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Sunday, December 5, 2004
Updated: August 1, 5:54 PM ET
Favre's amazing streak ends at 36

By Michael Smith
ESPN.com

Based on ability, durability, longevity, statistics and, most important, team success, Brett Favre, to me, is the best quarterback ever. That's just one (young) man's opinion.

The impossible happened Sunday. My opinion of Favre grew.

At 35 years old and in his 14th season, Favre has nothing left to prove. But he keeps doing things the right way. His Packers didn't show up for Sunday's supposed showdown with Philadelphia, while the Eagles proved in the 47-17 rout that they are, lest there were any remaining doubts, not only the class of the NFC but also in a different class than the rest of the conference.

Favre, though, showed something in the loss. As a matter of fact he exhibited a few things -- class, professionalism and perspective.

Favre failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first time in 37 games, a streak dating to Oct. 20, 2002. He fell 11 games short of tying Johnny Unitas' league record of 47 consecutive games with a touchdown pass. The Eagles' defense did a fabulous job against Favre, limiting him to 14-of-29 passing and 131 yards and picking him off twice. For that, Philly should be commended. But it shouldn't be credited for snapping the streak. Favre should. He deserves credit for that.

With the Packers trailing by 44 and about 11 minutes left, Favre, football's iron man, grabbed some pine. He gave way to backup Craig Nall, who threw two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter. If he wanted, Favre could have stayed in until he tossed a touchdown. Up more than six touchdowns, the Eagles kept Donovan McNabb in into the fourth quarter. But the only record that mattered to Favre was 7-5, the Packers' mark after the loss.

For Favre, there was nothing to gain by playing the final meaningless minutes. So he sat, and in the process gained even more respect.

"I've never really bought into records," Favre said last week. "Maybe when I was young, the opportunity to either break an idol's records or a big-time player's records had some meaning to it. But as I've gotten older, I've come to realize that the only reason they keep track of records is so someone else can break them."

Unitas' 47-game run from 1956-60 is football's "56," as in Joe DiMaggio's major-league record of consecutive games with a hit. Both are considered unbreakable, but Johnny U's record may last longer than Joe D's. Nowadays it's an accomplishment for some quarterbacks to start 47 games in a row, let alone throw a touchdown in every one of them. Sunday we saw just how easy it is for such a streak to end.

What was the second-longest active streak, 18 games with a scoring pass by St. Louis' Marc Bulger, also ended Sunday. Minnesota's Daunte Culpepper is now in the lead with a TD toss in 17 straight contests. I could see someone like Culpepper or Peyton Manning, who's on a 13-game run and looks like he'll never again throw only one touchdown pass, making a run at the record. It's definitely a marathon.

It certainly makes one appreciate the greatness of Unitas, who played in the days of 12-game seasons and went almost the equivalent of four full seasons without being shut out. He led the league in touchdown passes four years straight from 1957-60, also a record.

The greater of Favre's historic streaks is over. His record of 201 (and counting) consecutive regular-season starts will probably fall before a quarterback throws a touchdown in close to 40 straight games. Even the most prolific passer in league history, Dan Marino, could only get to 30. Manning reached 27 over his first two seasons.

Favre throwing a touchdown pass in every game for two and a quarter seasons is more impressive to me than him simply starting every game for the past 13 seasons. The consecutive starts streak is as much about good fortune as it is Favre's toughness. Throwing a touchdown week in and week out is a product of just being plain good. Manning and McNabb make it look easy a lot of times, but throwing a touchdown pass is far from it.

The streak was fun to watch while it lasted. In a sense, it ended on Favre's terms, like Cal Ripken sitting after 2,632. Favre is too good to pad stats in garbage time. He walked away from a fight is what he did. It probably didn't feel very good to do so, but it was the right thing to do.

Why is Favre still doing it after all these years? Certainly not to break records, more of which he'll own if he plays a few more years.

"I'm fortunate to have played the game at a high level for a long time," Favre said last week. "Because of that, numbers have been put up. But when all is said and done, you'll be remembered by wins and losses."

McNabb threw for 464 yards and five touchdowns. He'll be remembered as the best quarterback at Lincoln Financial Field on Dec. 5, 2004. That he was. But not by much.

Michael Smith is a senior writer for ESPN.com.