GREEN BAY, Wis. – Aaron Rodgers celebrated his 37th birthday on Wednesday the same way he’s celebrated most of the previous 12 birthdays.
By quarterbacking the NFC North-leading Green Bay Packers.
Just how many more years that will be the case is, of course, the ultimate unanswerable question.
“This is what I’ve wanted to do, be the quarterback here. It’s been a dream come true,” Rodgers said on Wednesday.
In a career filled with great seasons, Rodgers might be having his greatest season. Never mind the numbers, as fantastic as they are, with Rodgers on pace for a career-high 48 touchdown passes. Rather, it’s the quantum leap he’s taken in Year 2 under coach Matt LaFleur. It’s how he’s maximized his supporting cast. It’s how he’s buried any animosity he might have had about the team using its first-round pick on quarterback Jordan Love rather than an immediate playmaker.
And it’s how he’s changed his game.
Rodgers built his Hall of Fame resume because of his legendary ability to extend plays and turn nothing into something – or something into something more. That didn’t translate to LaFleur’s scheme, and the offense – and Rodgers – struggled in the transition. While the Packers went from six wins to 13, Rodgers’ passer rating actually dipped and the offense scored an identical 376 points.
This year, it’s been a whole new Rodgers. And, in turn, a whole new offense. After posting a 95.4 passer rating last year, he’s at a lofty 117.6 this year. The offense, despite draft picks used on players who aren’t impacting the current roster, has been a steamroller. Green Bay’s already scored 349 points and matched last year’s touchdown total of 44.
If Rodgers looks like a different player, it’s because he is a different player.
“When you’re playing in one system forever and you have those fundamentals down from that offense, things just change. You know, things change with the timing. We do so much with splits and the splits really adjust the catch points on so many of these routes that it does change the footwork. And I think that’s one thing I really focused on in training camp.”
That’s shown in two areas. One, Rodgers has completed a career-high 68.5 percent of his passes. And, two, his average time to throw is 2.50 seconds – down a whopping one-fourth of a second compared to the past two seasons. Rodgers is dealing the ball in rhythm and with accuracy in conducting an offense as harmonious as a symphony.
“That’s a credit to him and the way he goes about his business,” LaFleur said. “I would say the majority of experienced quarterbacks that have spent a long time in a certain system, there is a transition period. There always is. I know that he’s worked really hard at it, and he always does every day. And I think you’re just seeing him become more and more comfortable with what it is we’re trying to get done on offense, and he’s excelling.”
In the present, the question is whether Rodgers can excel to such an extent that the Packers, warts and all, can get back to the Super Bowl for the first time in a decade. The long-term question, of course, is whether Rodgers will excel in Green Bay in 2021, 2022 or beyond. From the moment Love was drafted, the contract-driven reality hinted that the change would take place between the 2021 and 2022 seasons. But if Rodgers continues authoring MVP-worthy seasons, maybe he will be celebrating at least a few more birthdays in Green Bay.
“I’ve really enjoyed all the special moments here,” he said as part of the accompanying video. “I just feel really fortunate to have grown up here and just have a lot of great memories that I’ve made here that I’ll take with me one day. Hopefully that day isn’t too soon, but if you had told that 21-year-old he’d still be sitting here at 37, I’d be pretty happy about that. As happy as I am today to still be here.”