It won’t show up on his season highlight reel. It won’t even make the cutting-room floor. But there were few plays across the NFL on Sunday that spoke louder than an 11-yard run by Green Bay Packers superstar quarterback and inveterate badass Aaron Rodgers.
Nearing the midway point of the fourth quarter at Lambeau Field, the Packers faced a third-and-9 from the Dallas Cowboys’ 48-yard line, leading 14-7. Green Bay’s previous five possessions had ended in punts, and the Cowboys had all the momentum. As Rodgers broke the line of scrimmage on what looked like a no-chance scramble, defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford reached from behind and slapped his giant paws down on both of Rodgers’ shoulders. That should’ve been that, yet Rodgers kept charging forward. Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence and safety J.J. Wilcox closed in dangerously, but Rodgers dove for the line to gain anyway and somehow avoided getting the ever-loving shit knocked out of him.
It was a first down few NFL quarterbacks would’ve had the guts and guile to pick up, and instantly the floodgates opened. A bubble screen to Randall Cobb on the next play went for 11 yards. Then Eddie Lacy took a handoff for another 11. And James Starks finished the drive by going 30 yards up the middle, untouched, into the end zone.
Final score: 28-7. The Packers are 9-4, somehow.
The only explanation that makes sense is Rodgers simply refuses to allow them to shrink from Super Bowl contention.
“I was able to kind of get out of there and convert a first down, give us another set of downs, and we got a couple good runs in there and finished that thing off with a touchdown that put us up two scores,” he said. “It just takes one play sometimes, and we haven’t been making those plays in our losses. Today, we made a play.”
A week prior, Rodgers made merely the play of his career to beat the Lions in Detroit. Perhaps you’ve seen it by now? Of course you have, but we’ll remind you anyway of Rodgers’ majestic Hail Mary heave for a 61-yard touchdown on the final snap of that game. That was a pass for the ages. Rodgers’ run against the Cowboys was more along the lines of routine whatever-it-takes for a guy who has been embodying that mentality since the start of a challenging season.
This isn’t a vintage Packers team, and it certainly isn’t one of the better offenses Rodgers has led. Green Bay entered Week 14 ranked 22nd in the league in total offense and – without top receiver Jordy Nelson since the preseason – 23rd in passing. The NFL’s reigning MVP has been sacked a harrowing 31 times. The Packers nevertheless opened the campaign 6-0, but since then they’ve been gasping for life. There were back-to-back Lambeau losses to the lowly Lions and Chicago Bears, and the game in Detroit that could’ve really put the Packers on tilt.
Yet 9-4 is 9-4, good enough for first place in the NFC North. It sure as hell isn’t anything to sneeze at.
“We’re putting ourselves in a position to get to the playoffs,” Rodgers said. “We’ve got to win another one [at Oakland on Sunday] and then worry about the division. We’ve just got to keep winning football games.”
The playoffs will come, and there will be widespread doubt about the Packers’ chances to get anywhere. Many view Rodgers as the best quarterback in the game, yet it must be pointed out that, since winning the Super Bowl to cap the 2010 season, he has won only two playoff games. Two of the team’s four losses in that span have come at Lambeau, checkering Rodgers’ record as a big-game quarterback.
And this will be no ordinary January for Olivia Munn’s bae. Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers are towering above the rest of the NFC at 13-0. Carson Palmer and the Arizona Cardinals are 11-2 and, judging by the stats, the most complete team in the NFL. And don’t anyone dare forget about the back-to-back NFC champion Seattle Seahawks, who’ve won four in a row by a preposterous combined score of 141-56.
Do the fans in Green Bay even believe the Packers have a shot to win it all?
Yet 9-4 is 9-4, and where have we heard that before? This is a Packers team that probably equals more than the sum of its parts, and that’s always a good thing. It’ll give them a puncher’s chance – and with a right arm like Rodgers’, well, any opponent had better be ready.
Rodgers’ coach, Mike McCarthy, made a difficult call leading into the Cowboys game: He took back the team’s offensive play-calling duties from associate head coach Tom Clements. No doubt, that created some tension behind the scenes.
Let’s be real: God could call the Packers’ plays, but they wouldn’t work without Rodgers. They wouldn’t work without the guy who saw Brett Favre’s arm strength and love of the game and raised him surgical precision. In poker terms, all a quarterback as talented as Rodgers needs is a chip and a chair. Because of him, the Packers still have a seat at the table. And – as on that badass run against the Cowboys – Rodgers remains utterly unafraid to go all-in.