MVP talk doesn't rattle Packers QB Rodgers
Now that Rodgers enters Sunday's regular season opener in Philadelphia as a fashionable pick to become the league's MVP and lead his team on a long playoff run this year, Rodgers said his own approach hasn't changed.
"I've always had real confidence," Rodgers said, holding eye contact for emphasis.
It seems like everybody else has confidence in Rodgers, too.
After spending most of the first three years of his NFL career on the bench, Rodgers faced plenty of skepticism — even from his own fans — when the Packers traded icon-turned-malcontent Brett Favre and handed Rodgers the keys to the offense.
Rodgers played well in 2008 despite sustaining a significant shoulder injury early in the season. Rodgers then led the Packers back to the playoffs last year despite taking a league-high 50 sacks.
In two seasons as a No. 1 quarterback, Rodgers has started all 32 regular-season games, throwing 58 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. In the preseason this year, he completed 77.4 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and no interceptions.
With Rodgers running what is shaping up as one of the NFL's best offenses, pundits are hailing him as a potential MVP. If he leads the Packers on a long playoff run, he could barge his way into conversations about the league's elite quarterbacks.
And given what he already has shown the ability to handle, wide receiver Greg Jennings said there's no reason to doubt he'll be able to deal with high expectations.
"He handles it all great," Jennings said. "No. 1, in this league, you've got to be able to handle adversity, and he's shown he can handle adverse situations. No. 2, you've got to be able to handle success, and he's shown that he can handle success. We're not worried about Aaron handling any situation."
Rodgers' ascent has become a blueprint for new Eagles starter Kevin Kolb, who will try to outduel Rodgers on Sunday after turning to him for occasional advice in the offseason.
"He has no idea how much of a fan of him I am because of what I got to see him go through and the way he handles the adversity," Kolb said. "He always took it back to football and didn't get caught up in it."
Kolb is trying to replace Donovan McNabb, and perhaps only Rodgers can understand what that's like.
"I've talked to him and definitely shared thoughts with him, I'm impressed with the way he's handled himself," Rodgers said. "He's definitely endeared himself to his team and his fan base and the coaching staff and organization by the way he's handled the whole situation, which is never the easiest situation following the guys we followed."
Rodgers, meanwhile, will gladly take the MVP talk after spending two years fielding questions about replacing Favre or taking sacks.
"I think it's a lot easier," Rodgers said. "It definitely is. But it's honestly never entered my thought process. You know, the awards and the predictions and stuff, really, I think that's preseason fodder. Just stuff to chew on while the games may not be as meaningful. But once we get into the everyday grind of the season, guys are just focused on that week."
Still, that didn't stop a few Packers players from wearing cowboy hats to a recent season kickoff luncheon — an allusion to the Super Bowl in Dallas, and an idea that apparently can be traced back to the quarterback.
"He kind of was the leader on that thing, no question," veteran tackle Mark Tauscher said.
The expectations are out there, so why not have fun with them?
"This is a fun job, but it's also a grind," Tauscher said. "You have to be able to have some fun and have laughs and I think Aaron does a great job of trying to keep guys loose when it's the appropriate time."
Packers coach Mike McCarthy made a point of embracing Super Bowl expectations at the beginning of training camp. But with a tough road opener looming, he doesn't want to hear a word about how his quarterback is considered an MVP candidate.
"I would say Aaron Rodgers is handling his business in a very professional manner, just like he has in the past," McCarthy said. "All of those types of awards, Super Bowl talk, frankly that is preseason talk. That is over in our mind. The only thing we are interested in is Philadelphia."