On Sunday, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers will play his fourth NFC championship game of his future Hall of Fame career. He hopes to make his second Super Bowl appearance with a victory after being 1-2 in the NFC title game.
Rodgers entered this season as the 12th year starting quarterback for the Packers and in the National Football League. At 36 years old, he knows time is running out to play in the Super Bowl and win it. He can still play the position for the next five years, but he may not participate in perennial title game appearances again.
This could be his last shot of getting to the Super Bowl and winning it, so there’s a sense of urgency for him on Sunday. He should feel all the pressure. He made State Farm commercial appearances and received so much media billing. He is one of the most popular athletes today. Everyone proclaimed him as one of the best to play at his position.
He deserves all the praise. Still, to be considered in the conversation of Joe Montana and Tom Brady, he has to win more than one Super Bowl.
That’s the beauty of all this. It’s so hard to win more than one and winning two or three cements a legacy for a quarterback. Rodgers certainly wants to be in that conversation like any elite quarterback that has high aspirations.
He felt then-Packers head coach Mike McCarthy played a role in not having him and the Packers in a primed position to win championships by not embracing analytics and not being innovative enough on offense. He complained about McCarthy to the point the organization decided to fire the head coach.
Rodgers exterminated the problem, and as a result, the Packers went 13-3 this season with a 28-23 playoff victory over the Seattle Seahawks. He may not put the great passing numbers we are used to seeing under first-year Packers head coach Matt LaFleur, but it’s about the wins and nothing else for him at this stage of his career.
Still, none of this will matter if the Packers star does not win the Super Bowl this season. He set the bar so high in his career that we created expectations for him that he has to live up to. He knows this. He gets it. Excuses such as McCarthy disappeared.
The spotlight focuses on Kansas Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes this Sunday. He carries the pressure from a city that is hungry for a Super Bowl appearance and a championship. CBS and the NFL want him to highlight the Super Bowl in Miami, not the overachieving Tennessee Titans. With the New England Patriots not a factor in the playoffs, there’s no reason or excuse for him and the Chiefs to not play in the big game.
But it should be on Rodgers since Mahomes is 24 years old, and the Chiefs quarterback will have more opportunities in what should be a long, productive Hall-of-Fame career. Father Time is making his way to the Packers quarterback.
Rodgers’ performances in his three NFC title games should bear scrutiny. He completed just 58 percent of his 109 passes with a 70.5 quarterback rating, and he threw five interceptions.
The San Francisco 49ers plan to make his job harder on Sunday. They boast a ferocious defensive line that feasts on quarterbacks with 48 sacks to show for it. It means Rodgers will be thinking of Arik Armstead (team-leading 10 sacks), Nick Bosa (nine sacks), DeForest Buckner (7 1/.2) and Dee Ford (6 ½) all game long. This explains why the 49ers are favorite to beat the Packers.
Forget the sacks. It’s the 49ers physical defensive line that can wear down the quarterback. Rodgers can be forced to be skittish and throw fumbles and interceptions since he won’t have much time against that line.
For the Packers to win, Rodgers must find a way to overcome his fears of that offensive line and make plays. It’s been his Achillees’ heel in these title games. This is where Rodgers shed the label of being overrated and earn the label of being one of the greatest quarterbacks to play the sport. Great quarterbacks find a way to overcome the odds. It’s what made Brady so good along with Montana.
What the Packers need Rodgers to do is to make out-of-this-world play under duress to win this game. Making something out of nothing as in eluding sacks and throwing or running for a first down. It will be the difference from being a participant in the Super Bowl to being a part the audience watching the Super Bowl.
Stakes get higher at this time of the year. No more playing creampuffs. It’s the ability to survive and find a way that can get a team far. That’s the task Rodgers face heading to here.
Aaron Jones will make Rodgers’ job easy by running the ball, but again, it’s going to come down to what the Packers quarterback does.
Rodgers going up against the defensive line fascinates this observer in this game. It will be finesse versus physical. It will be brains versus brawn. It’s what makes football such a fun sport to follow and enjoy. This makes the NFC title game so much interesting.
Everyone will be watching Rodgers on Sunday in what could be his last championship game.