EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - It would be easy to say that Brett Favre can't do it any more -- for a lot of reasons.
But he made some plays against a very good Jets defense Monday night and almost led Minnesota to a much-needed victory. Yet, his team lost, the final New York score coming courtesy of yet another late interception by Favre, who misread an "in-and-out" coverage and gift-wrapped a pick-6 to Dwight Lowery.
The finish paralleled a disastrous start, in which his projected majestic union with newly acquired wide receiver Randy Moss could not have come across worse. Favre missed throws, fumbled twice (don't blame the wet conditions because Mark Sanchez played in them, too), and looked disinterested, maybe distracted.
After all, his personal life is now his public life after sordid details came out last week of Favre allegedly sending lewd text messages to a former female Jets employee when he played in New York in 2008. He was asked questions about his involvement, the NFL's investigation into the report and the fallout's impact.
He declined to answer, bringing everything back to football.
"I said what I had to say," Favre said.
Favre addressed teammates at a meeting Monday afternoon and apologized for bringing his personal business into the workplace. His teammates, who claimed Saturday to stand with Favre, certainly accepted the outreach.
"I don't think any of that outside stuff had anything to do with how he played," wide receiver Percy Harvin said. "We have a veteran team so he didn't have to talk to us before the game, but it gave us a message that he was really touched. Good or bad, no matter who it is on this team, we are going to have their back and move on."
Then they lost.
Coach Brad Childress said Minnesota "can't afford to have (Favre's off-field situation) carry over to the rest of the season."
Honestly, had Favre said he was distracted it might have been easier not to doubt his ability to consistently play at a high level. But his play -- and Minnesota's unexpected 1-3 start -- is more telling.
And you can't simply blame it on not having wide receiver Sidney Rice or not getting enough time to work with Moss. Favre has thrown seven interceptions, equaling his total of last season.
Favre only talks football
He's missing open receivers and his overall energy seems to be lagging. The Vikings, especially Favre, had a bye week to prepare for this game but opened the first half with the gusto of a squad that played an overtime game last week and traveled cross country.
One team source said Favre and the guys protecting him have been equally inconsistent and have not allowed certain parts of the offense to prosper. Another source said some of the freelancing that Favre turned into positive plays last season isn't having the same effect in 2010.
Also, Favre was able to work out the kinks of his delayed entry to Minnesota last season against an opening schedule that featured Cleveland, Detroit, and San Francisco -- easy marks. This season, New Orleans, Miami, Detroit and the Jets (guess who the Vikings' only victory came against) haven't provided a grace period. And the rest of the schedule doesn't get any easier.
There's also no way to ignore Favre's health. At 41, he now looks like one of those athletes you imagine at 50 and wonder if he'll ever be able to live a pain-free, unimpeded lifestyle. He struggled to put on his shirt after the loss Monday night and slipping into his sneakers was somewhat of a chore.
The tendinitis in his right (throwing) elbow is causing more pain than he's felt all season and he has a short week to prepare for the equally desperate Cowboys. He'll probably be limited in practice, thus his jelling with Moss will take even longer.
"This is the worst I've felt after four games," Favre admitted after the game.
Though he didn't want to blame his elbow issues for missing wide-open receivers (he had 20 incompletions in 34 attempts, although he did make some beautiful throws during the game, especially his TD passes to Moss and Harvin), he did say some of the misses were throws "I make in my sleep."
The Vikings mortgaged so much on Favre, financially and otherwise. Players and coaches in training camp felt his arrival, whenever it came, would be all this team needed to get to the Super Bowl. Instead, Minnesota is tied with Detroit in the win column in what is turning out to be a very mediocre NFC North.
Listening to Favre after the loss, you get the impression he might be able to get it back. That, with another week or two with Moss, things will come around. The seams that opened up for Harvin (two touchdowns) against New York will open up for Visanthe Shiancoe and Adrian Peterson with just a little more time. And there is time to get things right.
Listening to Favre also sounded a lot like listening to Michael Jordan, who I covered in his final seasons with the Washington Wizards. Jordan always figured he could score 40 points at will or dunk on anyone, until reality set in and he struggled to score 12 points on some nights and attempted dunks sometimes found the bottom of the rim.
It would be so easy to say Favre is done, but there will be performances that will make us think otherwise and victories that could pull the Vikings back into contention. Things aren't going to be smooth, though. Favre isn't what he was -- even what he was last season.