The Green Bay Packers’ matchup against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday will be filled with Russell Wilson making big plays, Aaron Jones slashing between tackles, and Pete Carroll aggressively chomping on gum. Who many people are not focusing on is Aaron Rodgers, who had the 12th-best passer rating in the NFL this season and has not been close to playing at the Hall of Fame level fans have all been so accustomed to seeing.
This has been the first time in his career that Rodgers hasn’t been largely responsible for his team’s success, but if you’re a Packers fan, that’s exactly what you want to see. He’s the most talented quarterback to ever play in the NFL and will go down with the best touchdown/interception ratio of all-time. He’s won two MVPs, passing titles, and a Super Bowl. But during the past decade, the Packers have been saddled with horrific defenses that have squandered countless playoff win opportunities. Packers fans surely remember these:
2012 NFC Divisional Game
2014 NFC Championship Game
2015 NFC Divisional Game
2017 NFC Championship Game
In every one of those games, the Packers were out-coached and less talented than their opponent. The only reason they were even in those games was because of #12. However, the days of watching LaDarius Gunter haplessly trying to guard Julio Jones are over. A lot has changed since last year. A new coach, an aggressive front office, and a different mindset has brought the Packers to the #2 seed in this year’s NFC playoffs.
Rodgers has seen the success of Tom Brady in his later years by staying the pocket, getting the ball out quickly, and hitting his check downs. He’s also noticed the benefits that it has provided to Brady’s longevity, which hasn’t gone unnoticed by Rodgers — who has been humbled by a series of injuries along with an embarrassing season in 2018 where he failed to make the playoffs for the 2nd consecutive year.
Don’t forget that Rodgers was running the same predictable offense for 14 years. Before he was named the starter in 2008, he had the advantage of digesting the offensive playbook for three years while he sat on the bench behind Brett Favre. Learning a completely new offense takes time. Critics are quick to judge his performance this year even though he was named to the Pro Bowl for eighth time in his career. His job is to be the glue for a whole new offense and personnel. He didn’t forge trust with Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb overnight; it took years to develop that type of chemistry with those receivers.
Despite the regression in his stats this year, this has been one of Rodgers’ most impressive seasons because of his maturity and leadership. Armed with a new play-wristband on his left arm, he’s led the Packers to a 13-3 record and 1st round bye of the playoffs. Are his stats as prolific in years past? Not even close. But at this point in his career, he finally understands that championships are the gateway for him to be considered as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time. In week 5 after beating the Cowboys, Rodgers acknowledged his new mindset after his teammate, Aaron Jones, became the new star as he rushed for over 100 years and four touchdowns:
“Days like today aren’t the best statistical games for myself, but I feel like [I] played my best game. I’ve accomplished a lot statistically in this league. I just want to win now.”
When Michael Jordan had difficulty beating the Detroit Pistons in the late 1980’s, there was a conversation between him and Phil Jackson after they lost in the Eastern Conference Finals for the third straight year. Jackson asked Jordan one simple question: “Are you willing to give up the ball?” He was and he did, and six NBA championships later, the rest is history.
This season, Rodgers has given up the spotlight for wins. It hasn’t been easy for him to trust young receivers like Allen Lazard and Jake Kumerow, but he has. Rodgers is becoming the leader that many said he could never be. True leadership is knowing not when to take the spotlight, but when to share it.
Rodgers has made it clear he will do whatever it takes to win. If he needs to put the team on his back like the 2016 “run the table” season, he can. However, with LaFleur’s new system and GM Brian Gutekunst’s willingness to finally spend big money on defense by acquiring Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith, he doesn’t have to carry the team anymore. By not turning the ball over and having a solid run game, Rodgers is giving focus to other playmakers. By doing this, it’s disguising Rodgers as a “game manager,” thus lulling defenses to sleep. Make no mistake, Rodgers is still in his prime despite what critics say. He will benefit in the playoffs from the previous heavy-run play calls during the regular season. The Seahawks’ defensive game plan, like most teams this year, is going to be focused on stopping Aaron Jones.
Aaron Rodgers is still a leading man, not a supporting actor. He’s simply playing the role of “game manager” so he can win a championship. If Pete Carroll decides to stack the box and shut down Aaron Jones, it will only reveal an aerial assault that has been lying dormant, waiting to strike.