GREEN BAY, Wis. &
Tampa Bay cornerback Ronde Barber made waves a couple of weeks ago when he said New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning can "be had" &
meaning that Manning can be forced into throwing interceptions.
Big deal. Brett Favre can be had, too.
For all of his 300-yard games and white-knuckle comebacks over the years, the Green Bay star has been "had" more times than any quarterback in NFL history, to the tune of 288 career interceptions.
But that's beginning to change under Packers coach Mike McCarthy.
Favre is playing a more careful, disciplined brand of football in his second season under McCarthy. And, perhaps not coincidentally, he is back in the NFC Championship game for the first time in a decade.
"He literally eliminated that part of his game," said New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin, who will lead his team into Lambeau Field to face Favre on Sunday. "I haven't really seen anything like that for quite some time."
Favre, version 2.0, isn't quite as flashy as the ol' gunslinger.
But he might be more dangerous.
Favre's interception total has fallen from a career-worst 29 in 2005 to only 15 this season, and those forehead-slapping moments where he throws into triple coverage have all but disappeared. Favre's completion percentage was a career-best 66.5.
Favre has said his improvement is mostly a function of the talent around him. The Packers have better players than they did two years ago and he isn't playing from behind as much, so he doesn't have to take as many chances.
"I think he realized that he had more weapons, he started trusting guys," wide receiver Donald Driver said. "And now if you look around, we've got five of the best receivers in the National Football League."
But much of the credit for Favre's improvement should go to McCarthy, even if the coach won't accept it. McCarthy has spent this season praising the work of quarterbacks coach Tom Clements, his offensive players as a unit and Favre himself.
"I think we're better in the offense, everybody has a better understanding, and it leads to a lot more production," McCarthy said.
But behind closed doors, McCarthy has made it clear that he won't accept those head-scratching throws that Favre used to explain away by saying he was "just trying to make a play."
who was Favre's quarterbacks coach in Green Bay for one season, 1999, before going on to offensive coordinator stints in New Orleans and San Francisco &
has essentially turned Favre into the point guard of an offense that relies mostly on short passes that set receivers up to run after the catch.
Favre's transformation was evident in Saturday's playoff victory over Seattle. After two fumbles by running back Ryan Grant put the Packers in an early 14-0 hole, Favre got a pre-emptive talking-to from Clements.
"He came over and he said, 'Hey, you don't have to get it all at once,'" Favre said.
Favre, of course, should know that already. So should any other pro football player. But Favre hasn't exactly stuck to that philosophy in years past.
"History with me is, try to get it all back right now," Favre said.
So why do quarterbacks sometimes need a reminder?
"Well, I really don't know the answer to that," Clements said. "When it's an important game and things aren't going well, maybe when you get behind, you think you might have to do something heroic. And that's really not the case, especially with the amount of time left in the game."
Favre seemed to forget that and lapse back into his go-for-broke ways in the Packers' Nov. 29 loss at Dallas, when Green Bay fell behind and Favre started throwing deep. It didn't work. Then Favre was injured, and backup Aaron Rodgers came in and methodically ran the offense &
and nearly led the Packers back to victory.
"Sometimes, you get behind and you want to catch up on one play," Rodgers said. "And you can't throw a 14-point touchdown. So you've just got to realize that, like we did on Saturday, we were down 14 and we just methodically moved the ball down the field."
Favre rallied the Packers for six straight touchdown drives and a 42-20 victory over the Seahawks.
Still, Favre doesn't seem to like the idea of going from the NFL's ultimate gambler to &
its ultimate game manager.
"I don't know if I broke the habit," Favre said. "I'm not saying it's a bad habit, either."
And at least in terms of public perception, Favre remains the star of the show.
Driver called him "basically the president in the state of Wisconsin because everyone loves him so much."
"This is Brett Favre's team," tight end Bubba Franks said. "People don't say they're going to play Bubba Franks and the Green Bay Packers. It's Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers."
Favre more careful, dangerous
GREEN BAY, Wis. &