Rodgers turns in dazzling performance
GREEN BAY—When Aaron Rodgers is on, this is what it looks like.
The ball doesn't hit the turf. The end zone is scattered with players sprinting toward each other—at full speed—swiping locked elbows in celebration. Receivers, afterward, are at a loss of words. They're mystified at what defensive coordinators must be thinking.
When Rodgers is on, all formulas to stop him dissolve.
“There's no way. I don't know,” tight end Jermichael Finley said. “If I was Dom Capers, I'd try to dial it up for you.”
“Umm,” said James Jones, pausing, “you can't stop him. He threw for 400 yards. You can't stop him.”
Actually, it was 480 yards. Rodgers tied Matt Flynn's team record for passing yards in a single game. He did what he wanted, when he wanted throughout Green Bay's 38-20 win Sunday at Lambeau Field. In all, Rodgers completed 34 of 42 of his passes for 480 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions.
This was 2011 all over again. At the controls, the quarterback systematically dismantled the secondary.
No, Rodgers says, he had no idea Flynn's record was in reach.
“That's what happens sometimes when you're in a good rhythm,” Rodgers said. “Unless you see it up on the scoreboard, the stats and the yards, that just comes from doing your responsibility and throwing the ball accurately.”
A “good rhythm” despite a sore neck, too. When Rodgers woke up at the team hotel Sunday morning, his neck was stiff. He slept on it funny. Rodgers usually doesn't like to get treatment the day of games but absolutely needed an adjustment this time.
DeAngelo Hall trying to cover Jordy Nelson up the sideline. A linebacker—huh?—on Randall Cobb across the middle on a fourth-and-3 touchdown. Neck pain. None of it really mattered.
“I wasn't feeling great pregame,” Rodgers said. “But once the adrenaline started going, just kind of got into a rhythm. They played a lot of one-high. They gave us some inside leverage routes.”
Much like his six-touchdown flogging of the Houston Texas last season, Rodgers smelled blood. He typically makes defenses pay for using a single-high safety. He's a basketball player shooting the ball into an ocean.
There was the on-the-run flip to Nelson for a 14-yard score. He hit Finley for another score, rolling right and pumping twice to buy time before placing the ball high where only Finley could grab it. He found Nelson again for six, going back-shoulder.
And to ice this one, he lobbed a 37-yarder to Nelson up the left sideline over Hall, setting the stage for the James Starks score that put Green Bay ahead, 38-7.
Sunday marked the fifth time in his six seasons as the starter Rodgers completed at least 80 percent of his passes. The final 81 percent mark ranks third all-time behind his first-ever start in 2008 against Minnesota (18-of-22) and another 81.8 percent performance in 2012 at St. Louis (30-of-37).
He's not sure why Washington used this coverage. Experience maybe. Another player to use in pressure possibly. Once he saw this, the package of throws he'd attempt became clear.
“When you're playing a team that plays a lot of one-high, regardless of the leverage, the guys outside are going to get some more opportunities,” Rodgers said. “Two-high, as we saw last week, more guys on the inside, Jermichael and Randall had more opportunities last week.”
Rodgers wouldn't call this his best game. And eyes tilted up, lips pursed in thought, Finley wouldn't either. “He was on,” the tight end assured. But Finley also remembers Rodgers making these same exact throws with all hell breaking loose around him.
“He'll have games where he's throwing the ball off the back leg, front leg, whatever leg he wants to throw it off of,” Finley said. “So he's just one of those gifted guys. The chosen one.”
Said Cobb, “This is what we expect. He's a tier above the elites in all of our eyes.”
Obviously, Green Bay would prefer Rodgers do his damage from a peaceful pocket. Either way, this September Rodgers is looking more like the 2011 version than the 2012 one. Last year, it took three, four weeks for the offense to rev up—and it never reached the lofty standards of 2011.
On Sunday, the MVP in Rodgers resurfaced.
“Rodgers is the best quarterback in the NFL, man,” Jones said. “There aren't too many things you can do to stop him. So he was just being himself today. It doesn't surprise me.”