Taking off for a 15-yard run on a play similar to the one that got him injured two weeks ago at Detroit, Rodgers took no chances. This time, he swiftly ended his run with a slide to avoid any unnecessary contact. And when he got up, he gave an appropriate gesture to indicate that he has learned his lesson.
"Well, I got a lot of texts over the last two weeks from friends and family. Slide was the main subject there," said Rodgers. "I basically was teasing (team) Dr. (John) Gray all week, really the last couple weeks, because he's been talking about being smart outside the pocket, so I slid and kind of did the safe signal and pointed over to Dr. Gray that I was thinking about what he told me."
The quarterback-turned-baseball umpire drew a loud, appreciative ovation from the Lambeau Field crowd for his smart play. But that was only the beginning of many big cheers on the afternoon for Rodgers, who, one week after missing his first start in three seasons, unleashed a clinic of historic proportions on the New York Giants' touted defense.
Rodgers' game statistics were downright Arena Football League-like. The final totals – 25-of-37 for 404 yards and four touchdowns – rivaled his playoff epic of a season ago, when he almost single-handedly led the Packers to a playoff win in a shootout at Arizona. The big difference between that game and Sunday's game, however, was that Rodgers was dealing with the unknown coming off his second and more serious concussion this season.
The injury that knocked Rodgers out of the Lions game on Dec. 12 also quarantined him to his home in Green Bay for the better part of the week leading up to the Patriots game on Dec. 19. He said he mostly slept to remedy the effects before being cleared to attend the game at New England, where he did some light pregame throwing. Rodgers only returned to practice fully this past Wednesday.
Because of that, this game meant something a little different.
"It was important," said Rodgers. "I was teasing (backup QB Matt) Flynn that I had to get my job back. Matt played so well last week. It was fun. I had a good week of preparation this week. That's kind of where it started. I felt good throwing the ball all week, liked the game plan, liked the things we were trying to do, and once we got into the game, I liked the rhythm that Mike (McCarthy) got our offense in."
Rodgers benefitted from a solid outing from his offensive line against one of the league's best defensive lines. Wide receivers Greg Jennings (seven catches, 142 yards), Jordy Nelson (four catches, 124 yards, one touchdown) and Donald Driver (two spectacular diving catches) were on their game, too. But make no mistake, this was Rodgers at his best. He side-stepped the rush, worked with center Scott Wells to make effective protection adjustments and was his same old accurate self when delivering the football.
"I thought he was extremely sharp, especially after not playing last week," said coach Mike McCarthy. "He did an excellent job at the line of scrimmage and keeping us in favorable down-and –distances, and when a big-play opportunity presented itself, him and Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, all the way through, we were able to convert on those plays."
Rodgers teamed with Nelson to get the big day started with an 80-yard touchdown, the longest of Nelson's career, in the first quarter. Rodgers got safety Antrel Rolle to bite just enough on a play fake for Nelson to get behind the defense in the middle of the field. When the throw was on the money, Nelson did the rest, outrunning defenders the final 60 yards.
It was the first of many explosive plays in the passing game for the Packers, with Jennings adding a 36-yarder, Driver a 33-yarder and Nelson a 38-yarder late in the fourth with the Packers up three touchdowns. Even backup tight end Tom Crabtree got into the act with a 21-yarder on a day in which the Giants had no answer.
"They did everything that we practiced," said Giants safety Deon Grant. "They only ran a few comeback routes. It was a lot of curls and slants, and we knew they would do that. At the end of the day, we didn't do what we were supposed to do. We knew what was coming. We should have been able to attack it, but we didn't."
Instead, the Packers were the ones attacking the Giants, who backed off their early pressures to play more coverage downfield. Rodgers found success anyway, and when it was over, his 404 yards passing were the most in a regular season game by a Packers quarterback since 1980 (Lynn Dickey, 418 yards).
It was as dominant as it gets, just like the final score: 45-17 in favor of the Packers.
Asked if the performance was his best this season, Rodgers said, "Without a doubt."
Perhaps the best part was that it kept the Packers (9-6) in the playoff hunt for the final week of the regular season, where they can get into the postseason fray in the NFC with a win over the Bears (11-4), who will visit on Jan. 2.
"It's been an up and down year, a lot of things have happened both positively and negatively that we might not have expected," said Rodgers, "but we go into the last game of the season with a chance to make the playoffs with a win, and that's all we can ask for right now."
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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org