There was a period of time against the Giants when Aaron Rodgers looked terrible. I say that only because his final stats — 25-of-40, 362 yards, four touchdowns — hide that fact, and because the reality that he struggled at all makes his final two and a half quarters of concentrated brilliance against one of the best secondaries in football all the more brighter.
Rodgers started the game just 6-of-15 passing for 54 yards. He was sacked four times in the Packers’ first five possessions (just 21 offensive snaps). That means he was 19-of-25 for 308 yards and four touchdowns if we excise the bad start, a 156.33 passer rating that is just shy of a perfect 158.3. The Giants’ defense was ranked second by DVOA, and fourth against the pass, having allowed the second-fewest passing touchdowns (15) and hauling in the second most interceptions (17) of any teams this season.
Playing gloveless on a blisteringly cold day, Rodgers embarrassed that secondary. Despite what Trey Songz might have you believe, Giants defensive backs were largely in the right position for much of the evening. Let’s go back to when the onslaught started. Here is Rodgers’ first big play, a 31-yard pass down the sideline to Davante Adams in the second quarter:
Just enjoy that ball. That is a happy ball. That ball goes to Adams like a puppy that just spotted its owner from across a field. There is no place that ball would rather be than in Adams’ arms, lapping at his cheeks. That is a very good ball.
From whence Rodgers conjured that ball, I can’t say, because up to that point he had truly looked off. He skipped several passes low. On some drop backs he waited, and waited, and damn near waited out the entire Jeopardy! theme at times trying to find open receivers. He was inaccurate, uncertain, and probably cold. Very cold.
But then Rodgers threw that pass that seemed destined for Adams’ hands from the moment it took flight and Rodgers never struggled again. He took just one more sack among the Packers’ final 50 snaps as he deftly maneuvered the pocket to find open targets. Two plays after hitting Adams he hotfooted around the pocket and then uncorked what seemed, then, like the play of the game.
Adams wasn’t anything remotely resembling “open” on this play. If you are a Giants fan, you were probably upset that the Packers had seemingly lucked their way to a lead-taking score, and maybe that would have been a legitimate feeling if the Giants had been facing any other quarterback except Rodgers.
But Rodgers makes these sort of plays work so often that it has come to feel like of course he’s going to put the ball in the only minute spot that it could possibly fit, as if he punched in the X-, Y-, and Z-axis coordinates in a computer first. And then to convert whatever disbelievers still existed, he showed the full extent of his might.
Now that’s something. The thing where he avoided four sacks and created 10 seconds in the pocket for himself to hit a covered receiver in the end zone? That was just warmup for the most Rodgers-y play imaginable — a 42-yard Hail Mary pass that still looks like a dime, like it landed in the exact place Rodgers meant to put it after he triple-checked his trajectory calculations.
And you might think, “No way, no one actually knows how to complete Hail Mary passes on purpose,” and to that I say Rodgers does. On his last four true Hail Mary attempts, he has completed three of them, going back to the Motown Miracle last year. He is 3-of-4 for 144, three touchdowns, and one interception (the Titans got him this season). That’s a 116.67 passer rating, and it’s better than any starting quarterback except Matt Ryan had this season.
Is the praise going overboard now? I dunno. Maybe. But it feels right and good in these moments to shout about the beauty we just witnessed, because these moments burn fast and hot compared to the slow drudgery of hate (See: Odell’s boat).
Rodgers was the subject of hate for much of the season, when the Packers were 4-6 and he was, yes, not playing as well as he is right now. Perhaps his worst game of the season was against the Giants in Week 5 when he barely completed better than 50 percent of his passes and posted a 65.0 passer rating. When a report came out in November detailing his estrangement from his family, the Packers were in the midst of a four-game losing streak, and people wondered why Aaron Rodgers was bad and what it had to do with having a famous girlfriend.
People love to hate, and one of the best ways to do it is to lie in wait for the first moment your target slips up. Then you begin, hating as loud and as hard as you can, and creating such an encompassing din that whether anyone believes you they can’t hear anything else. You become George Saunders’ braindead megaphone yelling indiscriminately in the middle of the room, and pretty soon you create a reality for everyone around you.
In time, Megaphone Guy will ruin the party. The guests will stop believing in their value as guests, and come to see their main roles as reactors-to-the-Guy. They’ll stop doing what guests are supposed to do: keep the conversation going per their own interests and concerns. They’ll become passive, stop believing in the validity of their own impressions. They may not even notice they’ve started speaking in his diction, that their thoughts are being limned by his.
So, it was in 2015 when the Packers had a midseason dip and Rodgers was the subject of great consternation, and so it was in 2014 when he literally had to spell out words to soothe his critics. Rodgers plays so transcendentally at times that every time he lets a bit of mortality slip it gets gobbled up as a signal of his demise.
And that’s so foolish, because Aaron Rodgers has only ever been an inevitability during his career. Which isn’t to say that he doesn’t have a bad game sometimes, or let his inner curmudgeon lead too often, or that he is necessarily going to do anything special next week against the Cowboys (although that game looks like it will be really, really fun).
It is to say that you should stop ever doubting what the man does on the field if that is something you are prone to doing, for God’s sake. And also why would you want to? He knows what he’s doing, and when he is at his best, neither you nor I have ever seen anyone better. Rodgers will only prove you wrong. That’s all he has ever done. And maybe if you quit making such a racket you could appreciate it.