INTERCEPTIONS ALWAYS have been a part of the package with Brett Favre.
If you wanted all of the good stuff, if you wanted the 30-touchdown seasons (eight of them), and the 300-yard passing games (48), and the pinpoint, how-the-hell-did-he-do-that throws between multiple defenders (countless), you had to accept the occasional pick.
OK, maybe more than occasional. Favre's 273 career interceptions are just four shy of George Blanda's league record of 277. In his 16 NFL seasons, Favre has averaged an interception every 30.1 attempts. The Eagles' Donovan McNabb has averaged one every 45.3, the Patriots' Tom Brady one every 39.3 and the Colts' Peyton Manning one every 35.2.
Favre brings a gunslinger mentality to the football field. His attitude always has been that no receiver is covered too tightly and no opening is too small for one of his 90-mph BBs.
"You tried to make sure he read the coverage and went to the receiver that was best against that coverage," said Eagles coach Andy Reid, who spent 7 years as an assistant with the Packers, including 2 years as Favre's position coach. "It was one of those situations where you'd go, 'Doggone it. What are you doing? Oh. Nice job.' He made a lot of big plays for us."
Lately, the big plays have been less frequent for the soon-to-be 38-year-old Favre. He's coming off a season in which he threw a career-low 18 touchdown passes and averaged a career-low 6.34 yards per attempt. Over the last four seasons, he has thrown a league-high 85 interceptions, averaging one every 26.2 attempts.
It's probably too late to teach an old dog like Favre new tricks. But that's exactly what Packers coach Mike McCarthy is trying to do.
He went to Favre earlier this summer and asked him to change his quarterbacking style. Less risk-taking, more respect for the football. Less gunslinger, more accountant.
He told him the Packers had an improving young defense that should be able to keep them in ballgames this season if they don't give away the football as much as they did last year, when they finished with the third-most turnovers (33) in the NFC. He told Favre he wanted him to "manage" the game more and try to win it singlehandedly less.
"I don't need him to play like a wild stallion anymore," McCarthy told reporters last month. "We're not built that way. Brett needs to go out and have his best year statistically that he's had in quite some time. [High] completion percentage, low interceptions."
Favre wasn't thrilled by McCarthy's "manage the game" suggestion. But he knows the coach is right about the defense being the strength of the team right now. His supporting offensive cast is young and inexperienced and doesn't have many weapons that are going to send chills down the spine of opposing defenses.
"There are two ways to look at this year," Favre said a couple of weeks ago. "You're a young football team with a mature quarterback who has seen it all, with a defense that, by most people's standards, is the best of our three [phases]. You may not score many points, so don't make any mistakes.
"Then again, what happens if we have to score points? I'm kind of in-between that right now. At some point, you've got to turn it loose."
It remains to be seen whether Favre can become the kind of quarterback McCarthy wants him to become this season. What happens Sunday against the Eagles on third-and-9, when all of his receivers are covered? Will he, gulp, throw the ball away and be happy to punt? Or will he try to force a throw into double coverage?
"He was born with that personality," Reid said. "I know what they're trying to do. I understand where they're coming from. But it's also an element in his game that's made him great over the years.
"What they're saying to him is, 'If you don't have it, just check down and live to play another play. Try to stay away from the high-risk throw.' "
Can he do that after 16 seasons of going for broke and ignoring the consequences?
"This guy is a great player," Reid said. "He can do whatever he puts his mind to. If that's what they've asked him to do, then maybe he can do it.
"I think really what Mike's doing is [telling him], 'Hey, calm down, calm down,' even though he knows he's still going to get a little bit [of the gunslinger]."
Reid has coached two great quarterbacks. But they couldn't be more different. Favre always has been willing to risk an interception to make a big play.
While McNabb has thrown touchdown passes almost as frequently as Favre (one in every 21.4 attempts compared to Favre's one in every 19.9) in his career, he seldom takes the chances that Favre does. He's thrown just 72 interceptions in eight seasons and owns the second-lowest interception rate in history (2.21 percent to Neil O'Donnell's 2.11).
"The thing that's similar with both of them is they both have cannons for arms," Reid said. "They both have a tremendous amount of confidence in their arms and believe they can put the ball in tight quarters and nobody can defend it.
"The difference is Brett probably takes a few more [chances] than Donovan. Donovan's very careful [with the ball] and takes great pride in that."
Maybe, after 16 seasons of being a gunslinger, Favre can become that same kind of quarterback. Then again, maybe not.
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