Green Bay Packers fans and football enthusiasts across the nation are wondering the same thing: how will Aaron Rodgers do on Sunday? I might have the answer.
In 2013, Rodgers broke his collarbone, missed seven games and then returned near season’s end to try to secure a playoff berth for his team. This same scenario exists now, so we could see much the same result.
It was on December 29, four years ago, that Rodgers took the field – Soldier Field – against the Chicago Bears. The Packers’ record was 7-7-1 and Rodgers was relieving QB Matt Flynn, who had been slightly more effective than Seneca Wallace and Scott Tolzien, Until Rodgers’ injury, Green Bay had been cruising along with a 5-2 record.
The Packers started slowly, with only a field goal to show as the first half neared an end. But with under four minutes to go, Jarrett Boykin picked up a ball that everyone thought was an incomplete pass; he eventually got the word from Rodgers that it was a live ball, so he strolled 15 yards into the end zone. It was ruled a fumble, and it gave the Packers a 10-7 lead. Mason Crosby added his second field goal with two seconds remaining in the half.
In a busy third quarter, Chicago took the lead at 14-13, but Rodgers responded with a 7-yard toss to Randall Cobb for a 20-14 lead. The Bears regained the lead 21-20 on Matt Forte’s second short touchdown run.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, a completion to Brandon Marshall gave Chicago a 28-20 lead – setting the stage for Rodgers to take charge.
It took six plays for the Packers to go 77 yards. Nine of those yards came on three runs by Eddie Lacy. The other three plays were: Rodgers to Jordy Nelson for 34 yards, Rodgers to James Jones for 12, and Rodgers to Andrew Quarless for 22. No incompletions – Aaron was back in a groove.
Jay Cutler then led a nine-play drive, but Chicago had to punt, giving the Packers the ball on their own 13, with 6:24 to go. The spotlight was now fully on the Packers’ leader.
Fourteen plays ensued. Six runs by Lacy or Aaron Ripkowski got the team all of seven yards – the run game wasn’t going to lead the Packers to victory. The passing game was only a bit better: seven yards to Lacy, seven to Jones, an incompletion, a 5-yard scramble by Rodgers, seven yards to Nelson, six more yards to Nelson, and two more deep incompletions, to Nelson and Quarless.
The season was now down to 46 seconds, and 4th-and-8 from the Bears’ 48-yard line – this was the third fourth down of the drive. Rodgers, flushed left and on the run, spotted Randall Cobb wide open downfield. He hit him perfectly to account for the final 33-28 score.
It was anything but a strong all-around game by Rodgers. He threw a bad pass in the end zone toward Boykin in the second quarter, and he later threw a bit behind Nelson, resulting in a second interception, and he had that fumble. His numbers on the day: 25-of-39 for 318 yards, two TDs, two interceptions, and a passer rating of 85.2 – versus Cutler’s 103.8.
This is what we might expect from Rodgers in a few days. Some rustiness to start with, but getting into a rhythm as the game goes on, and clutch play when the game is on the line. I’d add that Rodgers did not play cautiously – he was sacked three times, he had a successful run on fourth down, and he scrambled around for much of the game.
This was the season’s climax. A week later the Packers lost at home 23-20 to Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers. In that affair, the Packers elected to run 31 times and pass only 26. Rodgers went for a pedestrian 17-of-26 for 177 yards, one TD, no interceptions, four sacks, and a passer rating of 97.8.
Okay, there are a couple of tiny differences between 2013 and this year. The Bears were 8-7, while the Panthers are 9-4. And the Bears were led by Jay Cutler, not Cam Newton. But other than that…