Looking back on another Minnesota Viking season that almost was, one big question remains. That question, whether or not the blockbuster free agent signing of the veteran future hall of fame quarterback, Brett Favre, succeeded or failed?
Certainly with Favre producing perhaps statistically his finest season ever, the question of whether he was washed up or not, was answered resoundingly. Head Coach, Brad Childress, guessed right on the fact that Favre could in fact, withstand the rigor of another NFL season - Favre's 19th - and play at a high level.
Even in traditionally enemy territory, Favre gained intense popularity with Viking fans. The very same fans who spent nearly two entire decades booing, jeering, and yes, even cursing the very ground he walked on, were seen sporting his Viking jersey everywhere. While known as a distant and somewhat aloof teammate as a New York Jet one year earlier, after some initial awkardness, Favre seemed to fit in with his Viking teammates very well as the season progressed.
The Vikings, as they have every year under Childress, improved their season win total by two games. This year, the Vikings came within a hair of going to their first Super Bowl in 33 years. This season produced levels of excitement and anticipation not seen since the 1998 Viking season, when - at the time - the highest scoring offense in league history also came within a hair of going to the Super Bowl.
So, on many accounts the Favre experiment - bringing a 39 year-old quarterback out of retirement (sort of), to join a new team coming off of their first division crown in eight years - can certainly be viewed as a success. Also, despite the "highly unlikely" to return statement Favre issued following the NFC Title defeat, he has waffled on returning every offseason since the 2004 season, only to eventually return somewhere. Therefore, this is an experiment still in progress, until or unless Favre actually does retire.
On the otherhand, when signing Favre to a two year, 24 million dollar contract, was just getting to the NFC Title game the expected result? For all of the hoopla and excitement generated by Favre's last second touchdown miracle against the San Francisco 49ers, his 107.2 quarterback rating, his 4,202 yards passing, his sweeping of the Green Bay Packers, and his four touchdown (career playoff high) performance in the Dallas Cowboys playoff rout, was the mission really accomplished?
Let's look at what kind of team Favre walked onto. The Vikings brought back a team that placed six players in the 2008 Pro Bowl, in Adrian Peterson, featured the leading rusher in the NFL, and won the NFC North Division Title with 10 wins. In addition to that nucleus returning, the 2009 team featured the addition of explosive rookie Percy Harvin, who would be named the Associated Press Offensive Rookie of the Year, a healthy Sidney Rice for the first time in his career, and a vastly improved special teams unit with the return of Pro Bowl linebacker, Heath Farwell, who missed all of 2008.
While the 2009 Viking team was certainly an on-the-field upgrade over the 2008 version well before Favre joined it, they would also enjoy playing the second easiest schedule in the NFL. Playing against opponents whose 2008 combined winning percentage was a measly .420, only the Chicago Bears received a softer schedule.
In looking at a 2009 season without Favre, while certainly no one would have reasonably projected quarterback Tarvaris Jackson posting the prolific numbers that Favre did, Jackson did nevertheless post an excellent 95.4 quarterback rating in 2008. After looking particularly sharp in preseason and in regular season mop-up stints in 2009 (113.4 rating), one would have to realistically expect an improvement in Jackson's numbers from 2008. Having the new weapon in Harvin, who helped give the Vikings now one of the best receiving units in the league, Jackson would have likely flirted with a 100 quarterback rating in 2009. Ratings like that usually wind up in the Pro Bowl.
In 2009, the Vikings won two more games than they did in 2008. The 2009 Vikings averaged 29.4 points per game, the 2008 Vikings averaged 23.7 points per game. The 2009 Vikings were 1-1 in the playoffs, the 2008 Vikings were 0-1 in the playoffs. Given the talent of the team returning in 2009, and the fluffy schedule to be played, should not the team have one two more games, improved their scoring by nearly six points per game and won a playoff game anyway? Did it really take begging and pleading Favre to come out of retirement to accomplish that?
While Favre has had the greatest career of any quarterback in league history, he is the career leader in every major passing category, and this year even added to his legend by remarkably playing huge, even at the age of 40, he has nonetheless, always had a major flaw to his game. The interception; to which he is also the all-time career leader. It is the interception, especially in big games, that takes Favre out of the discussion of "best quarterback of all-time", in spite of the greatness of his career.
The result of the final offensive play for the 2009 Vikings season, was the same result as the final offensive play of the 2007 Green Bay Packers season, which was the same result of the final offensive play for the 2003 Green Bay Packers season; a Favre playoff overtime interception. Essentially, the last offensive play for the 2008 Jets season was a Favre interception also, but that one was not in a playoff game. With Favre, you get big numbers, and the costly interception. That is his football DNA, that is who he is.
While many will point to Favre's great season as being the primary reason the Vikings got to where they did this year, in reality, they should have been able to get to where they did without him. Whether they would have or not, will never be known. Because the Vikings fell short of a Super Bowl appearance, despite owning a Super Bowl caliber roster, certainly by some accounts the Favre experiment can legitimately be viewed as a failure as well.
Whether Favre will play next season or not, will only be known when next season is underway. Because of that fact, the true answer as to whether the Favre experiment was a success or failure is not yet fully known. If he does not return, the experiment was neither success, nor failure, but somewhere in between, kind of a tie, kind of like, well... kissing your sister.