Biggs: With Favre, Vikings are contenders

Mike Holmgren was with the Packers long enough to get a street named after him in Green Bay, so he knows how unusual it must have felt for Brett Favre to make the bus ride to Lambeau Field last Sunday morning.

The coach who helped launch Favre’s path to stardom in the NFL has marveled at the 40-year-old’s run this season with Minnesota, a first-half tear that was highlighted by a gritty 38-26 victory over the Packers that sends the Vikings into their bye week at 7-1, two games ahead of Green Bay and Chicago in the NFC North loss column.

No one knew exactly what to make of the Vikings at the beginning of the season after Favre’s crash course through half of the preseason. Would he pick up the offense and learn his teammates in time? Would he change his gunslinger ways? Would his right shoulder stay intact? Or would the Vikings be the familiar opponent they’ve been recently, beatable if you can stop running back Adrian Peterson?

At the halfway point, it’s evident Favre is getting more and more comfortable with his bevy of weapons and that he’s more than comfortable handing off to Peterson and watching him work. Now, whether he can stay healthy remains to be seen, but his coach last season, Eric Mangini, said there’s no reason to doubt the man. A week of rest for Favre as Vikings players spread far and wide on Monday will help. After the bye, the Vikings have three consecutive home games at the Metrodome, hosting Detroit, Seattle and Chicago. No one is wondering any longer if they’re for real.

“They’ve got balance on offense and they’re scoring a lot of points,” one personnel exec familiar with Favre said. “He’s playing at a Pro Bowl-caliber level. Before, if you could stop the run, Tarvaris Jackson wasn’t going to deliver the ball. Now, you have to deal with Favre.

“They’re 4-1 on the road and I think they’re pretty damn good. I don’t think anyone thought Brett Favre would be playing at this level. It’s a special year for him. It will be interesting to watch.”

Minnesota has swept the Packers now, effectively giving them a three-game lead over Green Bay in the division. The Bears’ first meeting with their longtime former nemesis isn’t until Nov. 30. The rivals face each other in Weeks 12 and 16, and Chicago can only hope those games will have significance on the race at that time.

“There’s nothing we can do,” Bears defensive end Alex Brown said. “We can’t go up there and kidnap (Favre), you know? They’re good, they’re really good.”

Holmgren told the “Waddle and Silvy Show” on WMVP-AM 1000 in Chicago on Monday that he’s talked more with Favre in the last year than he did in the previous decade. He’s an interested onlooker to the best plot going in the NFL, one that’s driving television ratings and making believers out of doubters.

“That’s another remarkable story in a very unusual and great career,” Holmgren said.

Favre drew criticism from many associated with the Packers for saying his current team is better than the 1996 Green Bay team that won a Super Bowl during his MVP days. Holmgren saw a clear difference between Favre’s development in Green Bay and his rebirth in Minnesota.

“I think more was asked of him in the past,” Holmgren said. “Certainly when we started together in Green Bay, we had a Sterling Sharp and then a young Brett Favre and that was about it. Then as we got better, our offense was one that heavily relied on the passing game. He was great at that. I think now in Minnesota he is playing very well, but they’re not asking him to do as many things, in my opinion. Now when he has to make certain throws and he has to do certain things, certainly. But with that great running back they have, it kind of helps their philosophy of stuff.”

Peterson is the best player in the division, arguably the best player in the league right now. But Favre has made the Vikings into an NFC contender, and that’s not something they ever were before he arrived. It’s the midpoint of Favre’s season and no one knows if the shoulder will hold up better than it did in November and December last year with the New York Jets. For now, the Vikings are going to enjoy their time off, and the rest of the conference is probably hoping a week away will cool them off.

“Very, very, very confident,” said tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, who has quickly become a red-zone target with six touchdowns. “We know our potential.

“It was there (at the start) but we weren’t sure if it was a mirage or not. Now, it’s starting to get to the point where it’s a reality. This is a good team.”

It’s Favre’s team.

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