Former Cal quarterback Aaron Rodgers put an exclamation point on his bid for his third MVP award with another outstanding game while leading the Packers to a 35-16 victory over the Bears on Sunday, clinching a first-round bye in the playoffs for Green Bay.
Titans running back Derrick Henry became the eighth player in NFL history to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a season by running for 250 yards in Tennessee's 41-38 overtime win over Houston, giving the Titans an 11-5 regular-season record.
Nonetheless it would be a major surprise if the 37-year-old Rodgers does not win the MVP after Sunday's performance in which he completed 19 of 24 passes for 240 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions and a 147.9 passer rating.
Other former Cal players, including Lions' wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr., had big games in the final weekend of the regular season, and we shall examine those later.
But for now, the stage belongs to Rodgers.
Rodgers' four touchdown passes gave him 48 for the season, and that is tied for the fifth-most touchdown passes in a season in NFL history. The other five players with 48 or more TD passes all won the MVP in that season.
Players with at least 48 touchdown passes in a season
55 – Peyton Manning, 2013
50 – Tom Brady, 2007
50 – Patrick Mahomes, 2018
49 – Peyton Manning, 2004
48 – Dan Marino, 1984
48 – Aaron Rodgers, 2020
Rodgers' 147.9 passer rating on Sunday was his highest of the season, and his final 121.5 passer rating for this season is the second-best single-season mark by any player in NFL history. It was not a career-best for Rodgers, though, because he holds the passer-rating record of 122.5 that he set in his 2011 MVP season.
You knew Rodgers was having a great day on Sunday when his passer rating did not improve after he threw his third touchdown pass of the game. He already had a perfect passer rating of 158.3 before he attempted that pass so it was impossible for him to push it higher. He was 10-for-10 with three TD passes in the first half.
Here is Rodgers' second touchdown pass:
The clincher is that the convincing victory over the Bears was Green Bay's sixth straight win and gave the Packers the best record in the NFC at 13-3.
Here is Rodgers' postgame press conference:
Tennessee's Henry will have supporters in Nashville after finishing the regular season with 2,027 yards, which is the fifth-highest single-season total in NFL history and just 73 yards shy of the NFL record set by Eric Dickerson in 1984.
But Dickerson did not win the MVP in his record-setting season. In fact, only four of the previous seven players who rushed for more than 2,000 yards won the MVP. And one of those four MVP winners had to share the award, as Barry Sanders, who rushed for 2,053 yards in 1997, tied Packers quarterback Brett Favre in the MVP voting that year.
2,000-yard rushers in NFL history
2,105 -- Eric Dickerson, 1984
2,097 – Adrian Peterson, 2012
2,066 -- Jamal Lewis, 2003
2,053 – Barry Sanders, 1997
2,027 – Derrick Henry, 2020
2,008 – Terrell Davis, 1998
2,006 – Chris Johnson, 2009
2,003 – O.J. Simpson, 1973
The bottom line is that a quarterback has won the last seven MVP awards and 12 of the last 13. The only exception in that span was running back Adrian Peterson, who won the 2012 MVP after rushing for 2,097 yards that season.
Oh, by the way, Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who led the MVP race most of the season, did not play Sunday, as coach Andy Reid opted to rest his star heading into the postseason.
So on we go to the performances of other ex-Cal stars on Sunday.
---Lions receiver Marvin Jones Jr. had a big game in the Lions’ 37-35 loss to the Vikings. Jones had eight receptions for a season-high 180 yards and two touchdowns. Only once in his career did Jones have more receiving yards in a game, and that was in 2016 when he recorded 205 receiving yards against Green Bay. His previous high in receiving yards this season was 116.
Jones finished the season with 76 receptions for 978 yards and nine touchdowns. The 76 receptions are a single-season career high for Jones, who finished his eighth NFL season. The 978 receiving yards are the second-most of his career, behind only the 1,101 he had in 2017.
