Last Saturday, after the Packers' final practice of the week, quarterback Brett Favre drove 30 miles in a steady rain to a 1,000-acre hunting preserve in northeast Wisconsin. He climbed a tree and sat in a stand with his bow and arrows, waiting for a buck. The rain never let up, and Favre sat for four hours without firing a single arrow. On Sunday morning he was still so eager to shoot that before he left for Lambeau Field and Green Bay's showdown with the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, he fired three arrows at the target in his backyard. "All three were dead center in the bull's-eye," Favre said on Sunday night. "I didn't think anything of it at the time, but I guess it was a good omen."
Favre, 32, has won three league MVPs and one Super Bowl. He has passed for more than 4,000 yards three times and thrown at least 30 touchdown passes five times. Last week, in his 150th NFL game, going against what he called the best defense he's ever faced, he played arguably the best game of his life. "I'd be hard-pressed to say, considering the quality of the team we played, that I've ever had a better game," he said.
In Green Bay's stunning 31-23 win, Favre had the most efficient passing day by a Ravens' opponent since 1997 (27 completions in 34 attempts, for 79%), accounting for 337 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. Favre led the four longest touchdown drives allowed by Baltimore this year (59, 74, 80 and 82 yards), keeping the Ravens on their heels by using a quirky mix of play-action passes and runs out of the shotgun.
"I'm not in fear of anyone," Favre said from his home four hours after the game ended, while an outdoors show played on the TV. "But last week I watched six Baltimore games on tape. Good offenses, too, like Oakland's and Denver's. I saw that so many teams have chances but never capitalize. When [offensive coordinator] Tom Rossley talked to our offense about the game last week, he told us we could have 400 yards if we executed right. I'm looking around the room at our young guys, and I can see them thinking, Sure. Who's he trying to kid?"
The Ravens, who haven't permitted an opposing player to run for 100 yards in 38 games, line up mountainous tackles Sam Adams and Tony Siragusa to plug the middle. Outside speed rushers Michael McCrary and Peter Boulware chase quarterbacks relentlessly, while ace cover cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Duane Starks blanket receivers. For insurance, there's pit-bull middle linebacker Ray Lewis.
Everyone has tried to get Baltimore off-balance, usually by spreading out and adding extra receivers to get the 340-pound Siragusa off the field. Rossley thought if he put Favre in the shotgun most of the day but ran out of it often, he'd keep the defense honest and not let the rushers cut loose on Favre. Rossley calls the plays snapped out of the shotgun "keeps." Said Favre, "They'd think it was a run when we had two backs beside me, and sometimes it was. After the game McCrary came up to me and said, 'I played the keeps all day.' "
Precision was vital too, because the Ravens don't leave much room for receivers to breathe. Late in the third quarter, with Green Bay leading 17-10, Favre sent wideout Donald Driver and two other receivers down the left sideline, while Antonio Freeman did a curl on the right side. He stared a hole in Freeman, trying to make the safety cheat toward that side, all the while yearning to throw deep to Driver.
"From the time I started playing quarterback in the fifth grade," Favre said, "I was always taught not to throw a pass when the safety is there to help. But I thought that I could get this ball in to Donald. Before he turned for it, I threw the ball as hard as I could, and the safety charged. The ball got to Donald at the perfect time." The 37-yard completion helped set up Green Bay's third touchdown.
Afterward the Favres—Brett, wife Deanna and daughters Brittany and Breleigh—joined a crowd of players and their families at Brett's Green Bay steak house for dinner. A fan asked the quarterback if the Ravens had talked much trash. "Not at all," Favre said. "They were the classiest guys we've played. I talked with a bunch of them after the game—McCrary, Goose, Lewis—and they said, 'Great job. Stay healthy. Hope we meet in the Super Bowl.' "