Hard to believe, but Rodgers looks even better
By Gary D’Amato, Journal-Sentinel
~Green Bay – It’s perhaps unwise to make projections based on one game, especially when that game is the season opener.
But throwing caution to the wind, what kind of numbers might Aaron Rodgers put up this season?
Thirty-five touchdown passes? Forty? Four thousand passing yards? Five thousand?
Picking up where he left off seven months ago when he was named most valuable player of Super Bowl XLV, Rodgers completed passes to nine receivers, threw for 312 yards and three touchdowns and led the Green Bay Packers to a 42-34 victory over the New Orleans Saints at Lambeau Field on Thursday night.
Rodgers looks to be an improved version of the quarterback who threw for 86 touchdowns and nearly 12,400 yards in his first three seasons as a starter.
For sure, the 27-year-old quarterback has more weapons at his disposal than he did when the Packers swept through the playoffs last year, outscoring their four opponents, 121-76.
Randall Cobb clearly is an upgrade over Brett Swain at the No. 5 receiver, tight end Jermichael Finley is back to create mismatch nightmares and two good running backs – Ryan Grant and James Starks – are always better than one.
But it’s Rodgers who makes the Packers better than the sum of their parts.
Against the Saints, he ran the no-huddle offense to near-perfection, was almost computer-quick with his reads and made every kind of throw with accuracy to all parts of the field: the back shoulder, the deep out, the screen under pressure, the slant.
Other than an overthrow to a wide-open Jordy Nelson down the right sideline that would have gone for a 77-yard touchdown in the second quarter, Rodgers played about as well as a quarterback can play.
And the Packers needed every play he made, because Drew Brees threw for 419 yards and three touchdowns for the Saints.
On a crisp opening drive that might have had defensive coordinators around the league reaching for the Pepto-Bismol, the Packers lined up in the shotgun on eight of nine plays and Rodgers completed all five of his passes for 74 yards.
He finished the drive with a beautiful back-shoulder pass to Greg Jennings in the left corner of the end zone for a 7-yard touchdown. That play was almost impossible to defend.
The Packers scored on their first three possessions and by halftime Rodgers had completed 18 of 24 attempts for 227 yards and three touchdowns and had a rating of 143.6.
The Packers largely abandoned the no-huddle in the second half, slowed down the game and ran out of power formations, mostly to work the clock and keep the ball out of Brees’ hands. After throwing 24 passes in the first half, Rodgers attempted only 11 in the second.
Rodgers went into the season ranked No. 1 in NFL history with a 97.2 career rating. He also ranked No. 1 with a career interception percentage of 2.0.
Since he took over as the starter in 2008, he ranks fourth in passing yards and touchdown passes, second in yards per attempt and first in pass completions of 25 or more yards.
He left the distinct impression Thursday night that he has improved incrementally in all facets of his game and that if Green Bay needs to win a shootout, he is more than up to the task.
Granted, it’s a long season and the Packers are bound to have to overcome, at one point or another, injuries, challenging defensive schemes and unlucky bounces.
With Rodgers under center, however, the Packers should never be out of a game. That’s a projection, too, but who could argue?