Here is one of Jones' touchdown catches:
---Rams quarterback Jared Goff had surgery last week to repair a broken right thumb and did not play in Sunday's 18-7 victory over the Cardinals. That clinched a playoff berth for the Rams, and Goff might be ready to play in the postseason.
---Falcons center Alex Mack sat out last week with a concussion and missed Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay after being put on the COVID-19 injury list during the week. His time with the Falcons is probably over since his contract was due to run out after this season. Mack, 35, may decide to retire after 12 NFL seasons, or he may sign with another team as a free agent.
---Cowboys long-snapper L.P. Ladouceur played in his 253rd consecutive regular-season game in the 23-19 loss to the Giants. That is the longest active streak in the NFL and the sixth-longest run of games played in NFL history. He is just one game short of tying for the fifth-most consecutive games and three games shy of the fourth most. Including playoffs, Ladouceur has played in 263 straight games.
---Vikings linebacker Hardy Nickerson had one tackle in the win over the Lions. Nickerson played his first three college seasons at Cal before playing his final year at Illinois.
---Dolphins running back Patrick Laird is listed as the second-string running back on the Dolphins’ depth chart, but he did not have any carries or any receptions in Miami’s 56-26 loss to Buffalo. Salvon Ahmed, who is listed as Miami’s third-string running back, had six carries for 29 yards and three catches for 19 yards.
---Falcons rookie safety Jaylinn Hawkins did not record any statistics in the 44-27 loss to the Buccaneers.
---Ravens center Patrick Mekari did not play in Baltimore’s 38-3 victory over the Bengals because of a back injury. He was questionable during the week, but was inactive for the game. Mekari has started eight games this season, including the past seven games before this week’s contest.
---Steelers nose guard Tyson Alualu picked up three tackles and knocked down a pass in Pittsburgh’s 24-22 loss to the Browns.
---Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan had one solo tackle and knocked down two passes in New Orleans 33-7 victory over Carolina. Jordan finished the regular season with 51 tackles and 7.5 sacks.
---Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen was doubtful to play against the Chiefs because of a hamstring injury, but when he was placed on the COVID-19 injury list on Thursday that ensured he would not play in the final game of the season.
Allen finished the season with 100 receptions for 992 yards and eight touchdowns. The eight touchdowns tie his single-season high he established as a rookie in 2013, but he fell eight yards shy of recording his fourth straight 1,000-yard receiving season.
---Chargers tight end Stephen Anderson had three catches for 52 yards in Los Angeles 38-21 victory over the Chiefs, who rest many of their starters. He had eight catches for 106 yards for the season, with seven of those catches and 100 of those yards coming in the final two games.
---Texans receiver Chad Hansen had two catches for 16 yards in the loss to Tennessee. Hansen played in the final five games of the season after being elevated from the practice squad, and he finished the year with 17 receptions for 236 yards and one touchdown.
---Texans punter Bryan Anger punted just once for 42 yards in the loss to Tennessee.
---Eagles tight end Richard Rodgers missed the game against Washington with an ankle injury. He had 24 receptions for 345 yards and two touchdowns while starting four games in 2020. He did not have any catches in the final five games and played only four offensive snaps in that span.
---Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson missed Sunday’s game against Washington with an ankle injury. Injuries limited the 34-year-old Jackson to five games this season and to just three games in 2019. He finished the 2020 season with 14 receptions for 236 yards and one touchdown. In 13 NFL seasons, he has 56 receiving touchdowns and four rushing touchdowns in the regular season, and has two additional receiving touchdowns in the postseason.
---Giants linebacker Devante Downs recorded one solo tackle in the win over the Cowboys when he stopped Dallas receiver Michael Gallup after a reception on the final play of the third quarter. Downs started eight games this season and recorded 33 tackles.
---Jets rookie safety Ashtyn Davis is out for the season with a foot injury. He played in 10 games this season, including six starts.
Cover photo of Aaron Rodgers by Appleton Post-Crescent, USA TODAY Network
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