In the bottom of Jason Wilde’s ESPN feature about Aaron Rodgers’ new “love affair” with the mundane aspects of the preparation of football and emulation of Tom Brady’s diet, there was a really interesting quote about what is driving Rodgers to apparently work harder than ever at age 33:
Rodgers’ competitive fire, which is legendary inside the building, might also be a factor. Having had a front-row seat for the Packers’ messy divorce from Favre during the summer of 2008, Rodgers has come to view it as a cautionary tale — one he can avoid living himself by making sure he never gives the Packers a reason to move on from him.
“I think as you get older, and you see a lot of your friends move on, retire, get cut, get injured and stop playing, you have that point where you think about your own career and how long you can go,” Rodgers said. “And for me, I got even more motivated to be an irreplaceable part of our team. In doing that, I also, I think, started to really have a greater awareness of my surroundings and enjoy the little things more — the preparation, the meetings, the practice. And when you’re loving those things, the game is really icing on the cake for you.
It should be noted there were extenuating circumstances when the Packers parted with Favre. Favre had had a great 2007 season that ended in heartbreaking fashion when he threw an interception straight to Giants defensive back Corey Webster. Favre retired in a tearful press conference, then later in the offseason, when the Packers had already begun moving forward with Rodgers, Favre unretired. A standoff ensued, and Favre was traded to the Jets.
Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy do deserve a lot of credit for having the gumption to not let Favre hold them hostage, but they never would’ve been able to get rid of him that offseason had he not retired first.
Also in Rodgers’ not-so-distant rearview is a yearlong stretch where he showed glimpses of his brilliant self, but was not altogether spectacular. Beginning with a game in Week 8 of 2015 against the Denver Broncos, Rodgers had a 16-game stretch in the regular season where he completed 60% of his passes — going 399-665. He has a career 65% completion rate, and if you separate out those 16 games it’s 66%.
For whatever reason, in this stretch there were far more times than in the past where he’d throw without setting his feet, or tuck the ball to scramble prematurely before going through all his progressions. There was a reason there were so many “What’s wrong with Aaron Rodgers” stories. They weren’t unfounded.
This wasn’t all Rodgers’ fault. The running game was inconsistent at best. The Jordy Nelson ACL injury was more devastating than anybody realized at the time, and even when he was back in the first half of the 2016 season he wasn’t the same. Mike McCarthy’s butt was on the hot seat. (Or, at least should have been.)
Everybody knows what happened next though. Rodgers made the “run the table” comment. It proved prophetic. Ty Montgomery emerged as a viable running back. Jordy Nelson returned to form, and late in the season was maybe even better than he’d been before the injury.
They beat the Giants in the infamous Odell Beckham went on a boat ride earlier in the week game, Rodgers made an unbelievable throw to Jared Cook to set up a game-winning field goal over the Cowboys, and then the Packers ran into the Falcons buzzsaw.
Having added Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks, the Packers have not one but two tight end threats more formidable than anybody they’ve had since Jermichael Finley. When you combine this with what by all appearances is unprecedented focus from Aaron Rodgers, it’s not unreasonable to believe the Packers should be the favorites in the NFC.