Rodgers Delivers Perfect Reminder of His Greatness

Bill Huber

Headed into Sunday, Aaron Rodgers – the quarterback with the highest passer rating in NFL history – was the picture of mediocrity. He ranked 20th in passer rating (92.8), 25th in completion percentage (62.6) and 23rd in touchdown percentage (3.7).

As he walked off Lambeau Field and received the celebratory game ball from coach Matt LaFleur, Rodgers served notice to his legion of naysayers that he remains an elite quarterback and drove home the point that his Green Bay Packers – coming off two consecutive seasons out of the playoffs – are a prime contender to be playing in Miami for this year’s Super Bowl.

Rodgers was nothing short of sensational in a 42-24 dismantling of the Oakland Raiders, a team that had a bye week to get ready for this game. In fact, statistically speaking, it was the best game of his career. The top figure that can come out of the NFL’s complex passer rating algorithm is 158.3. Rodgers hit that number for the first time of his career. He had as many touchdowns (five passing, one rushing) as incomplete passes.

Since January, Rodgers’ critics wondered how he’d mesh with his 39-year-old, first-time head coach. After some statistically mediocre games, the pundits wondered whether Rodgers remained an elite quarterback. Well, 429 yards and a sixth victory later, the answers seemed clear.

“Yeah, it feels good. I feel like this has been coming, I really do,” Rodgers said. “I feel like we’ve been building and I’ve been feeling a lot more comfortable and Matt’s been feeling more comfortable with him calling it for me and feeling when I’m in that rhythm and when to be aggressive and when to pull back.”

The Raiders were coming off victories at Indianapolis and in London against Chicago, and had a bye last week. While they’re hardly elite, these were no pushovers. Rodgers, however, crushed the life out of the Raiders. He was on the field for eight possessions. Six of those ended with Rodgers celebrating touchdowns – including four consecutive possessions to turn a 10-7 deficit into a 35-17 lead.

“You love it when you have a couple good, positive drives, you go down and get a touchdown at the end of the half there after a nice stand, and you come in the locker room and talk about stuff, and the first play is a shot play. Just love that,” Rodgers said. “When we’ve been at our best over the years, it’s being aggressive and knowing when to dial it back. We had even some more shots called that we called off or dialed back because of the look. We kept dialing them up. I thought the plan was really good. We had a really good third down and red zone plan. We’ve been struggling a little bit – well, a lot – on third down. We were a lot better on third down, I’d say. The red zone plan I thought was really solid, and we executed.”

A two-time MVP, Rodgers has taken a back seat to some of the NFL’s young guns following two lackluster, losing seasons. Reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs was off to a record-setting start before last week’s knee injury. Seattle’s Russell Wilson is off to a historic start. Houston’s Deshaun Watson, Dallas’ Dak Prescott and Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson are young quarterbacks who can win in different ways.

Rodgers’ performance against Oakland, however, served notice that the 35-year-old can take over a game.

Rodgers’ first touchdown pass was a 21-yarder to running back Aaron Jones, who more than made up for his dropped touchdown vs. Detroit on Monday. It was a sublime adjustment between quarterback and running back.

“I felt like the only way to complete it was to maybe lead him inside a little bit,” Rodgers said.

The second touchdown was a 2-yarder to running back Jamaal Williams, who was all alone in the flat. Rodgers celebrated that one with a glance in LaFleur’s direction. The third came just before halftime, with the Packers taking advantage of Oakland quarterback Derek Carr’s fumble and Rodgers hitting Jake Kumerow for a 37-yard touchdown up the right side.

“The ball was in the air and I was just trying to do my job and make the catch,” Kumerow said. “I noticed I was leaning pretty far to the sideline so I = tried to do everything I could to stay in and touch the pylon with the ball, because I know if you can get a piece of it, it counts as a touchdown. It was a great job by the rest of the guys, O-line holding it down up front and Aaron with a great throw as always.”

Getting the ball to start the second half, Rodgers hit Marquez Valdes-Scantling for a gain of 58 on the aforementioned shot play. That drive was capped by Rodgers’ 3-yard touchdown run. Afterward, LaFleur chided “the old man” in a raucous locker room.

“I’ve been preaching to these guys that we were going to be aggressive all week long, and so sometimes you’ve just got to go with a higher-risk play and knowing that you could have a big reward from it,” LaFleur said. “And that’s exactly what happened. First of all, the protection was great on the play. But what a great route by Marquez and just the patience of that route, to lean the safety, the safety overcommitted, we ran it off of a bootleg action, and then a great throw by our quarterback. So, just really good execution right there.”

Rodgers added a 3-yard touchdown to tight end Jimmy Graham and a 74-yarder to Valdes-Scantling, who gained 69 yards after the catch after slipping a tackle.

LaFleur and Rodgers were quick to spread the praise after the game. LaFleur shrugged off MVP talk and said it takes all 11 players to be successful. Well …

“Maybe a little more than that,” LaFleur said. “Nah, he’s a pretty good player. We hold a high standard for him because he’s proven it over time.”