As the Minnesota Vikings face the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night at US Bank stadium, the 2018 fates of both teams are on the line. Can the Vikings pull off a crucial team victory against the NFL’s most highly-rated gunslinger?
Long before Aaron Rodgers, there were other quarterbacks that created big things out of nothing on the football field. Guys like Johnny Unitas and Roger Staubach and Fran Tarkenton. Later came others, John Elway, Joe Montana, and Steve Young. All mobile, but with the exception of Elway, with only adequate arm-strength.
And then came Brett Favre. As a starter in 1992, in the time when, in this writer’s opinion, the best football of the 20th Century (and 21st Century) was played, Favre electrified the NFL with a combination of physical and improvisational talent. He won numerous games with the power of his arm and his spirit, bringing a Super Bowl to Green Bay in after the 1996 season.
Years later, in 2008, the league discovered another extraordinary talent, strangely enough, Favre’s understudy, a kid from California named Aaron Rodgers.
After three full seasons behind the legendary Packer quarterback, Rodgers was given leadership of the Green Bay offense by Packer general manager Ted Thompson, who, despite his record-shattering career and still superior pedigree, got tired of Favre’s excuses for missing training camp.
Fast forward ten years to the present. Rodgers also won a Super Bowl (in 2010), but has since not returned, despite being considered by many to be one of the best–and certainly the most physically talented–quarterbacks to ever play the NFL game.
How come? Part of the truth may be in that one Super Bowl season.
In 2010, the Packers went 10-6. Behind Rodgers, they had the 10th ranked offense and the second-rated defense. Rodgers had 28 touchdowns and 11 interceptions on the year, threw for 3922 yards for a 101.2 quarterback rating.
In the NFC playoff, they beat the Eagles, lead by the the precarious platoon of quarterbacks Kevin Kolb and Michael Vick, the Atlanta Falcons, captained by 25 year-old Matt Ryan, and the Chicago Bears, whose offense was 21st in the league, led by Jay Cutler, who had thrown 23 touchdowns and 16 picks for the year.
Wait, scratch that. In the NFC Championship Game of 2010, Jay Cutler actually left the game in the first half because of injury. Cutler had just thrown an interception–and was replaced by a guy named Caleb Hanie, who proceeded to throw two more in the game.
The Packers won by one score.
In the Super Bowl, the Packers faced a decent Pittsburgh Steelers team. They had the number one defense in the league, but were far from stellar on offense, where they were lead during the year by a banged-up Ben Roethlisberger, Charlie Batch, and Dennis Dickson.
In the game, 21 Packer points came directly off of three Steeler turnovers. The worst performance of Roethlisberger’s season came in Cowboy Stadium and Super Bowl XLV. Rodgers, who had a nice, if not remarkable game, pocketed the stats and took home the MVP trophy.
But again, almost eight full years later, with the same head coach, there has been no return to the big game, even though Aaron Rodgers is considered by many to be the best quarterback in the game? Why?
Because Aaron Rodgers is more sizzle than steak. ‘Sizzle’ meaning plenty of video on SportsCenter, and ‘steak’ meaning crucial wins.
In 2010, he beat a collection of the biggest tomato cans in the Super Bowl tournament and since has been creating his own personal brand of Brett Favre-like physical heroics in games that don’t mean anything.
Don’t believe me? Here are some stats: Into his 14th NFL season, Aaron Rodgers has a mere 19 game-winning drives. Russell Wilson, in his 7th, has 21. Andrew Luck, who hasn’t played for almost two years, has 18.
Brett Favre is number five, with 43. And once again, starting his career in the now-forever past prime of the NFL where receivers and quarterbacks weren’t treated like first royal sons.
Can Rodgers sling the hash? No doubt about it. But so could Jeff George. Flashy stats that like “Rodgers has career highest QB rating at home in NFL history”, belie the reality that Rodgers’ is 0-5 on the road this year.
Why is that? And what about the Packers’ offense in the last few years compels one to think that Rodgers has a chance against a good team and a good game plan that simply isolates this guy’s “messiah” ego?
For how many seasons have the Packers been without a running game? A better question would be how many seasons have the Packers even committed to a running game? For years, they had a plow-horse named Eddie Lacey, who like Rodgers, showed up for the oats, but was less visible when the chips were down.
Do I realize that Aaron Rodgers can make plays that no one else can? Sure, but they said the same thing about Michael Vick. A great quarterback leads a team to improbable victories, not the sundry of defeats the Packers have suffered this year.
Yes, he was a hero in game one over the Bears at Soldier Field, but in overtime against the Vikings, only a neurotic rookie kicker saved Green Bay from losing after Rodger’s overtime gaffes.
There are a thousand highlights of Aaron Rodgers making that “impossible” throw that only he–after skirting a sure tackle and bolting to the sideline–can make, but how come those miraculous throws come from executing an offense and not playing his particular brand of backyard football?
For every ‘Hail Mary’, we’ve seen Rodger’s throw to a global celebration, how many miscues or miscommunications have happened in Rodger’s gunslinger world? And how far has the Packer organization bent to keep Rodgers happy with his position as ‘Quarterback Lord of Green Bay’?
Remember, they cut a running back because he dared take a kickoff out of the end zone against the Rams, fumbled it, and didn’t give Aaron his chance at comeback number 20 in Los Angeles!
I’m guessing the Minnesota Vikings, as unpredictable of a unit as they have been this season, will play the odds against Green Bay this Sunday night and make it a team game that Aaron Rodgers can try and win by himself, but won’t.