down the field and connecting on a host of explosive plays.

Additionally, Fitzpatrick has made Terrell Owens his top target in the passing game. After being relatively ignored through the first nine games, Owens has hauled in 14 receptions for 269 yards (a 19.2-yard average) with two touchdowns in his last two games. The 14-year veteran has scored twice on receptions of more than 50 yards, and provided the spark that many expected upon his signing in the offseason.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in Fewell's short tenure has been the quick ascension of Jackson into the starting role. The third-year pro played well during his three-game stint as a starter to open the season, when he ranked among the league leaders in total yards from scrimmage. However, Lynch's return from a league-imposed suspension pushed Jackson back to the bench and relegated him to spot duty in recent weeks. But Fewell recognized the significant difference in production between his two backs (Jackson has rushed for 601 rushing yards on 101 carries compared to Lynch's 278 on 90 attempts), and opted to play the more effective runner against the Dolphins. Jackson responded by tallying 116 yards from scrimmage with two rushing scores in helping the Bills top the 30-point mark for only the second time this season.

Fewell was named the Bills' interim head coach based on his defensive merits, but he may wind up as the team's new leader based on his impressive work with their offense.

Cincy conundrum?

The Bengals' seventh-ranked rush attack appeared in peril when Cedric Benson limped to the sideline with a hip injury a few weeks ago, but the sensational performances of Bernard Scott and Larry Johnson in his absence have created another dilemma for the team's coaching staff.

With Benson poised to return from his injury this weekend, the Bengals must decide whether to go back to the feature back system that resulted in six wins in their first eight games or to adopt a platoon system that has been popularized throughout the league.

Associated Press
Will the emergence of Larry Johnson (left) and Bernard Scott create a backfield timeshare once starter Cedric Benson returns from a hip injury?

Benson, who ranks seventh in the league in rushing with 859 yards, has topped the 100-yard mark in four games and carried the ball over 25 times in each of those contests. Although his ability to carry the load has been impressive, the fact that his 205 carries this season are just a tad behind the highest single-season total of his career leads to concerns about him being overworked in the Bengals' lineup.

In addition, the back-to-back 100-yard games from Scott and Johnson indicates the team's rushing attack is capable in the hands of the backups. Scott, the team's sixth-round pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, had made most of his contributions as a kick returner and third-down back prior to Benson's injury. But he has displayed big-play potential in rushing for 208 yards in the past two games.

Johnson, who was signed as a free agent after being dumped by the Kansas City Chiefs, looked like the two-time Pro Bowler he is while running roughshod over the Cleveland Browns. Although Johnson eclipsing the century mark for the first time in ten games was impressive, it was the way that he tallied the yardage that may lead the coaching staff to grant him a more prominent role. Johnson grinded out the 100-yard game by repeatedly piling up 4- and 5-yard gains against the Browns. His stellar effort included four runs of more than 10 yards, and the hard-nosed running style ideally suits the rugged play in the postseason.

Given the success the Bengals have had incorporating different runners into their program, opponents should be envious and wary of Cincinnati's powerful running game.

Leinart's shot at redemption

After watching Vince Young enjoy a rebirth during his second stint as the Titans' starter, it was interesting to poll scouts' opinions on whether Matt Leinart can enjoy a similar comeback in Arizona.




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In the Cardinals' narrow loss to Young's Titans, Leinart had a solid effort in his first start since 2007. The former Heisman Trophy winner completed 21 of 31 passes for 220 yards. He efficiently guided the Cardinals' explosive aerial attack and avoided the big mistakes that had plagued him during his early stint as the team's starter. Furthermore, Leinart connected on five passes that covered 20 yards or more and was impressive enough that several scouts came away optimistic about his future.

"He definitely has the tools to be a successful quarterback in this league," said an AFC personnel man on hand to see Leinart play. "He is not necessarily a franchise quarterback who can do it all by himself, but with a strong running game and a system built around his strengths, he can be an effective player."

Although Leinart still has to prove he is capable of winning games over the long haul, his solid effort against the Titans may be his first step toward erasing the bust label that some have affixed to his name.

Extra points

» The Colts continue to make history during their unbeaten season. The team sports a 20-game regular season winning streak (one shy of the 2006-08 Patriots' NFL record of 21) and has won 11 or more games for the seventh straight season (longest streak in NFL history). Additionally, the team became the first team in NFL history to register five straight fourth-quarter comeback wins with their 35-27 victory over the Texans.

» Philip Rivers may not garner serious consideration for league MVP, but the Chargers' star is playing as well as any quarterback in the league. Rivers' 317-yard effort against the Chiefs was his third 300-yard game of the season. While that is an outstanding feat, the fact that Rivers completed at least 75 percent of his passes for the third straight game is more impressive. Rivers is sporting a 127.3 passer rating during the sizzling streak and has thrown five touchdowns with no interceptions.

» Buccaneers CB Ronde Barber joined select company when he notched a sack against the Falcons. The 13th-year pro joined Rodney Harrison as the second player in NFL history to amass 30 interceptions and 25 sacks in his career. Barber currently has 37 interceptions and 25 sacks in 188 career games.

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