As snowflakes began to dot the Wisconsin sky, Aaron Rodgers walked off the victorious Lambeau Field and took a few moments to pump his fists and point his fingers to the roaring Green Bay crowd.
After two years of failing to even reach the postseason, Green Bay’s 28-23 victory over the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday wasn’t just something that pushed them to the brink of the Super Bowl. It was a moment for Rodgers and his fans to appreciate how special nights like these are.
In terms of statistics, ability and sheer ways he can, and often does, beat opponents, there is a reasonable case to be made that Rodgers is the greatest quarterback, or certainly among the greatest, to ever play in the NFL.
Except there is one number that sticks out. The number 1.
That’s not just how many Super Bowls Rodgers has won over his career, but how many he’s even appeared in. That 31-25 victory over Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XLV (back in February of 2011) is all there is, and it’s nine years old and aging by the season.
Rodgers can do it all with a football in his hands, but the NFL is a team pursuit, not an individual sport. The lack of Super Bowl appearances, let alone titles, with a franchise as rock solid and often talent-laden as Green Bay, however, hangs as a blemish in any all-time great debate.
With one Lombardi Trophy brought back to Lombardi’s home, Rodgers doesn’t really have anything to prove. Yet his career will be viewed differently in history if that’s it.
So now on the heels of outdueling Russell Wilson, Green Bay will travel to San Francisco next Sunday for the NFC championship. While it may not be Rodgers’ last shot at the Super Bowl, it might be his last best shot, if you will.
“Two best teams in the NFC,” Rodgers said postgame on the Fox broadcast, and that much is true. Also true? The Niners wrecked the Packers 37-8 back in Week 12. Green Bay hasn’t lost since, and it isn’t just Rodgers who has looked great of late.
It won’t be easy — but it isn’t supposed to be easy when you’re in the rarified air of football debates that Rodgers is in (or is trying to get to). Rodgers has led the Pack to eight double-digit win seasons, including this season’s 13-3 campaign and one 15-1 season.
The best of the best find ways to win titles though. Rodgers hasn’t even played for more than one of them despite nine playoff appearances. And it’s not like he’s played in the AFC and found Tom Brady’s New England Patriots annually blocking his path.
The last three NFC starting quarterbacks in the Super Bowl were Jared Goff, Nick Foles and Matt Ryan.
Is Rodgers going to watch Jimmy Garoppolo go next?
Rodgers delivered his usual magic on Sunday amid the cold and wind of Lambeau. He was 16-of-27 for 243 passing yards and a couple of touchdowns. He rushed for 14 more yards. He got the Pack out to an early lead and made Seattle chase. Then, when Green Bay needed two first downs to run out the clock, he tossed a couple of perfect throws to keep Wilson on the sideline.
At 36 years old, it was vintage, in-his-prime, Rodgers. It was winning football. It’s been that way all season. He threw for 4,002 yards and 26 TDs. He’s tossed just six picks over the past two years.
He can still run like a 20-something and remains among the best in the league outside the pocket. His arm strength, creativity and ability to throw at unexpected angles remain mesmerizing to watch.
State Farm may be trying to phase in Patrick Mahomes as its long-term NFL pitchman, but the old guy isn’t getting out of the way so quickly. A Super Bowl matchup between the two is still possible.
Despite it all entering Sunday, in 17 postseason starts, Rodgers has just 10 victories. Brady has 30.
Sunday’s was particularly sweet because the once-January-mainstay Packers hadn’t qualified for the tournament in two years. It ought to reinforce what was also already an appreciation that this was all fleeting.
Maybe under rookie head coach Matt LaFleur the Pack are destined for another string of playoff runs. Or maybe not. Each one is too precious to waste, especially at this stage of things.
Rodgers ranks first all-time in passer rating, eighth in passing touchdowns, 10th in completion percentage and 13th all-time in passing yards. He’s rushed for over 3,100 yards and 28 TDs as well.
There are times when he looks like the perfect quarterback, so much talent coupled with such a strong understanding of the game. Yet men with less talents have won more. That’s always going to be the rub against Rodgers … unless he can rewrite the closing chapters.
Aaron Rodgers has the team around him to win it all this year. The great ones tend to deliver when that’s the case.
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