Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was named the league’s MVP at Saturday’s NFL Honors awards show. The two-time MVP carried the Packers to a 12-4 record and a fourth consecutive division championship by being a calming voice early in the season, showing toughness late in the season and putting up big numbers almost every week.
Rodgers is the ninth multiple winner of The Associated Press’ award, which debuted in 1957. This is the eighth time a member of the Packers has been named MVP (Brett Favre, 3; Rodgers, 2; Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor, one apiece). Only the Colts (nine) have more MVP awards.
"Like I said up there with Peyton (Manning), ‘You set the gold standard,’" Rodgers said. "He and Tom Brady, as far as quarterback play in my generation. Peyton’s won it five times; I mean, that’s incredible. But twice, it feels great. It just means that there’s been some consistent play. That’s what I pride myself on – a consistent approach every week and a good preparation and making the plays that my teammates expect me to make.”
Rodgers, who also took the honor in 2011, received 31 votes for the 2014 award from a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the league. Houston's J.J. Watt, seeking to become the first defensive player to win MVP since 1986, got 13 votes. Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray, the 2014 Offensive Player award winner, and quarterback Tony Romo each got two votes. Patriots QB Tom Brady and Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner received one apiece.
"J.J. (Watt) had an incredible year," Rodgers said. "I mean, he scored three offensive touchdowns, two defensive touchdowns, 20 sacks. And then Tony (Romo) had an incredible year, as well. It was a great year for the NFL, and I’m proud to receive the award.”
Rodgers turned in arguably his best season. Rodgers completed 65.6 percent of his passes for 4,381 yards. He tossed 38 touchdowns and only five interceptions, and averaged 8.11 yards per attempt. Throw all of those numbers into the soup, and Rodgers finished with a passer rating of 112.2 that ranked just behind Tony Romo’s league-high 113.2.
He did all of that with a watered-down receiver corps. Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb had enormous seasons but presumed No. 3 receiver Jarrett Boykin bombed and Davante Adams and Richard Rodgers had up-and-down seasons typical of rookies.
Rodgers’ ability to make game-winning plays but avoid game-losing plays is practically unparalleled in the history of the league. In the second half of the season, when the Packers went 7-1 to win the division and earn a No. 2 seed, Rodgers had a passer rating of at least 108 in all seven victories. His 38 touchdown passes trailed only Andrew Luck (40) and Peyton Manning (39), even though he threw 96 fewer passes than Luck and 77 less than Manning. And Rodgers’ touchdown-to-interception ratio of 7.6-to-1 was double Romo’s second-ranked 3.8 and the second-best in NFL history among quarterbacks with at least 320 attempts. In fact, Rodgers owns the second-, third- and ninth-best marks of all-time.
“You have to be fearless at times and you have to be smart at times,” quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt said late in the season.
He certainly was, while controlling the game before the snap and dominating the action after the snap. Rodgers’ combination of intellect and athleticism are beyond compare. Blitz him? Rodgers killed it. Pressure him? You better get him down or he’d break contain and make a big play. Cover the receivers? He’d move the pocket to buy his guys time to get open.
Before he injured his left calf early in the Week 16 game at Tampa Bay, opposing defenses practically waved the white flag of surrender in trying to stop him. The plan simply became keeping him in the pocket with four rushers and dropping seven into coverage. That was never more evident than against New England, with Patriots coach Bill Belichick sometimes only sending two rushers at Rodgers.
“He’s an incredible player,” Belichick said before the game. “He’s got great touch on every pass — the short ones, the long ones, the ones on the sideline, throwing on the run, screen passes. He always puts the ball in the right place and puts it right there for the receiver to catch it in full stride and run with it and make extra yards after the catch. He does an excellent job in the pocket of extending plays, feeling the rush. He can run when he has to but he also is probably even more dangerous when he just buys extra time in the pocket and lets his receivers uncover and lifts it down the field to somebody for 20 or 30 yards that is able to get open because the play has been extended for another couple seconds. He just puts a tremendous amount of pressure on your defense.
“They very rarely run a bad play where somebody is just unblocked or the play just doesn't have a chance. Aaron does a tremendous job with that and I don’t think that can be in any way understated. It may not be him making the play but it’s him directing the team and maybe somebody else makes the play, but it’s still part of his job. This guy’s really a good player.”
And even when Rodgers’ ability to extend plays was nullified by the injury, he performed brilliantly. In the Detroit game in which he was carted into the locker room late in the first half and limped out of the locker room early in the second half, Rodgers had a 139.6 passer rating – the best of his career against Detroit’s terrific defense. Two weeks later in the playoff victory against Dallas – played after the MVP votes were cast -- Rodgers threw for 316 yards with three touchdowns, no interceptions and a rating of 125.4.
More than any time in his career, Rodgers came through in the clutch. There was the game-winning touchdown vs. Miami, a key third-down conversion to tightly covered Randall Cobb to help run out the clock vs. New England and his memorable performance during the second half against Detroit.
“Aaron Rodgers, I don’t know what to say about him,” coach Mike McCarthy said after the Detroit game. “The fact that he can come back out after the calf injury and to perform on a limited game plan and play at the level that he played at, I thought was extraordinary. It was clearly an MVP performance — another MVP performance — by Aaron Rodgers.”
The NFL Honors event was a bittersweet one for Rodgers, with the Packers getting the ball with 5 minutes to play and a two-score lead and looking destined to playing in Sunday's Super Bowl.
“You know, I’d rather be at the hotel right now waiting to play tomorrow. But this is a great, great night," Rodgers said. "It’s hard not to get emotional out there as you’re watching (Walter Payton Man of the Year Award winner) Thomas Davis and his story. Incredible. (Fellow Payton nominee) Anquan (Boldin), the work that he does; he’s amazing. Feel some pride and joy for the guys, especially Ron Wolf getting in the Hall of Fame. He and I have gotten to know each other over the years, and he’s an architect of a number of franchises. It’s exciting for him to get in, and I just think there’s so many great things about tonight, and it’s great to be a part of it.”
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