Redemption for Rodgers?
There is little to nitpick with the way Aaron Rodgers has played this season. At age 37, he enjoyed one of the finest years of his career as evidenced by the numbers. Consider he tossed 48 touchdown passes (a career-high) with only five interceptions for 4299 yards and a stunning 70.7 completion percentage (also a career-high) during the regular season.
He is a mortal lock to be named this year’s NFL MVP, which will be the third such award on his resume, and has led his charges to the NFC title game with an eye towards a date with either the Chiefs or the Bills on February 7th. Rodgers looks as good as he ever has and some believe it started last April when the Packers selected Utah State’s Jordan Love, as his heir-apparent, with the 26th overall pick in the draft.
Rodgers was reportedly fuming that the Packers’ brass chose to prepare for his demise rather than invest in a weapon for this year. The irony, of course, is that he was in Love’s position way back in 2005 when he carried a clipboard for another Green Bay legend, Brett Favre, for three years before he got his shot.
But great athletes routinely operate at even higher levels when they have something to prove, and this year, he certainly did. Rodgers doesn’t look like he is going to give up the reins to the offense anytime soon but before we get too far ahead of ourselves, we need to discuss the opponent facing him on Sunday – Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The NFL lines are dealing the Packers as 2 ½ to 3-point favorites on Sunday. And only Aaron Rodgers’ sublime performances in 2020 could mitigate the brutal outing he had when another living legend, Tampa’s Tom Brady, got the best of him in a 38-10 Week 6 demolition.
When the dust settled Rodgers had no touchdowns with two interceptions and only 160 passing yards. Brady, on the other hand, was solid but far from spectacular when he registered just 166 yards through the air with two TD passes and no picks. But if you’re laying blame, then the first finger should be pointed at the abysmal performance of Green Bay’s offensive line. Rodgers was sacked four times and the Bucs’ defense leveled 13 quarterback hits.
If the offensive line isn’t protecting the quarterback or blowing holes for the tailbacks then the offense will grind to a halt as it did in that game. To make matters worse, five-time All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari will not be suited up for the third consecutive game after tearing the ACL in his knee during a practice shortly before Green Bay’s regular-season finale with the Bears.
“I think they definitely got to us, got us a little off rhythm,” LaFleur said of the offensive line’s struggles in the first meeting against the Bucs. “That is a damn good defense. They’ve got star-studded players across the board. They play a really fast, aggressive type scheme. They can bring multiple different pressures. … We’re going to have to play our best game to neutralize that.”
The chemistry between Rodgers and second-year head coach LaFleur is palpable. It’s a far cry from the acrimony that manifested late in Mike McCarthy’s tenure which led to the change in coaching. Many pointed to Rodgers as the primary mover and shaker in getting the lovable McCarthy pink-slipped before the season was even over. But whether or not that is true, you can’t argue with the results.
“This was one of those weeks where we were working through it, Wednesday and Thursday and Friday, and I feel like it just got fine-tuned and fine-tuned even more each day,” Rodgers said after the team’s win against the Rams. “Matt is such a grinder.”
But defeating the guy staring across from you who already has six Super Bowl rings on his fingers will be a tall task. This game will be much closer than the 28-point Bucs blowout earlier in the season and Brady discussed his team’s journey entering the NFC Championship.
“We worked hard to get to this point. Two road playoff wins is pretty sweet,” Brady said. “We’ve got to go beat a great football team we know pretty well. Aaron’s playing incredible.”