Mediocrity is an epidemic in the NFL. Why go for it on a fourth down when you can kick a field goal or punt? Why run a play with six seconds on the clock when you can take a knee and jog off into a warm locker room?
Thankfully, we have Aaron Rodgers to provide us with an oasis of excitement in the swirling sands of predictability. Sometimes, he’s turning free plays into gold. Other times, he’s throwing amazing Hail Mary touchdown passes.
Rodgers has three Hail Mary touchdown passes in his career, all of them within the last 13 months. Those are just the successful ones, the ones that turned into scores.
“That's three in the last calendar year or so, little more than that,” Rodgers said after the game. “But it's fun, every single time. It's fun. I think we're starting to believe any time that ball goes up there, we've got a chance.”
Why appreciate great plays when you can arbitrarily assign a value to each one? Let’s rank them.
1. 2017 NFL playoffs, Wild Card round, Jan. 8, 2017
The Packers had a one-point lead, but the Giants had been dominating the game. There’s nothing like a back-breaking Hail Mary touchdown to get the momentum back and give the rest of us some sad Eli Manning GIFs.
With 12 seconds left in the half, Rodgers throws deep down the middle on third-and-2 to tight end Jared Cook on a seam route. Cook drops the ball.
Most teams would just kneel with a fourth down and six seconds left in the half. Rodgers takes the shot on fourth-and-2 at the Giants’ 42-yard line, and it pays off. The ball arches over a mass of bodies in the end zone and right into Randall Cobb’s hands for a 42-yard touchdown.
Someone let Cobb slip out of the mass of bodies in the end zone there. Someone was playing for the pick rather than playing their man. Janoris Jenkins wasn’t even playing a man on an obvious Hail Mary play.
Instead of a tenuous one-point lead at the half, the Packers went into the locker room with a 14-6 lead. That mattered the way the Giants’ defense was playing. It’s a lesson in why taking chances pays off in the NFL, a lesson most teams still won’t learn (and to be fair, most teams don’t have Aaron Rodgers).
2. 2016 NFL playoffs, Division round, Jan. 16, 2016
Most quarterbacks will never throw one successful Hail Mary. Rodgers did it twice in the same damn year.
Seen that before.— Arizona Cardinals (@AZCardinals) January 8, 2017
Trailing 20-13 against the Cardinals, the Packers were five seconds away from a loss. Rodgers tossed a 41-yard bomb to Jeff Janis in the end zone.
What made this Hail Mary so memorable wasn’t that it tied the game and sent it to overtime (the Packers eventually lost). It’s how Rodgers made the throw, a throw that physics did everything it could to scuttle.
To throw a ball that far down the field, usually a quarterback has to step into his throw. Rodgers was actually falling away from the throw. His momentum was going backwards, toward the ground. And yet ...
There was another Hail Mary-like play on that drive. On fourth-and-20 with 55 seconds left on the clock, Rodgers hit Janis for a 60-yard gain. If he doesn’t make that play, the drive dies and the game ends.
3. Week 13 vs. Detroit Lions, Dec. 3, 2015
Of all Rodgers’ Hail Mary touchdowns, this is the one that gets the nickname. Weird. Anyway, the Miracle in Motown (or, if you prefer, the Motor City Miracle) was another instance where the Packers were dead in the water with the clock out of time.
But a facemask penalty gave them another chance. Sure enough ...
Rodgers threw a 61-yard touchdown to Richard Rodgers (no relation) to win the game.
It should’ve never happened. Not only was there the dumb penalty, but the Lions’ defense really screwed it up on the play itself, leaving three defensive backs to cover nobody ... it was the kind of play that people should’ve been fired for. It was also the Lions, so, we probably should’ve expected it.
That’s three Hail Mary touchdowns. He had another attempt in Week 17 against the Vikings last year, but it got batted down, giving Minnesota the win and the division title.