The Cardinals' Kurt Warner, in his first postseason experience a decade ago, took the Rams all the way to a Super Bowl championship in 1999 leading an offense nicknamed the "Greatest Show on Turf."
While Packers might not be firing on all cylinders quite like the 1999 Rams, their quarterback is another story. Rodgers, in just his second season, has the look of a playoff, if not a Super Bowl quarterback – just like Warner.
"I'm excited," said Rodgers on Wednesday about his upcoming playoff opener, "but I'm just trying to gauge that continuing to approach this as another week. And I think that (head coach) Mike (McCarthy) does a good job of keeping us focused on the task at hand."
Not since the days of Bart Starr at quarterback in the 1960s have the Packers had a quarterback playing as sharp or as smart over an entire season as Rodgers. With all due respect to the incredible accomplishments of Brett Favre during his 16-year run in Green Bay, Favre never had a regular season like Rodgers had in 2009.
Rodgers' quarterback rating of 103.2 was the best team mark since Starr in 1968 (104.3). His 133.5 rating on third downs was not only the best mark in the NFL this season, but the best since the 1999 season, when Warner was 137.3 when it really counted.
Then there was Rodgers' focus on protecting the ball. Among regular starting quarterbacks, he threw a league-low seven interceptions in 541 attempts. None came on third down. His 1.3 percent interception rate ranks second in team history (Starr was 1.2 in 1966).
Perhaps most importantly, Rodgers overcame the biggest knock against him headed into the season – getting wins. With an 11-5 record, Rodgers has his first winning season as a starter. His only other taste of such a season was in 2007, when he watched Favre lead the Packers to a 13-3 record and a trip to the NFC championship game. Even then, as a backup, he learned valuable postseason lessons.
"Really that I think it's a 60-minute game," he said. "I think if you look at both our playoff games (in 2007), the first one we went down 14-0 real early after Ryan (Grant) fumbled a couple times and we had to really play well to get back in that game and then get over the hump and then put them away there in the second half. And in the second game we got down. They went on an almost 10-minute drive to start the game and go down and score and we fought with them all the way and we were able to get that thing into overtime and they made one big play more than us. So, I think it's a 60-minute game and crazy things happen but you've got to stay the course, I think that's the biggest thing. There's going to be ups and downs but as a quarterback you have to stay even-keeled through it."
In just his second season as starter, Rodgers has been remarkably even-keeled. That is part of the reason he figures to be proficient in the postseason. Rarely, does he get rattled and rarely does he have an "off" game.
"You can't get excited," said 11-year veteran wide receiver Donald Driver. "In my life, in my career, I've been to the playoffs. You enjoy those moments. This is his opportunity to say, ‘Hey, I'm the starting quarterback and we're in the playoffs.' It's going to be big for him. He's laid back, and that's what you want. You don't want a quarterback going into this thing nervous. He's laid back and he's ready to play."
While Rodgers had plenty of bottom feeders on the schedule to take advantage of, he showed no production drop-off in "big" games. At least four games for the Packers this season qualified — two Favre Bowls against the Vikings, a turning-point game against the Cowboys and a shootout with the defending Super Bowl Champion Steelers in Pittsburgh were as tough as they come.
"Anytime you can play in big games like that during the regular season, it can only help when you go into the playoffs," said Rodgers. "You realize what kind of atmosphere it's going to be, and the electricity in the air. Everything's going to happen probably a half-step faster once you get into the playoffs. I've been around playoff games — I haven't started, obviously, but been around and seen what it was like when we played Seattle and then when the Giants came in here in '07. So it's going to be a big game and we're going to be ready for it."
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
For the record, Rodgers had a quarterback rating topping 100 in three of four of those "big" games, throwing for nine touchdowns against just one interception. McCarthy is expecting the same type of performance from Rodgers in the playoffs against the Cardinals.
"I would think Aaron's going to line up and play football. That's my view of how he's prepared," said McCarthy, who saw Rodgers complete 21-of-26 passes for 235 yards in Sunday's relatively meaningless season finale in Arizona. "He's no different today than he was last Wednesday."
Though Rodgers' safe approach to quarterbacking may have hurt the team some earlier in the season, when he was taking a few too many sacks, the Packers' offense never sacrificed production. Other teams that take a safe approach with "game managers" at quarterback often do.
But the Packers with Rodgers at the helm are far from conservative. McCarthy loves the deep ball and puts his receivers and tight end Jermichael Finley in big-play positions. Rodgers more often than not finds his target. He tied for the league lead with 17 completions of 40 or more yards and was in the top 10 for 20-plus yard completions.
Combine the consistency of those big plays with Rodgers' error-free play and the Packers have a formula fit for post-season success. Warner, who will be making his 12th career postseason start on Sunday, certainly knows that formula. He also knows that Rodgers is an atypical rookie post-season quarterback.
"I've known Aaron for a couple of years now and I guess I'm just impressed with the way that he handles everything," said Warner, "from the beginning and how it started with the whole saga with Brett and all of that and continually being consistently the same guy. Very even-keeled. I'm impressed with the way that he's handled the success and the way that he's handled the position. On top of that, he's as physically gifted as anybody I've seen. The way he can throw the ball, it's almost effortless. It's just impressive from that standpoint. He moves well. He makes good decisions. He can throw on the run. He's just the whole package. When we were talking, I asked if I could have just a little bit of that arm, because I don't know what that feels like to be able to throw it like he can. I'm just very impressed both with his character and the way he's handled things as well as his talent and his ability on the football field."
QBs in first playoff starts
How the other NFC playoff quarterbacks fared in their rookie playoff debut:
Drew Brees, Saints
Jan. 8, 2005
Then with the Chargers, lost at home to the Jets, 20-17
31-42, 319 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT, 101.2 rating
Brett Favre, Vikings
Jan. 8, 1994
Then with the Packers, won at Detroit, 28-24
15-26, 204 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT, 105.3 rating
* Threw a 40-yard, game-winning TD to Sterling Sharpe with 55 seconds left
Tony Romo, Cowboys
Jan. 6, 2007
Cowboys lost to the Seahawks in Seattle, 21-20
17-29, 189 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 89.6 rating
* Was the infamous mishandled snap game
Kurt Warner, Cardinals
Jan. 16, 2000
Then with the Rams, won at home against the Vikings, 49-37
27-33, 391 yards, 5 TDs, 1 INT, 143.0 rating
* Went on to beat the Titans in the Super Bowl
Donovan McNabb, Eagles
Dec. 31, 2000
Eagles won at home against the Buccaneers, 21-3
24-33, 161 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT, 90.6 rating
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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at email@example.com