Carolina Panthers

Panthers try to stop Favre-elous season

CHARLOTTE -- Of course the Carolina Panthers' defensive backs have to worry about Brett Favre.

But the way the Green Bay legend is playing now, they may have to worry more than ever.

The 38-year-old quarterback is enjoying a renaissance season, throwing like he always has but cutting down on the interceptions, cranking up the efficiency and leading the Packers to a surprising 8-1 record without the benefit of a running game.

"Obviously, offensively, Brett's having a hell of a year," Panthers guard and former Packer Mike Wahle said, understating it just a tad.

Already this year, Favre has broken the NFL's all-time touchdown mark, but he also set the league's interception record. Known throughout his 16-year career as a guy willing to take a chance, he's thrown just eight picks this year in nine games. He's averaged nearly 19 in the 15 he's been with Green Bay, and had a league-high 29 just two years ago, when many thought he was done.

But those who know him well say those reports were premature, if not laughable.

After battling through substance abuse, his wife's bout with cancer and the death of his father before his memorable Monday Night Football heroics, many thought the combined weight of the off-field issues were bringing him down. But the way he's playing now, you'd never know it, and it's not as if he's gone conservative in his old age.

"He's just like a kid out there having fun," Panthers cornerback Ken Lucas said. "He's putting the ball up in the air, giving his wide receivers opportunities to make plays. It's going to be a great challenge, for this team and the secondary especially, because they put four or five wides on the field at once. These are the type of games you live for right here.

"He wouldn't be Brett Favre if he didn't take chances. That's what great quarterbacks do, they put the ball in the air and give players the opportunities to make plays."

Panthers linebacker Na'il Diggs, who spent the first six years of his career in Green Bay, said it was clear some of the events of recent years were an issue, but watching Favre on tape now, it reminded him of what a leader he was.

"Mentally and physically a couple years ago he was going through some things, whereas now he's healthy and he's playing lights out," Diggs said. "That's the healthy Brett Favre I knew coming into the league."

Diggs said when he was there, it was clear the confidence of the quarterback rubbed off on the other side of the ball, the intangible qualities he's so known for contagious throughout the locker room.

"Yeah, no question," Diggs said. "But playing with him was the fact that we knew we could not have our best day defensively, if you know what I mean, and still be OK, still win the game.

"We practiced against him all the time, but that's different, he's joking around, he's making plays but he's joking around. It's going to be interesting to see the serious, competitive part."

That nature's probably best embodied by the way he's stayed on the field.

Since taking over in 1992, he's started a league-record 246 games, an accomplishment even the other longevity kings admire.

"You respect it all, but the one thing that stands out to me is that he's had as many starts in a row without missing," Panthers quarterback Vinny Testaverde said. "With as physical as the game is, and everybody trying to put the quarterback out, especially a guy like Brett, as dangerous as he is, it's just amazing.

"It's one record I don't think will ever be broken and one record that can't be touched in any sport. You can compare it to other sports and baseball with Cal (Ripken), but I think this even surpasses that."

But the more immediate concern is he's leading the league's top passing attack, averaging 298.8 yards per game. He's fifth in the league in passer rating (96.2) and tied for fifth in touchdowns, while settling into a tie for 16th in interceptions.

The Panthers know they're not looking at some icon in his twilight. They know they're facing a man who appears to be in his prime, one who can carve them up quickly and within a small window of opportunity.

"We know he's a good quarterback," corner Richard Marshall said, apparently trying to push Wahle for the week's understatement award. "We have to bring our 'A' game every play. If we mess up, we know he'll take advantage of it."

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