Performance Into Context

From a sheer efficiency standpoint, perhaps no quarterback has ever had a better performance against the Browns than Aaron Rodgers. Where Tommy O'Connell failed as the successor to Otto Graham in Cleveland, Rodgers is well on his way to being a rousing success in replacing Brett Favre.

Aaron Rodgers was perfect.

It says so right here in the official statistics from Sunday's game between the Packers and Cleveland Browns at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

That is, Rodgers had a perfect 158.3 quarterback reading in the first half on 7-of-9 passing for 174 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.

For the game overall, a resounding 31-3 Green Bay win, he was nearly perfect — a 155.4 rating on 15-of-20 passing for 246 yards, three TDs and no picks. If that's not the highest rating ever recorded against the Browns in a game, then it's in the conversation.

Yes, the Browns are really struggling. They're just 1-6 with no end in sight to their woes.

But forget about this season, for this is a franchise with 16 Pro Football Hall of Famers and eight league championships going all the way back to the team's inception in 1946 in the All-America Football Conference.

Thus, for Rodgers to put up those kinds of numbers — that rating — against them really means something in a historical sense, especially considering this is just his second season as a starter.

Compare what happened Sunday to what happened almost 17 years ago to the day, Oct. 19, 1992, on the footprint of this place, which then housed Cleveland Stadium and the original Browns franchise. A developing Packers team with an unknown coach named Mike Holmgren and an equally unknown quarterback in Brett Favre, in just his third game as a starter, played a miserable game and lost 17-6 to Bill Belichick's Browns. The Packers that day weren't as bad as the Browns were on Sunday, but their performance also didn't make anyone forget Green Bay's halcyon days — to that point — of the mid-1960s. And Favre didn't make anyone forget Pro Football Hall of Famer Bart Starr, or even Zeke Bratkowski.

To say Favre really struggled that day is to say it gets cold in the winter in places like Appleton, Wis., and Akron, Ohio. That is, it's an understatement. There was nothing that day that made anyone believe they were watching a guy who is going to be a sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Famer someday.

In short, Favre that afternoon was no Aaron Rodgers — or at least the Aaron Rodgers that showed up on Sunday afternoon, has been showing up all season and pretty much showed up all last season.

We make that point for several reasons.

First of all, like it or not, Rodgers will always be referred to as the quarterback who followed Favre in Green Bay, just as long-forgotten Tommy O'Connell was the quarterback who followed Hall of Famer Otto Graham in Cleveland 53 years ago.

It's not an easy task following a legend, even if the legend doesn't exit town riding off into the sunset in a neat, clean way. With everything you do, you're compared to a legend. It can swallow up a fella, just like it swallowed up Tommy O'Connell and a number of players who followed him. None of them were "Automatic Otto."


Rodgers scrambles vs. the Browns
Matt Sullivan/Getty Images
Well, Rodgers may never come close to having the kind of career Favre has had, but so far, he's off to a pretty good start. It's not often that a good player follows a good player, but that seems to be the case here. Remember all the quarterbacks the Packers went through between Starr and Favre?

This comes from a totally impartial observer, someone who doesn't see the Packers much and hasn't covered a game they've played in Cleveland since way back in 1995. By that time, Favre was really coming along, and he showed it in a 31-20 win over a Browns team that, stunned by the announcement of the franchise's impending move to Baltimore following the season, was spiraling downward en route to a 5-11 finish. So just like Rodgers and the Packers on Sunday, Favre and the 1995 team didn't exactly defeat a juggernaut that day, either.

But you have to beat up the teams you're supposed to beat up, and Rodgers and the Packers did that on Sunday. He was impressive. He appeared cool, calm and collected. He stood in the pocket when that was the thing to do, and he scrambled around and bought time when that was the thing to do. As indicated by his numbers, just about every decision he made was the right one.

He had the right touch — a soft, catchable touch — on the short passes, the zip you need on the intermediate routes and the loft you need on the deeper throws. He was like a great pitcher changing speeds, throwing the right pitch at the right time to keep the batter — er, the defense — off-stride.

The measure of a quarterback is not if he can throw the ball out of the stadium or through a brick wall. And it's also not making the right throw at the right time.

It is, rather, making plays when you're asked to make them, manage the offense when you're asked to do so, take chances when the situation is dire and calls for that, and, most important of all, to win. And the Packers are winning this year with Rodgers. They are 4-2.

Throw out last season. With the cloud that hovered over the Packers all year because of the Favre controversy, asking a quarterback to do everything right in his first season as a starter — and direct the team to victories as well — was a bit unrealistic. That cloud is gone this year, and so, too, are those closes losses that dogged Rodgers and the Packers last season, especially at the start.

The Packers' present and future will meet the Packers' past next Sunday when Favre and the Minnesota Vikings come to town. In terms of getting good quarterback play that gives the team a great chance to win every week, maybe not as much has changed with the Packers as people might believe.

That goes especially for people in Cleveland, who now have seen both Favre and Rodgers when they were young guys on the way up, and like what they see now even better than what they saw then, going on two decades ago.


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Steve King, who covers the Browns for Scout.com's Orange and Brown Report, was pinch-hitting for Packer Report publisher Bill Huber on Sunday and covered the game in Cleveland. E-mail him at stevencollking@aol.com.


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