Monday, February 7, 2011

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers: 6 games to a superstar

At this point and time in history – as you read this – Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in the NFL. That could change next season, but as of right now, it’s hard to argue that anyone is better.

Rodgers, who is 27-years-old, just finished off what was one of the best six game stretches I’ve ever seen. He took the Packers from the brink of elimination to Super Bowl champions. Along the way Rodgers has made Packers fans forget about Brett Favre and established himself as an elite quarterback.

The biggest knock on Rodgers has been his inability to win close games (2-12 in games decided by four points or less). And before this season the Packers had failed to win a playoff game with Rodgers at quarterback (0-1 in two seasons). Rodgers now has a playoff record of 4-1, a Super Bowl ring and a Super Bowl MVP trophy.

To truly appreciate what Rodgers and the Packers accomplished this season, I broke down Green Bay’s final six games of the season. Two of the games were must-win regular season games, the other four were playoff games, including Super Bowl XLV. They are the six games that made Rodgers an elite quaterback.

Week 16 – New York Giants at Green Bay
After losing two straight games on the road (Detroit and New England), the Packers returned to Lambeau Field to face the New York Giants. Rodgers sat out the previous game against New England after suffering a concession against Detroit. In a game the Packers needed to keep their playoff hopes alive, Rodgers was spectacular. The Packers dismantled the Giants 45-17 behind Rodgers' monster performance. Rodgers completed 25 of 37 passes for 404 yards and 4 touchdowns with zero interceptions. Rodgers’ near flawless performance got the Packers back on track and one game away from clinching the sixth seed in the NFC playoffs.

Week 17 – Chicago Bears at Green Bay
With the number two seed in the NFC playoffs already in their grasp, the Bears had nothing to play for in the season finale against the Packers. Bears head coach Lovie Smith said he wouldn’t rest his players and stood by his word once the game kicked off. With everything on the line for the Packers, Rodgers was not the same quarterback he was a week earlier. He completed 19 of 28 passes, managing just 229 yards passing and one interception. But a late touchdown pass to tight end Donald Lee was the difference. The Packers would win the season finale 10-3 on Rodgers’ late touchdown pass, securing them a spot in the postseason.

Wild Card round – Green Bay at Philadelphia Eagles
If the sixth seeded Packers were going to win the Super Bowl, they were going to have to do it on the road. Their first stop was a trip out East to Philadelphia for a match-up with the third-seeded Eagles, who the Packers beat in week one. Rodgers and the Packers offense jumped out to an early 14-0 lead, with Rodgers tossing two first half touchdowns. He finished 18 of 27 with 180 yards passing, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Packers advance, beating the Eagles 21-16.

Divisional round – Green Bay at Atlanta
With one playoff win under his belt, Rodgers looked relaxed and locked in against Atlanta. After a sluggish start by the Packers, Rodgers and the offense exploded in the second quarter. Rodgers threw two touchdowns in the quarter and had the Packers off to an early lead. In the second half, Rodgers would add two more scores, one passing and one running. The Packers destroyed the Falcons 48-21 behind Rodgers’ 366 yards passing and 4 total touchdowns. Rodgers missed just five passes during the game going 31 of 36 and zero interceptions.

NFC Championship – Green Bay at Chicago
For the third time this season the Packers and Bears were matched up on the gridiron, but this time a trip to the Super Bowl was on the line. Rodgers struggled against the Bears defense, throwing for 244 yards on 17 of 30 passing. Rodgers did manage to score a rushing touchdown, but he also made two bad throws that were intercepted. This was by far the worst game for Rodgers during the six game stretch. But it didn’t matter, the Packers beat the Bears 21-14 and they were headed to Super Bowl XLV.

Super Bowl XLV – Green Bay vs. Pittsburgh
Before the game, everyone talked about the Packers youth vs. the Steelers experience. At the age of 28, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had already won two Super Bowls, while Rodgers was new to the big game. Once the game kicked off, Rodgers and the Packers settled into a familiar spot – playing with the lead. Two touchdown passes by Rodgers in the first half had the Packers up 21-10 at the intermission. In the second half, Rodgers struggled for a stretch during the third quarter, but snapped out of it with 5:59 left in the fourth quarter when he threw a 31-yard pass to Greg Jennings on 3rd and 10. To me, that throw was the biggest throw of Rodgers’ career. If the Packers don’t convert that third down, the Steelers would have gotten the ball back with just under six minutes to go. That conversion helped the Packers take an additional four minutes off the clock before kicking a field goal that gave them a six point lead. Rodgers was the clear choice for MVP in this game, throwing for 304 yards on 24 of 39 passes. He also protected the football extremely well, throwing three touchdowns and zero interceptions.

In Closing
I believe the best way to rate a quarterback is how well they perform in big games. During the six games I mentioned above, Rodgers was 134 of 197 (68%) for 1,727 yards, 16 total touchdowns (14 passing, 2 rushing) and three interceptions (all against the Bears). Rodgers has clearly proven he can win the big game and I expect him to continue to get better, which is a scary thought.

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