Rodgers makes rubbish of rustiness talk
By Michael Silver, Yahoo Sports
~GREEN BAY, Wis. – He had delivered his message with chilling precision, giving all of Lambeau Field the golden-armed celebration it never got to experience last January and the back of his hand to the rest of the football world.
Yes, actions spoke louder than words for Aaron Rodgers in the first game of the 2011 season, and his first as a Super Bowl champion. But that didn’t stop the ultra-confident quarterback from talking a little smack, if only because he could.
Not long after the Packers’ 42-34 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night, Rodgers and I had a short conversation at his locker. After a 27-for-35, 312-yard, three-touchdown, no-interception performance in which he looked like simply the best passer on the planet, Rodgers had one more strong-armed delivery in his arsenal.
“I’ve been thinking about this for a month,” he said. “I’ve been thinking about winning this game, and what I was gonna say afterward. Cause I’ve got a little something. For everyone.”
By everyone, Rodgers meant the fans, media members and current and former NFL players who had chastised the Packers during the lockout for failing to stage players-only workouts. The Pack would supposedly pay a price for their impudence in the form of rustiness, lack of fluidity and general imprecision while rivals whose players worked out together would open the season with a distinct advantage.
Given that theory, no team seemed better poised to benefit than the Saints, whose leader, quarterback Drew Brees(notes), held numerous de facto minicamps and even covered some of his teammates’ expenses in the process.
Zip, a nine-yard pass to Greg Jennings(notes) in the flat. Zing, a 16-yard spiral to Donald Driver(notes) on third-and-12. Whoosh, a glorious 36-yard floater to Jordy Nelson(notes) down the left sideline. Score: A seven-yard, back-shoulder beauty to Jennings for the first touchdown of 2011.
By the end of the first quarter, Rodgers had completed 14 of 15 passes – and the lone incompletion was a throwaway. He’d thrown for 188 yards and three touchdowns and had the Packers ahead 21-7, and he looked as sharp and commanding as Peyton Manning(notes) in his prime.
On a day in which Manning underwent neck surgery that could force the future Hall of Fame quarterback to miss the entire 2011 season – and, some doctors have speculated, might be career-threatening – Rodgers did nothing to ease the sidelined Colts star’s pain.
After all, Manning has long extolled the virtues of offseason workouts, telling me less than a year ago that they are “how we’ve gotten our edge over the years.”
I’m sure he’d have enjoyed the sight of Rodgers, as promised, laying waste to that presumption at his postgame press conference, answering the first question (about his fast start against the Saints) by busting out a heavy dose of sarcasm: “I’ve just got to ask myself, ‘What would have happened if we had offseason workouts? Could we have started any faster and scored more points tonight?’ “
Just to make sure his intentions were clear, Rodgers twice revisited the subject in similarly facetious fashion. When he walked back into the locker room to grab his stuff before heading out into the Wisconsin night, I asked him if, at any point over the offseason, he’d thought about getting his teammates together for a few days of workouts, if only to quiet the chorus of critics.
“Yes,” he said. “And that would have been the only reason.”
Rodgers said he spoke to veteran cornerback Charles Woodson(notes) at the team’s Super Bowl ring ceremony in June and “asked him if he wanted to get the guys together. He said he talked to his guys and they were doing what they needed to do to get ready. And that was that.”
Said Woodson: “We asked each other, ‘Do we feel like we need to do it.’ And we both said no. We feel like we’ve got great guys in this locker room who would be ready when the time came. We showed up at training camp focused and never missed a beat.”
While Woodson certainly wasn’t gloating about his unit’s performance – Brees shredded the Green Bay secondary for 419 yards and three touchdowns, and the game ended with rookie halfback Mark Ingram(notes) a foot or two away from a potential overtime-triggering score – he was pointed in his defense of his and Rodgers’ approach.
“We felt like a lot of guys [on other teams] did it just for the show,” he said. “We weren’t into that. If we’d done it, it’d be like [critics] pushed us into it.”
This was, of course, merely the first arm-wrestle of a long succession of step-to sessions. As the Saints learned last year in attempting to defend their championship, an auspicious beginning) (against Brett Favre(notes), another quarterback who wasn’t especially big on the import of offseason preparation) doesn’t necessarily predict a glorious ending.
Yet the Packers, at least for now, seem poised to be even more multi-dimensional on offense than they were during last year’s impressive postseason run, which included three road victories and a Super Bowl triumph over the Steelers.
For one thing, they had a lot of season-ending injuries in 2010, and the return of potential impact players like halfback Ryan Grant(notes) (nine carries, 40 yards) and tight end Jermichael Finley(notes) (three catches, 53 yards) is not inconsequential. Additional punch came from Kentucky wideout Randall (Don’t Call Me Tex) Cobb, who scored a pair of scintillating touchdowns: on a 32-yard catch-and-run late in the first quarter and an NFL-record-tying 108-yard kickoff return (so much for the death of that play via the moving of the tee five yards forward) after the Saints had closed to 28-20 six minutes into the second half.
Then there was the unlikely sight of second-year strong safety Morgan Burnett(notes), who missed most of last season after tearing his ACL in the team’s fourth game, lunging over the pile to help All-Pro linebacker Clay Matthews(notes) make a game-saving stop of Ingram on first-and-ballgame from the Green Bay 1-yard line.
The play began with no time on the clock after an A.J. Hawk(notes) pass interference penalty in the end zone, and as Rodgers watched it unfold from the sideline, he had no desire to be granted another opportunity to show the world how stupid it was that the Packers’ lack of offseason workouts were an issue.
Said Rodgers: “I thought, ‘Aw, man, don’t let ‘em score.’–”
The Packers didn’t, and 70,555 fans at Lambeau celebrated like it was Super Sunday all over again. Suffice it to say that none of them is likely to question Rodgers’ approach to anything anytime soon.
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