Favre's NFL-record streak of games played looks as if it will end soon

The end is near.

Or so it appears.

Then again, with Brett Favre it's always hard to tell. But with the news Monday that the Minnesota Vikings quarterback has two small fractures in his left ankle, it seems likely that his NFL-record streak of 291 consecutive starts soon will be coming to an end.

Favre has not been ruled out for the Week 8 game at New England but was clearly in pain during Sunday night's 28-24 loss at Green Bay. He was wearing a walking boot Monday and, according to the Vikings, has sustained an avulsion fracture in his heel — meaning a tendon or ligament has pulled off a piece of the bone — and a stress fracture.

"Once he's functional, he can play," Vikings coach Brad Childress told reporters. "As you know, he's had ankle and heel problems for a long time, so that walking boot makes him a little bit more comfortable and I wouldn't rule anything out in terms of the end of the week."

Favre, 41, had surgery on the same ankle in the offseason. He was injured in the third quarter on his first of three interceptions.

His streak of consecutive starts began Sept. 27, 1992, when he led the Packers to a 17-3 victory over Pittsburgh at Lambeau Field. The 291 regular-season games are a record for any position, and the next-closest quarterback is the Indianapolis Colts' Peyton Manning, who has started 198 in a row.

If Favre doesn't start, he will be replaced by Tarvaris Jackson. Childress said much of it hinges on whether Favre is healthy enough to practice this week.

"It's kind of the chicken and the egg kind of deal," the coach said. "You can't practice if you can't move. He obviously has a feel for the system. My experience, though, is most players need to practice."

As for keeping the streak alive, Childress indicated that's a low priority.

"We have to do what's right for the Minnesota Vikings," he said. "That's what I get charged with at the end of the day. I'm not worried about somebody getting one more start or one more yard to equal 300. I think the picture will clear itself up as we go forward."

California dreamin'

Earth to Mike… Earth to Mike…

It's admirable that you haven't lost faith in your San Francisco 49ers, Mike Singletary, even though they're 1-6 after losing to one of the NFL's two remaining winless teams. But to reference the postseason in any way other than Jim Mora in those old Colts clips — "Playoffs?! Playoffs?!" — makes you wonder whether the Candlestick's on but nobody's home.

Nonetheless, that's what Singletary did after the 23-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, telling reporters, "I still believe we can go to the playoffs."

OK, so that prediction is a little out of the stratosphere, but Singletary isn't the only coach out there making crazy proclamations. With the murkiness of the league through seven weeks — and especially the NFC — it's hard to separate the real from the rhetoric.

What are we supposed to make, for instance, of Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris' saying the Buccaneers are the best team in the NFC? Yes, they came from behind to beat the St. Louis Rams by a point Sunday, but that was only a week removed from a 25-point home loss to the New Orleans Saints.

The Saints are the Super Bowl champions, you say? Yes, but they were crushed at home Sunday by the one-win Cleveland Browns, who are down to rookie quarterback Colt McCoy.

Morris is probably safe to talk a little smack because his team plays at Arizona on Sunday, and the Cardinals — like a lot of teams — have no firm answer at quarterback.

When it comes to determining which team is best, the NFC is far murkier than the AFC. In the AFC mix are the three one-loss teams — the Pittsburgh Steelers, Patriots and New York Jets — as well as the Ravens, Kansas City Chiefs, Tennessee Titans and Colts.

In the NFC, every team has at least two losses, and of the final four teams from last season — New Orleans, the Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota and Arizona — only the struggling Saints have a winning record.

The New York Giants pulled out of their early tailspin and found a defense they didn't have in their first three games. The Atlanta Falcons have quietly assembled an impressive run. The Packers are good but very banged-up. The Philadelphia Eagles are talented yet erratic and frittered away a chance to beat the Titans on Sunday.

As for the 49ers, they have more losses than anyone else in the NFC, they will log the most air miles this season and are preparing to play in London this weekend, and their quarterback situation is a mess.

That said, none of the three teams ahead of them in the NFC West feels more stable than wobbly. So is Singletary bonkers for saying the playoffs are within reach? Probably, but as anyone who has watched this season can attest, stranger things have happened.

Man in the middle

Brian Cushing played all three linebacker spots at Southern California, so that should help ease his transition in Houston, where he has been moved to middle linebacker to replace the injured DeMeco Ryans. Cushing will move from the strong side, where last season he won Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.

"Brian has the talent and the leadership ability to do what we need at that position," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said Monday.

sfarmer@tribune.com

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