The best answer Aaron Rodgers could provide about what was wrong with him and the Green Bay Packers’ offense wasn’t delivered in front of his locker or at the media room podium. It was delivered where it always means the most – on the field.
After a week of intense speculation and hand-wringing over the failings and misfirings of an offense that was high-powered only on paper and its two-time league MVP quarterback that at times bared little resemblance to his former self, Rodgers decimated the Detroit Lions’ defense with a virtually flawless first half. He connected with six different receivers for 12 completions on 18 attempts for 174 yards, four touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 137.5 as Green Bay jumped out to a 31-10 lead.
Rodgers was actually 12-for-16 with his team up 31-3 in its home opener, before a 73-yard pass from Matthew Stafford to Marvin Jones got the Lions a score with 42 seconds remaining in the second quarter. Rodgers fired incomplete and was sacked on the final two plays of their next possession to end the half, but what he had done prior to that was a far-from-subtle reminder for critics and skeptics, fans and media, far and wide who had scrutinized Rodgers’ play more over the past seven days than at any point since his first season as a starter.
“I don’t think anybody gives a you-know-what if the offense is back or not. It’s just about winning,” Rodgers said after a 34-27 victory, dismissing the fact that pretty much everybody outside of 1265 Lombardi Ave. seemed to care quite a bit. “And we got a win. We’re 2-1. We were efficient at times, that’s important. We did a good job on third downs. But there’s going to be games like this where you’ve got to outscore the opponent and we did today.”
Behind Stafford, Detroit did its best to fashion a second-half comeback. After racking up 195 first-half passing yards, including that 73-yard score to Jones, Stafford finished with 385 yards and three touchdowns.
Rodgers, meanwhile, went just 3-for-6 for 31 yards in the second half, but added 22 rushing yards. His 14-yard scramble on the team’s lone possession of the third quarter set up Mason Crosby’s 46-yard field goal that pushed the score to 34-17. He’d take off for 11 yards on third-and-8 with just over 3 minutes left in the game on a play that let Green Bay ultimately wind down the clock and kneel for the win. Rodgers’ final quarterback rating of 129.3 marked the first time in 15 games (including playoffs) that he finished north of 100.
“I care about winning and then also what it feels like, and we need to harness that feeling that we had in the first half and keep doing that kind of stuff,” Rodgers said. “That’s a tough offense to stop, in that that first half. The second half, you know, we ran it a little bit more. We had the injury to (tight end Jared) Cook, the injury to (fullback Aaron) Ripkowski. That kind of changed the dynamic.”
But the first-half damage Rodgers and Co. did was the story of the game, and Jordy Nelson played a starring role, looking like the dangerous deep threat he was prior to missing the 2015 season with a knee injury. While Nelson entered Sunday’s contest with 11 catches for 105 yards and two scores, he nearly replicated that in the span of three hours, racking up six catches for 101 yards and two touchdowns. And after an early 49-yard grab, he uncharacteristically jumped up and motioned to the crowd to get loud. Following his second score, a smooth, over-the-shoulder grab ahead of Darius Slay for a 17-yarder in the end zone, he pumped his fists to his sides and looked up and let out a yell.
“We were just messin’ around,” Nelson said. “Coming into this week, we felt that as an offense that we just weren’t having enough fun. We wanted to bring some extra energy to the game. We made some plays, a lot of guys feed off of one another. We see Davante score a touchdown, Randall make a big play, Eddie always gets excited after a big play. So we were just having some fun. It’s what we’ve got to do. We’re getting to play football for a living on Sundays, so might as well enjoy it and have fun with it. So it’s kind of fun to act a little different than normal.”
Depending on who you believe, Rodgers may have even gotten a little emotional himself after his second touchdown to Nelson. Right guard T.J. Lang said Rodgers gave him a head-butt after the play and said, “I’m back!” but after the game Rodgers told a different version.
“He might’ve misunderstood what I was saying and gave the edited version,” Rodgers said. “But it’s good to get in a rhythm like that. It feels good when you’re on a roll and things are happening positively, you can stack them in a row. We did that in the first half, it’s just frustrating we didn’t do that in the second half.”
When you throw four first-half touchdowns – something Rodgers had only done once in his career – you don’t necessarily have to. While the final score was within a touchdown, the game never really felt in doubt. And doubts about Rodgers, and the rest of the Packers’ offense, can be packed away heading into an early bye week.
“Everybody outside the room… you know, we hear everything, we see everything, that’s all part of it,” receiver Randall Cobb said. “(The media’s) got a job to do and we got a job to do. So went to practice and practiced with that laser focus and did what we needed to do to get a win today.
“It proves what we already know. That we have a good team… that we have a great team. That we have the opportunity to do something special. It’s just continuing to build off of wins like today. We have the ability to play like this every week; it’s just coming out and proving it."
They proved they could do it in the past. Proving they could do it on Sunday has them heading into their bye week on wave of confidence. And it has their fans breathing a little easier, with a whole lot less to talk about.