After the Packers 38-28 victory over Kansas City on Monday night—a game which should have been a reminder of what a healthy and mobile Aaron Rodgers can overcome when the defense allows three straight touchdown drives late in a game—the predictable deification of Rodgers occurred amongst local and national media. Not that it is any more annoying than that for Russell Wilson; certainly less so, since Rodgers personifies what one hopes from the quarterback position more than Wilson, and he hasn’t been the beneficiary of an elite defense like Wilson. But the fact is that outside the Super Bowl run in 2010, he is 2-5 in the playoffs, and except for a 400-yard performance against a terrible Arizona defense in his first playoff game, he didn’t look anything at all like the quarterback with all those superlatives applied to him in those games.
Now, let me be clear about one thing: I am happy that Aaron Rodgers is the quarterback on the team that I have rooted for 45 years through thick and a lot of thin. Rodgers is the principle reason why the Packers are on the national sports radar screen, a function that Brett Favre served before him. The numbers tell us that he one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the NFL, perhaps even in its long history, ever. The “eye test” tells us that when he is at least mostly healthy, his wizardry is amazing to behold. Sure, his off-field “wit” can be off-putting and smart-alecky, but that is something that can be borne with patience.
I admit that I have always been a Favre fan first and always will be. If Rodgers personifies what one might call “deadly” efficiency, then Favre represents the joy of the game—and to quote the “Wide World of Sports” maxim, “the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat.” More often it was the former, but what Packer fan (or Viking fan in 2009) hasn’t felt the latter happen way too often? For better or for worse, Favre brought “excitement” to the game; with Rodgers, a certain comforting predictability is what Packer fans have come to expect from him.
But is reality as simple as that? The so-called “sabermetrics” standard gave Rodgers a negative rating after a 24-35, 333 yards, 5 TD and zero interception performance against the Chiefs. This “subpar” performance was “explained” by Rodgers being “penalized” for a fumble, a near interception that “could have been” returned for a touchdown, and three touchdown passes in which the receiver received more of the “credit” for having to “fight” through to the end zone, even though it was noted by some that Randall Cobb was not or barely touched on those touchdown plays. Ridiculous; one suspects that the gunslinger Favre’s “metrics” would have been off the charts—deep into negative territory—but what does that say about these mathematical “geniuses” and their charts and computer-generated measurements, that don’t take into account the end results in a game as unpredictable as football?
But perhaps a very small bit of truth can be gleaned from these metrics. Kevin Harlan, who does play-by-play for the Monday Night Football radio broadcasts, said that Tom Brady reported that he had tried to pick Rodgers’ brain for trade secrets, and was shocked to learn that Rodgers confessed to playing the quarterback position by what can only be called “instinct.” Brady, on the other hand, operates within a “system” with every detail worked out down to the nanometer. Many “athletic” quarterbacks seem to play by “instinct” as well, but Rodgers seemingly has an uncanny ability to “process” visual information without “thinking,” knowing “instinctively” where to put the ball. Of course, I may be giving him too much credit, but I can’t think of a better explanation for it at the moment.
Still, the “metrics” may also intimate why despite his reputation, Rodgers has put on a real stinker or two in his career given unforeseen variables, especially against Detroit for some reason, and as noted before in the playoffs. It also suggests that in some ways he and Favre are not so different as people think. I’m sure that some people would say that Favre was an “instinctual” player with his “gunslinger” mentality. Perhaps the most fundamental difference between them is that Favre threw fastballs down the middle and dared defenders to take a swing at them, while Rodgers throws curveballs that defenders usually can’t reach even with their best swing—but the right in the catcher’s breadbasket for a strike.
But on any given Sunday, not all works out as anticipated or expected—which may explain why Rodgers has led the Packers to just one Super Bowl so far, one less than Favre.