Four the Hard Way
Brett Favre should win yet another MVP because he's had less to work with than the Raiders' Rich Gannon
Weigh the seasons of Packers quarterback Brett Favre and Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon on one of those scales of justice, and it will not tip in either player's favor. That's how close the race for league MVP is.
Gannon is on pace to finish with some 1,200 more passing yards than Favre. Gannon crushed the Titans in September with a four-touchdown day, whipped the Bills in October with three scoring tosses, completed 90% of his throws in routing the Broncos in November and, entering the finale against the Chiefs, has led Oakland to three wins over playoff contenders in December. He's been at his best against the best, with a 99-3 passer rating against teams with winning records.
Favre entered the last week of the season two wins up on Gannon, 12-10. That's amazing when you consider the Packers are on their third starting right tackle and their second left tackle; their top three wideouts from 2001 left in free agency; Green Bay trailed in the second half of each of its first three games in December but rebounded behind Favre to win all three and stay in the race for home field advantage in the NFC playoffs; and the Pack has neither a receiver among the NFL's top 20 in catches nor a back among the top 10 in rushing.
Barring extraordinary developments on the final weekend, I'll cast my MVP vote for Favre. Although he has had better years statistically, in no season has he done as much for his team as he has in this one.
It's a shame, but I guess I'm penalizing Gannon for his supporting cast, one of the best offenses in recent NFL history. In addition to Jerry Rice and Tim Brown, he has new pass-catching weapons in Jerry Porter and Doug Jolley. In a 28-16 win over the Broncos on Sunday, an inspired Raiders defense enabled Gannon to start three of his first four drives in Denver territory, and he responded with three touchdowns. In the fourth quarter Oakland called on the backfield trio of Charlie Garner, Tyrone Wheatley and Zack Crockett to carry the ball all 57 yards to the clinching touchdown. "We've got so many weapons," says tackle Lincoln Kennedy. "We've got to find a way to get them all the ball."
Favre should have it so good. In successive December games the Packers introduced a rookie free agent to the starting lineup- running back Tony Fisher and then right tackle Kevin Barry. Down by 13 in the third quarter against the Vikings on Dec. 8, Favre rallied his team with scoring drives of 67,54 and 85 yards. The following week, in steady rain and wind at San Francisco, Favre directed the 79-yard, third-quarter touchdown drive that put the Packers ahead for good.
On Sunday, a bitter day in Green Bay with winds gusting to 30 mph, Favre and the Bills' Drew Bledsoe struggled on a horrible afternoon for passing. "First time in my life I haven't been able to throw my ball through the wind," Favre said. Green Bay led 3-0 in the fourth quarter when wideout Donald Driver, Favre's go-to receiver in 2002, streaked across the end zone and caught a dart for an 11-yard touchdown and a 10-0 victory. "This team's not as good as the '96 team," says Favre, referring to the Packers who won the Super Bowl. "But we're playing well because we're so cohesive." Number 4, the heart and soul of Green Bay, is the reason for that. When the results are announced on New Year's Day, that should be enough to win Favre his record fourth MVP.
All the King's Horses
With only a week left in one of the most unpredictable seasons ever, handing out other awards isn't easy either. But here goes: Coach of the Year: Andy Reid, Eagles In four years of running the team, he has taken great pains to instill in his players the belief that no one is a backup. So after quarterback Donovan McNabb went down with a broken right fibula on Nov. 17, no one panicked. In fact, replacements Koy Detmer and A.J. Feeley have put up as good a set of numbers as McNabb did, and the Eagles repeated as NFC East champs for the first time in franchise history.