By Peter Gleason
Talk about expectations!
The Eagles had a four-game home winning streak and were facing a banged up shadow of itself Green Bay Packers.
The Packers had no real running, no speed at receiver, and no reason to believe their dreadful defense could stop even an offense as limited as the one being run by Eagles rookie Carson Wentz.
Aaron Rodgers was a bit of a problem, too.
His season had been defined by relatively bad aim, relatively bad body language and reported fractures in his family relationships. He was playing under a persistent cloud, and he needed a whole lot more than his seemingly desperate boast that his then-4-6 Packers could “run the table” over their final half-dozen games to escape it.
So Rodgers got right to work in last night’s 27-13 Packers victory.
He threw two touchdown passes to Davante Adams on his first two drives and punctuating the first with a fist pump and the second with an uppercut.
Rodgers has spent his career throwing balls into what football people like to call tight windows, but this window was all but sealed shut. How many quarterbacks in the history of the game even attempt that 20-yard throw, never mind complete it to a covered receiver who was blinded by the stadium lights?
“I couldn’t see the ball until the last millisecond,” Adams said. The receiver would tell Carroll, whose back was to the incoming pass until, well, the last millisecond, “The ball just landed in my lap.”
Rodgers didn’t have the pleasure of watching it live, but while on his back he listened for the crowd reaction to tell him the story. “It was a small cheer,” the quarterback said, “so I figured either something good happened or it was incomplete.”
He would connect on 30 of 39 passes against the Eagles for 313 yards, and he would run twice for 25 yards and two first downs on an opening drive that suggested it would be a long night for the home team and its own faltering playoff hopes. Rodgers would also play through an injured hamstring in the second half, after ducking into a makeshift tent on the sideline to drop his pants and get the leg taped up.
No, the franchise quarterback couldn’t let down the franchise by talking about running the table before spending the second half sitting on the training table. “His positive attitude has been consistent throughout his time,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “He’s grown as a quarterback since starting in 2008. He’s grown as a person all the way through. … He’s an excellent leader and always has been. It’s something we will build off.”
Rodgers had actually thrown 12 touchdown passes against three interceptions during Green Bay’s four-game losing streak that ended Monday night, but his team had lost its past two by a combined 40 points. He needed to do more Monday night — a lot more — and he responded by giving the gifted Carson Wentz a snapshot of what a grown-up quarterback looks like.
Rodgers talked with the rookie before the game and came away impressed by Wentz’s intelligence and athleticism. “Eagles fans,” Rodgers said, “should be excited about the future with Carson.”
But what about Packers fans? How excited should they be about the near-future with Aaron now that he has talked hopefully about winning the next five games?
After he unstrapped his backpack from his shoulders and winced as he stepped up to a news conference podium, Rodgers sounded more relieved by the victory than he did emboldened by it. “It’s been a rough stretch,” he said. “We’re human. You lose a few in a row and doubt starts to creep in on whether or not you can actually finish one of those games off.”
Asked how a professional athlete prevents the doubt from consuming him, Rodgers spoke of trusting his preparation and committing to a consistency in approach. “You’ve got to believe in yourself,” he said, “and believe in your teammates and not let that doubt or fear of failure cripple you. You’ve got to harness it and channel it to the positive, and I think our guys did that this week.”
Just days after Rodgers talked about turning 4-6 into 10-6, the Packers converted on 10 of 14 third-down chances and played their first complete game of the season. Maybe this is the beginning of something special, maybe not.
Either way, Rodgers reminded everyone last night that, at 32, he still has some prime-time football to play. If you’re a fan of talent, star power and creativity, it was a hell of a show to watch.