On Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh, Rodgers produced a defining performance in rallying the Green Bay Packers past the defending world champion Steelers at Heinz Field. Rodgers' heroics, however, were outdone by two-time Super Bowl-winning counterpart Ben Roethlisberger, who rallied the Steelers to a memorable 37-36 victory.
The 6-10 record from 2008 didn't all fall at the feet of Rodgers. But he threw enough bad passes and made enough bad reads with the game on the line that there were questions about his ability to be much more that a fantasy football owner's best friend.
During the second half on Sunday in Pittsburgh, about the only thing Rodgers did wrong was leave too much time on the clock for Roethlisberger in leading the Packers to the go-ahead touchdown. When the Packers needed points to stay in this shootout, Rodgers drove them to three consecutive touchdowns.
"I think I'm past that," Rodgers said of those doubts. "But tonight felt good. We got into a rhythm offensively. Personally, I felt very good after a rocky start, not throwing the ball very well to start the game. We got into a rhythm offensively; they had a hard time stopping us. We converted a couple of big third downs and we cashed in in the red zone."
After a scattershot first half in which Rodgers was victimized by at least three dropped passes and a missed field goal, he completed 13-of-19 passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns in the final two quarters. Most impressive was Rodgers converting six consecutive third downs as pass-happy coach Mike McCarthy chose to put the running game in mothballs against Pittsburgh's top-ranked run defense.
"We got into a rhythm, and Mike put the ball into my hands, and I'm appreciative of that and we were able to make some plays that put us in the position to win the game," Rodgers said.
The Packers fell behind 24-14 about four-and-a-half minutes into the second half before Rodgers rose to the occasion against a vaunted and punishing Steelers defense. Gone were the bad reads and the bad throws and the ill-time interceptions from a year ago. In there place was a quarterback playing at the highest level against a hungry, proud and desperate team.
Rodgers got Green Bay back into the game with a 69-yard drive spanning the third and fourth quarters by converting four third downs. After getting smashed by three Steelers for a sack to set up a third-and-16, Rodgers found Donald Driver for 19 yards across the middle. He followed it up by hitting Greg Jennings for 12 yards on third-and-5 and sneaking for 3 yards on third-and-inches. Finally, Rodgers took advantage of Jermichael Finley's 6-inch height advantage against safety Ryan Clark for an 11-yard, jump-ball touchdown.
Jermichael Finley wins a jump ball for a touchdown.
Keith Srakocic/AP Images
After the Steelers recaptured the lead with another field goal, Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin showed a healthy dose of respect for what Rodgers was doing to his defense.
"I'll be very bluntly honest with you," Tomlin said. "Based on the way the game was going in the second half — first of all, I thought with the element of surprise we had a chance to get it, but if we didn't get it and they were to score, then we would have necessary time on the clock to score or match their score."
"I think the statement to me was that — it was a gutsy call, for one — but I don't think they felt like they could hold up," Rodgers said. "We were getting on a roll there, scoring touchdowns, and fortunately we cashed that in but couldn't come up with one big play down the stretch."
When Ike Taylor recovered before the ball went the necessary 10 yards, the Packers were given the ball at the Pittsburgh 39 with 3:58 remaining. Rodgers remained on his third-down tear by hitting Finley for 10 yards on third-and-1 and James Jones for a 24-yard touchdown on third-and-14. Brandon Jackson picked up the blitz and Jones made a nice leaping grab on the scoring play, which gave Green Bay a 36-30 lead with 2:06 remaining.
Rodgers, who had slumped a bit with three touchdowns and three turnovers in his last two games, completed 26-of-48 passes for 383 yards against Pittsburgh. He threw for three touchdowns and ran 14 yards for another. He didn't turn over the ball, generally sticking in the pocket against blitz after blitz.
In the end, though, he was outdone by Roethlisberger, who overcame five sacks by throwing for 503 yards and three touchdowns. He became just the 10th quarterback since 1950 to throw for 500 yards.
"It was a tough game. Two teams that played well offensively and didn't turn the ball over," Rodgers said. "Unfortunately, the last team with the ball would win tonight. You have to give Ben a lot of credit. He played very well, took care of the football (and) made big plays, big throws."
There are no moral victories, but with his late touchdown pass at Chicago in Week 1, a season-saving five-game winning streak and his clutch performance against Pittsburgh, the next thing for Rodgers to cross of on his checklist is the playoffs. That means, for as good as Rodgers was against Pittsburgh, he'll have to do it again next Sunday at Seattle.
"It's a tough loss, it really is," Rodgers said. "But I think we showed a lot of character and being able to come back and we got on a roll offensively and kept that going — and I think the onside kick just showed that they didn't think they could stop us on offense. We got our chances to take the lead back and did, and unfortunately they made one more play than us tonight."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.