Aaron Rodgers keeps delivering on raised expectations
It was positively mind-blowing when Tom Brady threw four interceptions at Buffalo in Week 3. Any blip on the Brady radar comes as a complete shock. We long ago reached the point where we expect greatness from Brady every single time he plays a game.
Aaron Rodgers may have reached that same stratosphere.
He had been a solid NFL QB since taking over the Packers job in 2008. Green Bay's surprising Super Bowl run, aided by three incredible Rodgers performances, opened the door for him to join the elite ranks. The start of the 2011 season probably has secured him a spot.
The stats don't lie: In the Packers' 4-0 start, Rodgers has thrown for more than 1,300 yards with 12 touchdowns and just two interceptions.
Sunday in Green Bay's 49-23 win over the Broncos, with starting running back Ryan Grant and starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga inactive due to injury, Rodgers played his best game of the year -- which is saying something, considering he opened the 2011 NFL season by torching New Orleans in a 42-34 win.
Rodgers put up 408 passing yards against the Broncos, finding eight different receivers, and accounted for six total TDs. Two of those scores came on the ground, while his four through the air found four different receivers.
Some of the credit belongs to the Packers organization, which has surrounded Rodgers with a ridiculous cast of talent. Who are teams supposed to take away from Rodgers? Greg Jennings? Jermichael Finley? Donald Driver?
But without a quality quarterback to deliver the ball, all the talent in the world won't get your offense anywhere. Case in point: Green Bay's 7-3 loss at Detroit last year, when Rodgers left with a concussion and Matt Flynn generated nothing in his stead.
Rodgers playing the role of elite quarterback hasn't come out of nowhere, mind you. Rodgers topped 4,000 passing yards in 2008 and '09, then fell just 78 yards shy of that mark last season. Counting Sunday's effort, he now has 99 touchdowns against 34 interceptions in his NFL career.
And since going 6-10 in that first post-Brett Favre season, the Packers have a combined regular season record of 25-11 with two playoff trips and a Super Bowl title.
It's just that the playoff run last year made the aura around Rodgers feel different. The whole idea of him coming out of Favre's shadow has been covered ad nauseum, but it's more than that. No longer is he just Favre's replacement in Green Bay. No longer is he a rising star on a solid team. He's even past the point of being a great quarterback on a great Green Bay squad.
Aaron Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks in the league, hands down. Put him in any situation with any group of receivers, and there's a pretty good chance he'll deliver stellar numbers.
When we watch Rodgers play, we should expect the same type of gaudy, eye-popping numbers that Brady or a healthy Peyton Manning or Drew Brees put up. Sunday's slice-and-dice of Denver's defense was just the latest in a growing resume of remarkable outings for Rodgers. But we've come to expect those performances on a regular basis. Anything less, at this point, would be stunning.