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NEW ORLEANS - This August, the Vikings sent three ambassadors to Hattiesburg to coax Brett Favre out of faux-retirement. Next summer, they should send the whole team.
Not to beg. To practice.
Thursday night, in their season-opening, 14-9 loss in New Orleans, the Vikings' skill-position players performed as if they needed nametags on the front of their jerseys, as if they should have taken time in the first huddle of the season to reacquaint themselves.
As in, "My name's Brett, I'm from Hattiesburg, and I'm real sorry I held out for more money.''
On this visit to New Orleans, the Vikings needed a 12th man in the huddle just to make introductions.
Favre lived a charmed existence in 2009. He didn't pay for his belated arrival because the Vikings started the season against Cleveland and Detroit, enabling him to make more warmup tosses than Mariano Rivera.
By the time the Vikings began facing real teams, Favre had developed a bond with Sidney Rice and a football version of telepathy with Percy Harvin.
Thursday, Favre played as if he had just driven over from his hometown of Kiln, Miss. On his tractor. With a cattail between his teeth.
Only a terrible decision kept Favre from producing 31 points against the Saints in the NFC Championship Game. Thursday, a blocked extra point kept him from cracking double digits.
"I thought our timing was a little bit off,'' Favre said.
And why would that be? Why would an offense that sliced through the NFL last year, that dominated two playoff defenses only eight months ago, be "off?''
Because Favre didn't want to do the necessary work with buddies this summer. Because he shirked his duties as a teammate.
"We left a lot of plays out there,'' tight end Visanthe Shiancoe said.
They left those plays in Hattiesburg.
For most of the game, Favre looked as if he was in sync with only one receiver -- Shiancoe. Favre misfired or misread passes to Harvin, Bernard Berrian, Greg Camarillo and Greg Lewis.
Right now, Favre might have a better rapport with those guys in the Wrangler's commercial than with the receivers in purple.
"Those are throws I should have made,'' Favre said.
There were two moments in particular that spoke of rust.
In the first quarter, Favre spotted Harvin isolated on a linebacker. Favre threw deep; Harvin slowed; and what could have been a long touchdown pass fell as an ugly incompletion.
Favre slapped his helmet in frustration as Harvin jogged back to the huddle. To be fair, that play appeared to be Harvin's fault, and Harvin's migraines kept him out of numerous practices in August, but these things happen when quarterbacks and receivers spend seven months apart.
In the fourth quarter, Favre faced a key third-and-11, and Camarillo broke open for what should have been a first down. Favre threw a bounce pass that would make Ricky Rubio proud.
"We have to get better, and we will,'' Favre said. "... You can't miss open guys.''
In the NFC title game, the Vikings shredded the Saints defense for 475 yards, failing to score more than 28 points only because of silly turnovers. The Saints defense ranked 25th in yards allowed in 2009, and was missing star safety Darren Sharper on Thursday.
Favre completed 15 of 27 passes for 171 yards and one touchdown with an interception, failing to expose the Saints' flaws and costing his team a victory.
"I missed on some of these throws, but everything felt fine to me,'' Favre said. "You can say in a couple of weeks those things will come back. This was the first week, but it means a lot. ... I came in as prepared as I could be. I can promise you that.''
That sounds like another Favre Fib. There is little doubt Favre prepared himself as well as he could in the week leading to the Saints game. There is little doubt he could have spent more time with his teammates during the offseason, or in Mankato.
"It's obvious we could be a lot better,'' Favre said. "Last year in the playoffs, I thought we played as good as we could have played. ... We didn't score as many points as we did last time, but there was a lot of potential out there tonight.''
Favre's right -- the offense will improve, especially if Adrian Peterson keeps running with power while holding on to the ball.
The Vikings' biggest problem Thursday: Their most important player stunk when they needed him most.
We've all assumed that the gray fuzz on Favre's face was stubble. Thursday night, we had reason to believe it was oxidation.
Jim Souhan can be heard at 10-noon Sunday on 1500ESPN. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org