History says don't give up on Rodgers

Matt Hasselbeck is a Pro Bowl quarterback. Alex Smith is the NFL's most-improved player. What do these quarterbacks have in common? Packers coach Mike McCarthy.

Don't give up on Aaron Rodgers.

Breaking a foot during last week's game against New England was, well, a bad break for Rodgers, who looked miserable in mop-up duty against the Patriots but at least was in line to get valuable experience as the final six games of the season played out.

The jury remains out on Rodgers. Certainly, his play against New England put quite a few more fans in the doubters' column.

That's silly, of course. Rodgers barely gets any snaps with the first-team offense during the practice week. To expect Rodgers to step into the lineup and lead a comeback while facing a Bill Belichick-led defense is like jumping into a Nextel Cup car because you know how to drive in circles.

So don't give up on Rodgers, and if you want to know why, you'll see Exhibits A and B in the next three weeks.

For Exhibit A, I present to you Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.

In his first season (2002) with the Seahawks after being obtained from the Packers, Hasselbeck was a disaster. He completed 54.8 percent of his passes and threw seven touchdown passes compared to eight interceptions.

He was benched in favor of journeyman Trent Dilfer, and nearly got coach Mike Holmgren fired.

Hasselbeck got another chance midway through the 2003 season, and he finally started to blossom. While he put up big numbers in the final eight games of 2003 and through his 14 starts in 2004, it wasn't until last season when a 30-year-old Hasselbeck finally learned how to play the position. After throwing 15 interceptions in 2003 and 2004, he was picked off only nine times in 2005. Not coincidentally, the Seahawks reached the Super Bowl.

"It's taken awhile, but right now, we are in a very, very good place," Holmgren said.

Exhibit B is San Francisco's Alex Smith. The first pick of the 2005 draft — the 49ers agonized before picking Smith over Rodgers — Smith was downright awful during his rookie season. He played in nine games, including seven starts, and posted a passer rating of 40.8, with one touchdown pass against 11 interceptions. It was one of the worst performances by a quarterback, rookie or not, in NFL history.

This year, Smith's numbers are up — way up — across the board. His completion percentage is up from 50.9 to 61.7, his passer rating has more than doubled to 82.7 and he's thrown 10 touchdown passes against seven interceptions.

"I wouldn't say I've arrived, but what's happening is that I'm getting more and more comfortable. I have grown a lot," said Smith, who's led the Niners to three straight wins and a surprising 5-5 record.

What do Smith and Hasselbeck have in common? Packers coach Mike McCarthy.

McCarthy was one of Hasselbeck's quarterbacks coaches in Green Bay. McCarthy was Smith's offensive coordinator last season.

Hasselbeck wasn't asked about Rodgers, but he did give McCarthy a huge endorsement.

"I learned a great deal from him," Hasselbeck said during a conference call with Wisconsin reporters this week. "I feel that I improved the most from my first year to my second year, and I credit him with that. He really taught me, not only the offense, but he taught me about every NFL defense that was out there. He taught me about the history of why we call things what we do. He's a very detailed guy. He makes things simple on quarterbacks."

Rodgers has a lot working in his favor. Most importantly, he's skilled, intelligent, he works hard and he's got a head coach with a track record of developing quarterbacks. Given the late-blooming Hasselbeck's lofty status as perhaps the best quarterback in the NFC (despite being only a sixth-round draft choice) and Smith's rapid improvement, chances are Rodgers will be just fine when a certain No. 4 is gone.

All he needs is a chance. And your patience.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. Send comments to steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com.

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