But with every third-down conversion and touchdown pass, with every win that comes and record that falls, the question becomes less bold.
In fact, it becomes less of a question altogether.
“Well, he’s special,” said right guard T.J. Lang. “I don’t think he really does anything anymore that surprises you. He’s a guy that’s playing at such a high level right now that it’s great to be a part of it and it’s impressive to watch.”
Rodgers made his 100th career start against the Atlanta Falcons at Lambeau Field on Monday night. In front of 77,512 fans and a national television audience, he completed 24 of 36 passes for 327 yards and three touchdowns as Green Bay won 43-37. It’s the fourth time Rodgers has led the offense to 40-plus points at home, but the first time they’ve actually needed it.
After jumping out to a 31-7 halftime lead, the Falcons rallied behind quarterback Matt Ryan, who put up 375 yards and four scores, and receiver Julio Jones, who looked like he was headed for a 300-yard night but ended up with 259 when a hip injury forced him to the sideline.
But it was Rodgers who continued to make near-perfect performances the norm on his home turf.
He stayed in the pocket early when the Falcons played Cover-2 and dumped it off to running backs Eddie Lacy and James Starks, who teamed up for 59 yards through the air along with 148 on the ground. Then he came back with play fakes and rollouts to tight end Andrew Quarless and receivers Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson as the first half played out. He tucked the ball and ran – opting to dive as often as he slid to gain 32 rushing yards, not counting a 4-yard loss on the kneel-down to end the game.
Rodgers connected with Lacy on his first touchdown toss of the night, waiting patiently for his big back to slip open in the middle of the defense from 1 yard out with 4:24 left in the first half. His second score was even better, evading the rush of defensive end Kroy Biermann, then stepping up to find Nelson – who ran across the back of the end zone, then reversed field away from safety Dezmen Southward – for an 11-yard score.
But it’s not just Rodgers’ right arm that’s been undoing the best-laid plans of defensive coordinators and defenders alike. It’s his eyes and feet and an innate Spidey-sense that somehow warns him of danger. In parts, Rodgers is as good as any quarterback in the league. The sum of those parts is why he’s the front-runner for NFL MVP and playing at a historic pace.
It’s those big, long, inevitable, exclamation-mark plays that have defined Rodgers’ season and career as much as anything. And when the moment was right, Rodgers delivered what everyone was hoping for -- splitting the Falcons’ defense with a laser down the middle to Nelson for a 60-yard strike that put the Packers in front 40-24 with 10:38 left in the fourth quarter. It was the seventh time the duo has hooked up for a 40-yard-plus score this season.
That third touchdown was Rodgers’ 222nd, the most ever thrown by a quarterback in his first 100 starts. Rodgers also has the most passing yards (27,520), zero-interception games (58) and 100-plus passer rating games (60), not to mention the best passer rating (107.3) and touchdown-to-interception ratio (4.11, 222-54). That’s better than Montana. Better than Marino. Better than Elway. Better than Favre. Better than Brady. Better than Manning.
Better than any quarterback.
“It’s been fun,” said Rodgers, who is 68-32 through his first 100, the same mark as the quarterback he replaced. “It’s been a great 100 games started. When you’re a young player, you can only dream about these kind of opportunities. Then you get into it and you think ‘I’d love to do 100 more.’ It’s fun to be able to be healthy after 13 weeks and to be able to play the way I want to play. Obviously, it’s a team effort. The offensive line, again, I’m going to say it, they’ve been playing great. When they give me that kind of time, we have so many playmakers outside, we expect to be able to make some plays in the passing game.”
While Rodgers allowed himself a few moments at his press conference to reflect on his first 100 starts, it’s the 10 wins this season that he was most focused on. Ten has been a magic number for a team that’s been crossing off goals from its list since the start of the season. As the Packers stay tied with Arizona for best record in the NFC – though behind in tiebreakers -- and a game ahead of Detroit in the NFC North, the playoffs become a topic they can address out loud.
“We’ve said around here, you can’t really talk about the playoffs until 10 wins, so now that stuff starts to come together,” Rodgers said. “If you look at the NFC, you might have to win 11 to guarantee a spot, maybe 12 depending on how everybody plays. It’s an exciting time for the league, for the fans, for the fantasy owners, as well. I know this is kind of playoffs and the end of the run here. It’s an exciting time for football, and it will be a fun last three weeks. And then playoffs, hopefully.”
And with a 7-0 record at Lambeau Field, home-field advantage enters the conversation, as well.
“Yeah, why not? It’s the No. 1 goal.”
The way Rodgers is playing, it should be.
W. Keith Roerdink has covered the Packers since 1992. E-mail him at email@example.com.