Heir apparent comes through

Rodgers quiets critics with solid performance in relief of injured Favre

Despite losing their NFC showdown to the Dallas Cowboys, the Green Bay Packers and their fans can be comforted by the fact that Aaron Rodgers is more than ready to step in at quarterback when Brett Favre eventually moves on. Rodgers has been ready for a while now, but there has been a segment of fans out there who wanted to trade him away for a draft pick, or wide receiver, or something crazy.

Not anymore.

Rodgers stepped in for the injured Favre with the Packers trailing by 17 points in the second quarter and nearly led the Packers to a comeback victory. More importantly, the third-year pro proved that he is the long-term answer at the most important position on the team. He proved he hasn't just been sitting around the past three years collecting a check, but has improved his arm strength and command of the offense. That was as evident as the big star in the middle of the field Thursday night.

"I think Aaron Rodgers is going to be a fine quarterback when his opportunity comes," said Packers coach Mike McCarthy after Green Bay's 37-27 setback. "He is prepared now. He's got three years and this was his opportunity tonight. I really liked the way he stepped in there and took command of the huddle and once again we were able to stay with our plan, didn't need to change anything or deviate from it, and that's what you want from your backup."

On top of his command of the offense, Rodgers showed poise, the ability to run for first downs, and improvise against the Cowboys. He led the Packers on two touchdown drives, and threw his first career touchdown pass - an 11-yarder to wide receiver Greg Jennings - with 31 seconds left in the second quarter to close the Packers to 27-17.

Rodgers then led the Packers on a 69-yard scoring drive early in the third quarter, capped by running back Ryan Grant's 1-yard touchdown plunge. Despite constant pressure and blitzing from the Cowboys, Rodgers completed a 16-yard pass to wide receiver Donald Driver, and 22- and 14-yard passes to tight end Donald Lee in the drive.

"We didn't make enough plays to win today," Rodgers said. "I felt like I moved the offense pretty well. I felt comfortable out there. But we just came up a little short. I felt good out there. I think I showed this preseason that I can make plays with my legs."

Considering he came in cold off the bench, Rodgers was hot at times against the Cowboys, completing 11 straight passes at one point. He finished 18 of 26 for 201 yards for a passer rating of 104.8. The fact the he never gets any reps with the first-team offense during a regular season practice leading up to a game, that's impressive. Rodgers spent the early part of this week impersonating Tony Romo in practice, yet he held his own against the real Romo in the NFC's biggest game of the season. Think about how Rodgers would perform if he was given reps with the first-team offense in practices prior to a game.

This brings up an interesting scenario: What if Favre is still hurting from his arm and separated shoulder injuries next week when the team reconvenes to begin the final quarter of the regular season? Do the Packers sit the future Hall of Famer to give him more time to get healthy for the stretch run and playoffs, and play Rodgers? That was the reasoning for sitting Charles Woodson (turf toe) and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila (ankle) against the Cowboys. Both could have played if it was a playoff game, according to McCarthy, but the team erred on the side caution.

In Favre's case, the overriding factor is his 249-game starting streak. Do the Packers break the streak in order to give Favre a break? Rodgers showed Thursday night that if is capable of leading the Packers to a near comeback win, he should be able to take care of the 3-8 Oakland Raiders on Dec. 9.

Maybe the Packers can kill two birds with one stone by starting Favre, then removing him early on in favor of Rodgers. That seems unlikely, however, because Favre has said in the past that he would never approach a game that way. We'll see, but for now we know, once and for all, that Rodgers is more than ready to lead the Pack into the future. His critics do too.

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