The moment was as revealing as it was ridiculous. A literal ton of Packers were celebrating yet another touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night, stomping the last of Atlanta’s 2020 hopes into the Lambeau Field turf. And then, from the distance, came Aaron Rodgers, looking like someone’s little brother, flexing on camera long after the cool kids had moved on.
Nobody missed the irony. Rodgers is no one’s tagalong. He’s the engine of the Packers’ offense, the reason they’ve found the end zone more times than anyone outside Seattle this year. Yet here he was, not afraid to look like a goofball, playing with more joy than he had in years.
It was emblematic of a season that’s only four games old but is already shaping up to be very special for both Rodgers and the Packers, who now have the fourth-best odds to win the Super Bowl with BetMGM (+1000) and second-best to win the NFC (+420).
On draft day 2005, after he’d just sat for five humiliating hours in a green room, Rodgers prepared at last to walk onstage to greet then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue as the newest member of the Green Bay Packers. Just before he got there, Merton Hanks, a former Pro Bowl defensive back, caught Rodgers and whispered in his ear.
“I played my whole career with a chip on my shoulder,” Hanks said. “You should do the same.”
You know what happened next. Rodgers sat behind the will-he-retire-already Brett Favre for three years, seething all the while. When Rodgers finally did start, it was for a less-than-middling 6-10 Packers team. But once he got his feet under him, Rodgers led the Packers to eight straight playoff appearances, including a Super Bowl victory and two MVPs.
The Packers brought in Matt LaFleur last year to end turmoil between Rodgers and the coaching staff, and in Year One, the move paid dividends. Green Bay went 13-3 and reached the NFC Championship game. So nobody was more shocked than Rodgers when the Packers appeared to use the 2020 draft not to reload, but to stockpile for the future in trading up to draft quarterback Jordan Love. Rodgers allowed that he poured himself “four fingers” of tequila after the pick … and shouldered another chip.
“I wasn’t elated by the pick, especially being one game away from the Super Bowl and feeling like we’re a couple players away,” Rodgers told Kyle Brandt. “But at the same time I understand it’s a business. I know that’s the reality.”
Rodgers knows the parallels between his situation now and his apprenticeship to Favre. But as it turns out, a little fire under the hindquarters can do wonders even for old dogs. In the years after the Patriots drafted Jimmy Garoppolo to be Tom Brady’s heir apparent, for instance, New England won two Super Bowls and eventually shipped out Jimmy G for parts.
This year, Rodgers has fired out of the gate like a Kentucky Derby gunner. Through four games, Rodgers ranks fifth overall in passing yardage, but ranks second only to Russell Wilson in touchdowns and overall QB rating. He’s also slinging it downfield; he ranks 12th in completions but near the top in throws of 20+ yards (fourth) and 40+ yards (second).
Rodgers has authored two of the top five most improbable completions of the year, both with a less-than-17 percent chance of success, per NFL Next Gen stats. (Wilson, naturally, has the most improbable play of the year to date, a 38-yard touchdown to David Moore in the New England game that had just a 6.3 percent chance of breaking right.)
LaFleur and the Packers coaching staff have crafted an offense that relies heavily on motion and misdirection, which plays to Rodgers’ strengths. The result? Options all over the field.
Yes, Rodgers can throw a playing card into the middle of a deck from across the room, but when you’ve got three players wide open — as he did on one key fourth down last night — well, throwing completions is easier than breathing:
the Packers had some options on that 4th down! pic.twitter.com/bR4cJLUAIM— Pick Six Podcast (@picksixpod) October 6, 2020
Rodgers is also reaping the benefits of one of the most talented rosters he’s ever had around him. Davante Adams is one of the best receivers in the league; Aaron Jones is shaping into one of the game’s top running backs. With Adams and Allen Lazard sidelined on Monday night, Rodgers simply realigned and turned Robert Tonyan into a marquee threat, hitting him on all six of his targets for three touchdowns and 98 yards.
Yes, when you’re Aaron Rodgers, it apparently really is that easy.
Green Bay’s off this week, but its next game — against Tampa Bay on Week 6 — might just be its toughest still on the slate. The Jaguars, Eagles, Lions and Bears (twice) await, and the only reason Rodgers won't perform up to the standards of his first four games is that he'll have all these wrapped up by halftime.
Out in Seattle, Russell Wilson may be cooking, but in Green Bay, Rodgers is heating up. A February flex is very much on the table.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee and contact him with tips and story ideas at email@example.com.
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