I wrote last year that Aaron Rodgers was God’s favorite quarterback. The headline was a bit hyperbolic, but it was the only way to properly discuss how good he is at his job. After his performances in this year’s NFL playoffs, especially what he did to the Cowboys, the declarative is more relevant than ever.
It’s the only explanation left for why he consistently does the breathtaking. No other quarterback makes the difficult look as easy as Rodgers does; to him, it seems damn near routine.
The pivotal moment in his game-winning drive against Dallas was when he was sacked by Jeff Heath. It was right after Ty Montgomery’s 17-yard run on second down, with 23 seconds left, that put Green Bay on their own 42-yard line.
Heath came through unblocked from Rodgers’ blind side and drove through him as Rodgers was pulling the ball back to throw. It looked as if he was going to fumble. Heath was completely unnoticed by Rodgers, and the hit was hard enough to jar the ball loose. In the usual world, the ball comes loose and a scramble ensues. Yet, in this case it didn’t.
Somehow Rodgers managed to tighten his grip on the ball and tuck it under his arm as he went to the ground.
And just as quick as the sack happened, Rodgers shot up on one knee, spun around to the referee, and called a timeout. That left 18 seconds on the clock.
The awareness to call timeout, rather than wasting time showing his frustration with the sack, or with the blocker who missed the assignment, or anything really that would have taken time off the clock, saved the game. It was as important as anything that he did after.
What he did after that was ridiculous.
First, there was the pass to Jared Cook on a drag route where the ball went through the receiver’s fingers. That sequence, a great Rodgers pass and a Cook miss, seemed to be the theme of the day for the Packers. Three plays prior to it, Rodgers had tried a back-shoulder throw to Cook in the middle of the field. The defender was still running upfield, and Cook, tangled up with the man, had to try to make an admittedly difficult catch. The ball still went through his hands. Cook missed two consecutive passes. Two passes that are infinitely easier to catch than the one that he would end up catching.
The completed pass was downright silly. With 12 seconds left in the game and on his own 32-yard line, Rodgers snapped the ball and immediately spun out of the pocket to his left. Running toward the sideline with two Cowboys defenders hunting for him, he fired a jump pass upfield.
36 yards ahead of him, Cook caught the ball hunched over by the edge of the field, straining to remain inbounds. He was deemed to have failed. Incomplete. Another failed connection from Rodgers to Cook. This was much more excusable than the previous two.
Or at least it seemed like it was incomplete. The commentators and the referees had instantly agreed on the nature of it. But before Packers fans had the opportunity to rue the missed chances, another referee, the one who had been closest to the catch, sprinted over and signaled that Cook did indeed catch it inbounds.
It was supposedly complete but the eyeball test was skeptical. A few replays and one booth review later, and sure enough, the receiver somehow managed to keep both feet down on the field and possess the ball, with enough time and confidence to satisfy the NFL’s ambiguous catch rule.
That was on third-and-20. And it put the Packers on the Cowboys’ 32-yard line. With three seconds left, they were in field goal range. Three seconds saved by that intelligent and quick timeout that Rodgers called after the sack.
The first Mason Crosby field goal was negated by a Dallas timeout. It had been good. The second was also good, but while the first was clean through the middle, the second started off to the left and somehow curved toward the middle as it approached the uprights. More unnecessary anxiety in an already dramatic game.
The Rodgers pass to set up the field goal, though, was elevated even more after the game with context provided by Randall Cobb. Rodgers was responsible for the play call, not the coach.
Even more impressive, it wasn’t an actual designed play from their playbook — he just told each receiver what to do individually. On the biggest play of the season, he decided to freestyle it. To create a play on the spot.
Cobb said the final play was not an actual playcall. Rodgers just told each receiver what to do, like a kid drawing in the dirt. Seriously.— Robert Klemko (@RobertKlemko) January 16, 2017
There’s confidence and then there’s whatever Aaron Rodgers has. It can’t be deemed arrogance because arrogance takes an exaggeration of one’s own abilities. Arrogance is unrealistic. Rodgers isn’t arrogant; he knows exactly what he is capable of. It’s just that his ceiling is absurdly different and higher than normal quarterbacks.
He’s not afraid to improvise in the most intense moments because he can pull off what his counterparts wouldn’t dream of doing. He can essentially make up his own play with 12 seconds left in an elimination game against the 14-2 Dallas Cowboys and win the game with it. A play that required him to run to the sideline and make an otherwise ill-advised throw.
This, after what he did against the New York Giants. After that 42-yard Hail Mary to end the second quarter. A pass that was so damn accurate it navigated past a crowd of bodies and gently dropped into Cobb’s hands in the back of the end zone. A pass that wasn’t even his most impressive of that day — it came second to his first touchdown pass, which involved eluding defenders for almost nine seconds before finding Davante Adams.
There’s nothing anyone can do to stop any of this. The Giants played well. Rodgers was better. Dak Prescott and the Cowboys played well. And they were undone by the same culprit.
For the young Dallas quarterback, it was his solid performance that managed to bring the team back after being down 18 points. It was his unshakable self-belief, a very admirable trait in a rookie, that helped the Cowboys tie the game up at 31. He did all that he could do, but when the opposing quarterback is Aaron Rodgers, many times, all that you can do is not good enough.
It’s not good enough because Rodgers is living in a completely different world than everyone else. He’s throwing pinpoint Hail Mary passes, avoiding pass rushes for what seems like an eternity, and drawing up game-winning plays and executing them in otherwise hopeless situations. There’s not much anyone can do against that.
At this stage, the spectacular has become so regular for him that all you can do, as an opponent or a fan, is shrug your shoulders and say: “It’s Aaron Rodgers. That’s what he does.”