CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Brett Favre walked to the sideline in the third quarter after another thwarted drive. Brad Childress told him he was going to change quarterbacks. They argued. Favre stayed in the game.

That's what we know about the Vikings' first Favre-related crisis of what had been a remarkably placid season, and we know it because Favre recounted the conversation late Sunday night in Bank of America Stadium, after Childress had avoided the topic and departed the locker room.

The Vikings lost 26-7 to Carolina, lost while their offensive line got whipped all game and their defense got dissected in the fourth quarter. The story of the night, though, was a story that may be discussed by all of Minnesota before it is discussed by the principals -- the new, intriguing and dangerous development in the most crucial relationship at Winter Park.

We've heard and told jokes about Childress and Favre this season -- that he had to sign off on Childress' contract extension, that the quarterback could fire the coach but not vice versa. Sunday night, satire mingled with reality as Favre and Childress seemed in need of counseling, if not divorce court.

"Yeah, there was a heated discussion, I guess you would call it,'' Favre said. "We were up 7-6 at the time. No secret, I was getting hit a little bit. I felt the pressure on a lot of plays ...

"We had seven points. So I think everyone in the building was like, 'They're not moving the ball, they're not getting points,' and so Brad wanted to go in a different direction, and I wanted to stay in the game.

"We were up. We were up 7-6. Yeah, it's not 70-6, but we're up 7-6, so ... so I said I'm staying in the game, I'm playing.''

Why did Childress want to bench him? "I don't know if it was exactly to protect me, or we had seven points, I'm not sure,'' Favre said. "That's his call. But we talked it out. We didn't have time, I didn't have time to sit there and say, 'Why?' or 'What?'My response was, 'We've got to win this ballgame, and I want to stay in and do whatever I can.' Now, unfortunately, I didn't do that, but that was my intention.''

Favre is remarkably expansive during press conferences, even when the subject is as fraught with controversy as the potential benching of a Hall of Fame quarterback.

"As I look back on this game and watch the film, I think there are some plays I could have made, don't get me wrong,'' he said. "Now, some of my best performances throughout my career, I could have said the same. I could sense we were struggling, and there were a lot of reasons for that, and I've got no problem taking that on my shoulder. That's what I'm here for.

"But I in no way ... being up 7-6 and being banged around a little bit, would I consider coming out. I don't even know if I would consider that being down 70-6. But winning the ballgame, I don't know ... Once again, we didn't have time to sit there and talk about what Brad's intentions were.

"But believe me, I wanted to get something going, I wanted to score points. Once again, I go back, we're up 7-6. It felt like we were down a bunch, but we were up.

"So I don't know. I don't know the answer to that question, what his reasonings were.''

By the time he spoke, well after the end of the game, Favre sounded more puzzled than angry. I asked him if he could remember the last time a coach tried to bench him during a game -- or bench him during a game his team was leading. Favre shook his head, laughed ... and seemed about to try to muster an answer when someone interrupted with another question.

Favre finished 17-of-27 for 224 yards, no touchdowns, and one late interception. He was sacked four times and took many more hits, looking more like the victim of a faulty offensive line than a quarterback whose play was hampering the offense.

If the Vikings resume winning, Favre will be able to joke about his "heated discussion'' with Childress. If their losses at Arizona and Carolina prove indicators rather than aberrations, Sunday's "heated discussion'' could become the first of many between the legendary quarterback and the coach who needs him.

Jim Souhan can be heard at 10-noon Sunday, and 6:40 a.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday on AM-1500. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com