No quarterback has ever lit up Pete Carroll’s Seahawks as efficiently as Aaron Rodgers did on Sunday. His 150.8 passer rating was easily the highest ever against the vaunted secondary since Carroll became head coach. He only needed to attempt 23 passes on the day to get 246 yards and three touchdowns.
Those don’t look like blistering numbers, but relatively speaking, they are. The Seahawks had the sixth-best pass defense and fifth-best overall defense by DVOA entering the week. Only three other passers have posted a rating better than 90.8 against the Seahawks this season, and only Matt Ryan managed three touchdowns. It’s hard work passing against the Legion of Boom.
There are a few “yeah, but” sentences you could say to give context. Yeah, but the Seahawks were missing Earl Thomas, a player whose absence is hard to overstate. Yeah, but the Packers were playing at home, where they are now 5-2, while the Seahawks are now 2-4-1 away from Seattle.
Yeah, but if you saw how the Packers played against Washington in Week 11 — a fourth straight loss, and second in a row by double digits — there is zero chance you had them pegged to beat a consensus Super Bowl contender by 28 points just three weeks later.
Rodgers isn’t the biggest reason the Packers looked like a vastly different team. A secondary that gave up 375 yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions to Kirk Cousins got healthy and held Russell Wilson to 240 yards, one touchdown, and five (!) interceptions.
Their playoff picture is much rosier today. FiveThirtyEight is giving the 7-6 Packers a 30 percent chance of making the playoffs, up from 6 percent after the Washington debacle. They need to jump past several teams, but they can take care of the 7-6 Minnesota Vikings on Christmas Eve, and hope one of Washington or the New York Giants cannibalizes the other.
Rodgers is the biggest reason why the Packers are, at the very least, a terrifying team right now. After the Washington game, the Packers doubled down on quick passing to hit receivers beneath the secondary as a substitute for a listless running game. The change hinged on Rodgers’ arm and decisiveness, and mitigated the Packers’ protection problems. When it clicks, the Packers’ offense appears indefensible, despite a hundred reasons why it should struggle.
When every other part of the offense has broken down at times this season, Rodgers has soldiered through, playing well, though not always quite well enough to win. With a little help — his receivers getting open, or better protection, or a hint of a running game — he has been outstanding, as he was against the Seahawks.
And mind you, Rodgers defeated the Seahawks despite hobbling around between plays like this the entire time.
Rodgers is a stubborn dude, which isn’t surprising for someone who has shouldered as much of his team’s fate as he has. Any indictment of the Packers has been, to a large extent, an indictment against him, even though he has never stopped playing pretty well overall. That stubbornness has made him one of the best and most competitive passers to ever play — and maybe, not too surprisingly, hints at the dark counterpoint of his personality.
But OK, even if there are a hundred reasons why you could hate Rodgers — and feel free to do so — you have to admit that he has become inevitable. He has weathered worries about the Packers before. Somehow, Green Bay always wins the games it needs to make the postseason. Sometimes, their clutch winning takes them all the way through the Super Bowl.
Rodgers is one of a handful of NFL players who seem like they can take over a game at any moment, at any time, whatever the circumstances. That doesn’t mean they do it all the time — Cam Newton is one of the ultimate Herculean NFL athletes, but he’s had his struggles. It does mean that their absolute best can bust any matchup. Whoever you think is on that list may vary, but Tom Brady, Julio Jones, and Le’Veon Bell would be a good start.
They are players who always surface right on time to make things interesting, and they’re ultimately what makes the NFL regular season’s home stretch really damn fun.
Consider the playoff picture in both conferences. The best teams also seem to be surging teams. The Texans and Titans got back above .500 to make the AFC South look semi-respectable. The Steelers and Chiefs both have weird resumes but are now firmly in control of their destinies. The Giants have beaten the Cowboys twice. The Cowboys still haven’t looked bad this season except against the Giants. The Lions and Buccaneers and Dolphins are legitimate things! The NFL playoffs are shaping up to be the proper mix of new and stalwart contenders it always is.
I don’t take particular joy reporting that Football Is Good Now after a season in which the NFL gave us 100 reasons to hate it. This year of NFL football really hasn’t been all that fun, and the fact that anyone feels the need to justify it in Week 14 is proof of that in itself.
But it is going to be fun, I feel confident in saying, because it has never failed. There are facts like flagging ratings, and the NFL’s disconnection from what its fans like and want, and then there is Rodgers lighting up a marquee opponent on a bum ankle. The NFL can make fun seem complicated. Fortunately for the league, some things are too simple and good to screw up.
We had to wade through a lot of crud to get here, but if you’ve stuck around this far, you’re damn sure not going to check out of the season now. Aaron Rodgers is just getting warmed up, and so is the NFL.