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Favre-Cutler falls short of prime-time hype

Photo by Scott Chancey

Photo by Scott Chancey

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- It certainly looked like a juicy prime-time pairing when the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears were scheduled for tonight.

If the script didn't play out as expected, well, at least it had no shortage of twists.

There's Jay Cutler throwing about as many interceptions as completions for Chicago. And rampant speculation about the future of the coaching staff and general manager Jerry Angelo as one of the most disappointing seasons in recent memory comes to an end.

On the other side, there's Brett Favre in the center of drama again, only this time it's not about retirement or a comeback. It's about conflict, with coach Brad Childress playing his antagonist.

So a showcase between gunslingers young and old that might have decided the NFC North instead will have an entirely different tone when these teams meet at Soldier Field.

"I think every team in the league wants to believe they're going to be in the run for the playoffs," Cutler said. "Bottom line, obviously, is this is not where we want to be."

The Bears (5-9) are simply trying to salvage something from this lost season. The Vikings (11-3) are trying to regain their momentum heading into the playoffs after dropping two of three, and put aside that sideline spat between their quarterback and coach last week.

"Well, they were resolved just by sitting down and talking about, as we should have done and ultimately did do," Favre said. "But really the differences, it's gotten blown way out of proportion."

The problem is the confrontation played out on national TV last Sunday night during a 26-7 loss to Carolina. Cameras caught Childress placing his right hand on Favre's left biceps, and Favre pulling his arm away after Childress said something.

It was far from the lovefest in which the coach chauffeured him from the airport to the team's headquarters to sign the contract last summer.

This time, Childress considered lifting Favre after watching him get sacked four times and hit numerous others even though the Vikings were leading 7-6 in the third quarter. Favre indicated after the game the decision was more performance-based. Either way, he was having none of it.

The league's all-time leading passer, he stayed in the game and finished 17 of 27 with 224 yards and an interception. Whether Childress wanted to lift him for preservation or performance, the notion seemed odd despite Favre's recent struggles.

Sure, he's not playing up to the level that drove a 10-1 start, with three touchdowns and four interceptions this month, but he is in the running for an unprecedented fourth MVP award. He's also in the center of drama again.

The conflict last week sparked reports of Favre and Childress clashing over the play-calling while raising questions about a relationship that -- for what it's worth -- the Vikings insist is fine.

"I think we're both on the same page," Childress said. "It hasn't been a distraction or divisive. ... I'm always animated when I speak. I don't know if it's because I've got Italian blood or what. I speak with my hands."

Cornerback Antoine Winfield said: "We have all the confidence in the world that No. 4 will get the job done for us and we're excited about having him out there."

More important, the Vikings need to win this game. If they do, they would get a first-round bye if Philadelphia loses.

It would help if Adrian Peterson emerged from a December snooze in which he managed 19 yards against Arizona and 35 against Carolina last week after going for 97 in a win over Cincinnati. It would help, too, if Favre played the way he did last month against the Bears and not the last time he visited Soldier Field.

On Nov. 29, he threw for a season-high 392 yards and three touchdowns, and the Vikings racked up 537 yards in a 36-10 win at the Metrodome. This time?

"I definitely think it'll be little bit of a different story because it's on our turf and they've got to come outside," Bears linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer said.

Two years ago on a bone-chilling, windy and at times snowy afternoon at Soldier Field, Favre threw for just 153 yards for Green Bay in a 35-7 loss that wiped out the Packers' shot at the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

It was a nightmarish performance for him. For Cutler, this has been a nightmarish season.

His 25 interceptions are six shy of Sid Luckman's club record, and only Favre with 29 in 2005 has thrown more in a season this decade. Things were particularly bad for Cutler in last week's 31-7 loss at Baltimore, when he was 10 for 27 with a season-low 94 yards, got picked off threw times and had a 7.9 rating. The optimism that surrounded his arrival is a distant memory after eight losses in 10 games.

"I don't worry about anybody's observations, except for the people in this building," he said. "I can't get wrapped up in what's going on outside of this building."