GREEN BAY, Wis. – It’s been a decade since Aaron Rodgers won his one and only Super Bowl. At age 27, Rodgers had the world on a string.
“In the moment after you win it, you’re thinking, ‘Shoot, we’ll be right back next year,’” the Green Bay Packers star quarterback said on Wednesday. “And we went 15-1, we won 19 games in a row, which was amazing, and then had a one-and-done in the playoffs. We’ve had some good teams along the way. We’ve been to the NFC Championship since ’14 four times. No other team’s been there more than once, so we’ve had consistent success in the playoffs but we haven’t gotten over that hump.”
Now, at age 37, for the first time in Rodgers’s tenure as the starter, the Packers will host the NFC Championship Game. With that, he has an opportunity to ease a series of playoff stings. There was the brutal loss at Seattle in the 2014 NFC Championship Game. The 2016 team was held together by Scotch tape for the championship game at Atlanta. There was last year’s team, which was simply overmatched in the championship game at San Francisco.
Sunday’s opponent will be the league’s ultimate winner, Tom Brady, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With Brady having won six Super Bowls and Rodgers still searching for a second, the pressure would seem to be squarely on Rodgers. After all, with running back Aaron Jones and center Corey Linsley among the key players who could be lost due to a shrinking salary cap, not to mention Rodgers’s own uncertain future with the team, there’s no guarantee he’ll be in this position again.
“No more pressure than usual,” he said. “I think a lot of times the storylines, pressure and those kinds of comments are good stuff for you guys to write about, but I think it starts with the mentality and focus. Obviously, I put pressure on myself to perform every single week, and I think there’s a lot to be said for being able to harness that pressure and fear of failure and focus into a real positive. That’s something you learn over the years. But I don’t feel any extra pressure going into this one.”
Time is of the essence for other players, too. This will be NFC Championship Game No. 4 for receiver Davante Adams. Adams has one year left on his contract and who knows if he’ll get back to this stage if Jordan Love replaces Rodgers in, say, 2022.
“It’s my fourth time being in this game, so it’s not going to be as big of a shocker as it will be to some other guys,” Adams said. “But it’s really just the same game as it is every other time you get out there. Obviously, heightened awareness in knowing the situation is going to be a little bit different. And it also makes other people play harder, but if you give it 100 percent every time you get out there and that’s always your mindset–just to be always on 10 every time you get out there like that–then I don’t think it will be too big of a difference for anybody.”
Linsley will be playing in his fourth conference championship game, as well. A first-team All-Pro this season, Linsley will be one of the top players available in free agency. With the Packers more than $28 million over next year’s projected salary cap, chances are he’ll be suiting up elsewhere next season.
He’ll put his trust in Rodgers to lead the Packers past a team that has won six in a row and finished third in scoring and eighth in scoring defense. Last year, the Packers lost at San Francisco by 29 coming out of a bye in Week 12, then got whacked by 17 in the championship game. This year, the Packers lost at Tampa Bay by 28 coming out of a bye in Week 6.
“We’ve been there a few times and obviously been unsuccessful in our attempts,” Linsley said. “Aaron is the guy that’s sealed the deal. He’s the guy with a ring on his finger and one of the few guys left on this team that have done that. He knows what it takes. We all know what it’s going to take to get where we want to go and accomplish what we want to accomplish. It’s going to take an outstanding effort this week. It’s going to take our ‘A’ game because these guys are an extremely talented front, they’re an extremely talented team, obviously led by another quarterback that’s won Super Bowls throughout his career. It’s going to take our best effort.”
Calling his future a “beautiful mystery” that he’ll ponder when the season is over, Rodgers is relishing the moment while enjoying a season for the ages. On the eve of the Super Bowl, he’s likely to be handed his third MVP. Even with the selection of Love, Rodgers has been at ease all season and frequently expressed an “attitude of gratitude.” He’s enjoyed the ride–a ride he hopes and expects will continue for a long-awaited return to the Super Bowl.
“Definitely thankful to be back here,” Rodgers said. “A lot of people didn’t think we’d be back here after last season. We got a lot of interesting comments last year about us being the worst 13-3 team that people had seen. Not the same type of comments this year. Obviously, we’re clicking a lot better on offense. I do feel really thankful to be back here, thankful for the chance to be playing. There were so many unknowns when we started the season, just the Zoom offseason, whether we were going to get to this point. Now we’re here and we have fans, so it’s pretty exciting to be here, excited about Sunday and excited about the weather we had today.”