Rodgers takes a licking and keeps on ticking

It took some time for the Packers to adjust to the Jets’ unconventional matchups on defense. But in time, Aaron Rodgers found his rhythm, a new threat at receiver and another level in the franchise all-time passing annals on the way to the largest comeback of his career.

The biggest comeback win of quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ career started in the worst way imaginable.

Then again, big comeback wins usually start poorly.

But in overcoming an 18-point first half deficit against the New York Jets on Sunday at Lambeau Field, Rodgers’ fumbled snap on the first play of the game and three long drives that ended in field goals will hardly be remembered by anyone.

Instead, they might only serve to strengthen a team that has big expectations.

“Winning’s always sweet regardless of the final score,” said Rodgers in the Lambeau Field media auditorium shortly after the Green Bay Packers 31-24 victory in the home opener. “It’s never easy even if it looks to be easier of if the score is lopsided. Today was a character-building win for us and our first win. The season is still very young, but every win counts.”

That is especially the case for a team coming off a sound beating at the hands of the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks in the season opener 10 days ago. Prospects looked even worse when the Packers opened up trailing 21-3 in the first half to the Jets.

For the Jets defense, the plan was clear – throw the kitchen sink at Rodgers and make running back Eddie Lacy a non-factor. For a time, it worked.

“They had a distinct plan for our run game, just the way they played their alignments and their base personnel to our sub personnel,” said Packers coach Mike McCarthy. “There was obviously a commitment to try to take Eddie Lacy out of the game. I think that was clearly evident for four quarters. I thought the passing game, starting with the protection, Aaron and our receivers - obviously Jordy (Nelson) had a huge game. So, this game was tilted to the passing game and we got the point production we needed.”

Rodgers was knocked down early and often including two sacks on the second offensive series following the botched exchange with rookie center Corey Linsley. At halftime, Rodgers had more carries (4) than Lacy (3) and he threw the ball 30 times to just 14 times for the Jets’ Geno Smith. The Jets were scoring touchdowns (3) to the Packers field goals (3) until a 10-play, 97-yard touchdown drive with under two minutes in the second quarter helped change the momentum.

Randall Cobb capped the long drive with a 6-yard touchdown reception from Rodgers, who hit four different receivers. One of them was rookie Davante Adams for 24 yards on a third-and-10 from the Jets’ 30-yard line. Adams, who was a non-factor in the opener at Seattle (playing just nine snaps), basically flip-flopped with Jarrett Boykin on Sunday for the No. 3 receiver role. He responded with five catches in seven targets, earning a measure of trust from his quarterback.

“I wanted to get him a throw at some point and it just so happened that we got one really early when he was in there and then he ran a really nice route on the two-minute drive that he ended up catching and then avoiding the safety and turned it into a big gain of course down there in tight to score,” said Rodgers. “Its plays like that that give you a lot of confidence as a young player and I’m really proud of him. He stepped up. He played really well. And I think he’ll start to settle in and you’ll see even more big plays from him.”

In addition to breaking in a new receiver, Derek Sherrod, who had a rough outing last time out against the Seahawks in relief of the injured Bryan Bulaga, was making his first NFL start at right tackle against one of the most talented defensive lines in the NFL. The Jets tested Rodgers with just about everything they had.

“I have a lot of respect for (Jets coach) Rex (Ryan) and the job that he’s done,” said Rodgers. “He presents so many challenges to an offense because they give you so many different types of looks and he does it with personnel as well. He plays a lot of different kinds of coverages behind his fronts. He’s comfortable going base personnel to our sub personnel. Instead of going nickel he leaves his base out there and they run different pressures and coverages behind it and they did a good job of keeping us off guard there the majority of the game. But we got into a little rhythm there, got some tempo finally and were able to cap off those last couple of drives with touchdowns.”

Cobb’s second touchdown – a 1-yarder – and subsequent two-point conversion gave the Packers their first lead, 24-21 with 5:45 in the third quarter. After a Nick Folk field goal tied it for the Jets, Rodgers delivered the play of the year thus far hitting Nelson (nine catches, 209 yards) for an 80-yard touchdown off a play-action pass reminiscent of his record-setting 2011 season.

In the second half, Rodgers surpassed legendary Bart Starr for the No. 2 spot on the franchise’s career passing yards list (after Sunday he has 24,732). Starr, an annual visitor to Packers alumni weekend festivities, was unable to attend this weekend as he recovers from a minor stroke he suffered recently.

“It’s an honor to be mentioned in the same sentence as him,” said Rodgers, who finished 25-of-42 for 346 yards and three touchdowns. “I was thinking about him today a lot as it was alumni day. I got to see Willie (Davis) and Fuzzy (Thurston) and some of the guys I played with which starts to age you a little bit but I was definitely thinking about Bart and wish he had been here. I wish him the best and we’re thinking and praying for him. Personally, him and I have become close over the last few years and it’s been hard to see him going through this.”

It may not have been a comeback of Ice Bowl proportions, but for this Packers team, and Rodgers, Sunday’s reversal of fortune was big enough. Previously, the largest deficit the Packers had overcome with Rodgers at the helm came in 2012 when they came from 14 behind to beat the Detroit Lions, 27-20, on Dec. 9.

Like that win two years ago on a snowy night in Green Bay, the Packers showed grit. That word was used by both McCarthy and Rodgers. A little patience went a long way, too.

“You play a tough defense especially as talented as they are up front and they challenge you, they come up and take something away from you and it’s tough sledding, and I thought Aaron did a good job staying the course,” said McCarthy.

“I think this shows our team,” added Rodgers, “(and) hopefully the fans – I heard a couple boos out there – hopefully they realize that even though we’re down, we’re never out.”


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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com


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