Aaron Rodgers’ game-winning touchdown pass that propelled the Green Bay Packers to a victory at Chicago and the NFC North championship was Rodgers’ “finest hour,” coach Mike McCarthy said on Monday.
“It was just one of the most amazing feelings ever,” Rodgers said on his weekly radio show on Tuesday. “I just blacked out. It was amazing.”
The 48-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb with 38 seconds remaining lifted the Packers to a 33-28 victory. It was the culmination of a tale of two halves for Rodgers, who was playing his first game since breaking his collarbone against Chicago on Nov. 4.
In the first half, Rodgers completed 14-of-22 passes for 145 yards, with two interceptions and a dismal passer rating of 44.7. In the second half, Rodgers completed 11-of-17 passes for 173 yards, with two touchdowns and a passer rating of 137.6.
Rodgers, however, said rust from an eight-week layoff wasn’t a factor, even though the NFL’s career leader in interception percentage had just the ninth multi-interception game in 87 professional starts.
“My arm felt good. Mentally, I felt good,” Rodgers said on ESPN Milwaukee. “I prepared hard all week but there’s always going to be some sort of reindoctrination period, if you will. It was kind of like the preseason for me. I wanted to take that first hit, get that first throw in a live game rep. I’ve played a lot of football. It didn’t take long to get into the mix.”
Rodgers didn’t take many hits. According to the official game stats, Rodgers was sacked three times and hit on just one other occasion. He also was on the receiving end of a late hit by Shea McClellin – the player who sacked Rodgers when he was hurt on Nov. 4 – though Rodgers said he didn’t think the latest hit was a dirty play. He said the most painful areas on his body are his calves, which cramped up following a third-down scramble on the winning drive.
“I was conscious about it early,” Rodgers said. “I don’t want to take any unnecessary shots, so I made sure I got down on that first slide (on the first series of game) pretty early. That late third-and-4, it was purely reactionary. I got out of the pocket and might have glanced at the first-down marker. When I came back, Lance (Briggs) was right there, so it was a reactionary thing, knowing I had to get a couple yards. It wasn’t that I showed any extra toughness or felt more comfortable. I was making a football play there.”
Even with Rodgers’ lengthy layoff, offensive coordinator Tom Clements said it was “standard operating procedure” in terms of game-planning and play-calling. There was no thought to easing him back in the game or playing it safe.
“He’d been practicing for three weeks,” Clements said on Tuesday. “As we do every game, he meets with Mike (McCarthy) and he talks about the plays he likes and the plays that maybe he might want to focus on later in the game. It’s a collaborative effort. What types of plays that were being called, he felt comfortable with them and he was able to execute them.”
Rodgers wasn’t the only member of the offense returning to action. Cobb had missed the previous 10 games after sustaining a broken tibia at Baltimore on Oct. 13. He caught just two passes in his 37 snaps, though they were both big plays: a 7-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter and the 48-yard game-winner.
“He actually played more snaps than anticipated,” Clements said. “I’m sure that’s good for his confidence. He didn’t have a problem playing the extended number of plays.”
The victory over Chicago set up an NFC Wild Card Game against San Francisco on Sunday at Lambeau Field. The 49ers beat the Packers twice in 2012 – Week 1 and the divisional playoffs – as well as the 2013 opener at San Francisco. The Packers ran 19 times for 63 yards in that game but finished the season with the league’s seventh-ranked rushing attack. With Rodgers, Cobb and the backfield duo of Eddie Lacy and James Starks – not to mention ample momentum – the Packers believe they’ve got a chance to turn the tables on their NFC rivals.
“We’re a better team, they’re a better team,” Clements said. “Over the course of the year, you get better. We’ve developed into a running team so hopefully that will pay dividends for us.”
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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.