By Jason Keidel
Just when the media and masses were eulogizing the Green Bay Packers, trying to dig 53 graves out of the Frozen Tundra, the Packers did what the Packers do.
A month ago, the club was 4-6, disheveled, if not dismantled, with all eyes on Mike McCarthy and all fingers pointing at Aaron Rodgers. Not only was Rodgers clearly slipping from the stratosphere, the rumor mill was churning all manner of myth. We heard of Rodgers’s hubris. He’s aloof, distant and disinterested. Basically, Jay Cutler with a little more talent.
The stat sheet didn’t really suggest Rodgers was in deep decay. So it was the other stuff. He doesn’t work with teammates. He doesn’t even hand out his cell phone number within his own locker room. Basically, Barry Bonds with a face mask.
We love sports for the zero-sum finality of the final score. And we are often armed with stats for any debate, our quivers loaded with numbers. The Packers, for instance, are 32-13 in December under McCarthy. Likewise, Rodgers entered yesterday’s contest with 102.8 passer rating in the same month (according to USA Today).
Maybe no one expected Ty Montgomery to morph into Earl Campbell — especially fantasy owners who were shockingly gutted by his 162-yard romp through Soldier Field — but Rodgers and McCarthy are on safe and familiar turf wherever they roam in the NFC North.
Granted, this space has been overly and overtly kind to Rodgers. Yours truly even suggested that, at his best, Rodgers throws the football better than anyone ever to trot onto a gridiron. But there is a widely held sentiment over his talent. Chris Simms, son of Phil and former NFL quarterback, says, to a man, just about every NFL player barks “Aaron Rodgers” before the question “who’s the best QB in the world?” is even finished.
And while Rodgers didn’t short-circuit the scoreboard on Sunday (19-for-31, 252 yards), he was his typical, surgical self. Rogers may not have completed two touchdown passes, but he threw two that happened to be dropped by Davante Adams. The equally reliable Jordy Nelson also dropped a long pass. No doubt the pigskin felt like a boulder in the minus-18 Chicago wind chill, yet it didn’t stop Rodgers from tossing the ball as though he were in Hawaii, which is surely where he will be invited in January, as a participant in the Pro Bowl.
No doubt Rodgers invited a couple chuckles when he suggested the club could run the table before their Week 12 game against the Eagles. It reminded some of his famous “R-E-L-A-X” monologue a couple years back. But they indeed went on a run back then, as well.
And it’s hard to understand, other than some personal animus or natural rivalry, how anyone can dispute Rodgers’s comical, statistical dominance. His worst seasons would be career years for 90 percent of starting NFL quarterbacks.
Just look at this season, one in which he allegedly tumbled from the top of the QB totem pole. Rodgers has 35 total touchdowns and 7 interceptions. That’s a bad year for No. 12. Rodgers’s 100.2 passer rating is fifth in the NFL. And his 32 passing TD and 7 INT are a carbon copy of Matt Ryan, whom the pundits are hailing as an MVP candidate.
So the 4-6 Packers are now 8-6. With the Lions losing to the New York Football Giants at the same time, there should be a delicious Sunday spread on New Year’s Day, when the Lions host the Packers, likely for the NFC North title.
You may not be accustomed to seeing Detroit, a perennial doormat, jousting for a division title. But you shouldn’t be shocked to see Green Bay, Mike McCarthy or Aaron Rodgers playing in January. Or February.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.