Aaron Rodgers stood behind his center and looked left, then right, then behind him.
He entered the Week 2 grudge match with the Seattle Seahawks already missing star wide out Jordy Nelson, who was lost for the year during preseason, right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who will miss at least a month after knee surgery earlier this week, and Pro Bowl running back Eddie Lacy, who hurt his ankle on the team's second possession of the game and was lost for the night. Even second-year receiver Davante Adams headed to the sideline in the second quarter with an ankle injury that he’d later return from.
But if the Lambeau Field faithful were questioning whether Green Bay could beat a team that has become both rival and measuring stick with a less-than-full-strength offensive unit, they were discounting the fact that, unlike eight months ago in the NFC title game loss to the Seahawks, the most important player in green and gold was operating on full power.
For all the miscues, flukes, and twists of fate that led to the Green Bay Packers losing to the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship, it’s easy to forget that what could’ve made all the difference was a healthy Rodgers. Nursing a severely sprained calf, the Packers' signal-caller was robbed of one of the most dangerous – if not underrated – parts of his game.
It was on full display Sunday night as the Packers downed the Seahawks 27-17. Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson might’ve seemed like the quarterback with all the moves on his way to 78 yards rushing on an array of read-option plays and bootlegs, but it was the footwork Rodgers displayed behind the line of scrimmage that mattered most.
“I like throwing from the pocket, but I’ve always been able to extend some plays to our advantage at times,” Rodgers said. “The (pass) rush is pretty rough from those guys. They get up the field, they have good push inside, and they get high and wide very quickly. I knew I was going to have to extend some plays.”
At times by design, at times by necessity, Rodgers stepped up in the pocket, rolled left and right, and consistently used his legs to set up the most accurate arm in NFL history.
He capped a 10-play drive on the team's opening possession with a bullet to receiver James Jones on a free play when Seattle jumped offsides. Jones got a step on cornerback Richard Sherman, saw his quarterback on the run, and took his route to the end zone. Rodgers moved up, slid to his left, and then fired back to his right for the score. All, apparently, according to plan.
“We talked through a lot of the situations that actually happened in the game,” Rodgers said. “The first touchdown to James was something I mentioned in my presentation yesterday to the guys. I said, ‘Just a reminder, if I’m moving opposite the throw, just keep that alive.’ And James did a great job of adjusting his route on the backside. As I moved to the left, I had every intention of throwing it back to the right, and he was in the perfect spot and it worked out for a big start to the game.”
There would be an even bigger finish.
After falling behind 17-16 near the end of the third quarter, Rodgers went to work, utilizing a four-receiver set that they hadn’t shown to that point, that included both Randall Cobb and rookie receiver Ty Montgomery running routes out of the backfield. Cobb’s 18-yard catch on second-and-15 jump started the drive.
“We looked at the picture on the sideline with (offensive coordinator) Tom (Clements) and we talked about hitting that spot. They were playing a lot of weak coverage with their safety and we felt like if Randall could get a free release there were was a hole in that zone there.”
Two plays later, Cobb turned a short pass in the right flat into 19 yards after a missed tackle. Going into no-huddle mode, Rodgers went to his left and found Montgomery for 17 yards three plays later. He bookended his first scoring drive of the day with another 10-play, 80-yard march. Tight end Richard Rodgers hauled in a 5-yard strike on a busted play that saw him literally run a circle around cornerback Cary Williams to make the catch.
“Corey (Linsley) snapped it early and we didn’t have a route called, so that was one of those fun ones that we’ll laugh about when we watch the film,” Rodgers said.
Rodgers' feet once again meant as much as his arm, when he stepped up away from the pressure, rolled left and found his big tight end. The two-point conversion went to Richard Rodgers once more, as his quarterback stepped up and threw off his front foot to put his team up 24-17.
Packers linebacker Jayrone Elliot made a one-handed interception of Wilson to set up Green Bay’s final points of the game, a 21-yard Mason Crosby field goal that made him the Packers all-time leading scorer with 1,057 points.
Without a hint of excitement, Rodgers expressed – if that’s not too strong a description for his postgame demeanor – that his team’s victory over the Seahawks on Sunday night was a good win. He said it means they’re 2-0. Nothing more, nothing less.
He finished 25-of-33 passing with 249 yards and two touchdowns. He was sacked twice, and ran for 23 yards on six carries. Another day at the office, apparently.
But it’s that attitude, along with his arm – and don’t forget his feet – that will keep Green Bay as a contender no matter who else goes down around their MVP quarterback.