Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers tries to stay in bounds while making a run in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game against the Denver Broncos at Lambeau Field. / Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette
There have been and surely will be more meaningful games than this one in Aaron Rodgers’ NFL career.
In terms of importance, a Week 4 regular-season game against a rebuilding AFC team won’t rate too high.
Yet no matter how many playoff games Rodgers plays in and no matter if he wins another Super Bowl MVP, the Green Bay Packers quarterback might be hard pressed to put together a more complete and dominating performance than he had Sunday against the Denver Broncos at Lambeau Field.
Four touchdowns passing, two touchdowns running and 400-plus yards through the air. No NFL quarterback in history had ever pulled off that trifecta, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
In a 49-23 dismantling of the Broncos, the Packers quarterback put together a game that won’t soon be forgotten.
“I can’t remember all the great games, but doggone that was pretty,” Packers director of football operations Reggie McKenzie said. “Touchdown passes. Touchdown runs. Doggone.”
Missing their best cover cornerback, 13-year veteran Champ Bailey, the Broncos tried to make sure Packers tight end Jermichael Finley didn’t have another three-touchdown game like he did the previous week at Chicago, so they rolled coverage his way. Rodgers easily recognized it, and got every one of his receivers involved. He found Greg Jennings single covered — and once even uncovered — in the seam. He hit James Jones in the post and Donald Driver across the middle. He went deep down the field to Jordy Nelson and even got rookie Randall Cobb involved late in the game.
The result was a 29-for-38, 408-yard passing day — a regular-season career high for passing yardage and the third highest single-game total in franchise history.
“Numbers can be misleading at times, as far as your comfort and feel,” Rodgers said. “I felt like the ball was coming off pretty good today. I didn’t feel like my feel in the pocket was maybe where it had been in some other games or late in the season last year at times. But it was one of those days where they made coverage mistakes and a couple of drops in coverage, and we made them pay for it.”
Rodgers also took off running when he saw the middle of the field open. He scored on scrambles of 11 yards in the second quarter and 8 yards in the third quarter, the latter on which he broke two tackles at the goal line.
His coach, Mike McCarthy, who has worked with the likes of Brett Favre and Joe Montana, called it “as fine of a quarterback performance that I think I’ve been part of, statistically” even though Rodgers threw one interception.
Yet Sunday didn’t start all that hot for Rodgers. On the Packers’ first play from scrimmage, Rodgers was pressured by the 2009 NFL sack leader, Elvis Dumervil and threw incomplete. Though he found Jennings for 43 yards two plays later, the drive stalled when the Packers failed to a convert a fourth-and-1 at the Broncos’ 12.
Then, Rodgers hit his stride.
On the next drive, a play-action bootleg allowed Nelson to get behind cornerback Cassius Vaughn and safety Brian Dawkins. Rodgers hit Nelson on the run for a 50-yard touchdown. Following his 11-yard scramble for a touchdown, Rodgers capped a two-minute drive with 17-yard touchdown to Jennings up the seam. Before the play, Rodgers directed Jennings and Finley both to line up on the right side of the formation, figuring the Broncos couldn’t double cover both of them. Dawkins cheated over to help on Finley, and Jennings was wide open.
Following his second rushing score, Rodgers fired a strike to Jones for a 16-yard touchdown on a post and finished things off with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Driver on an in-and-out route. He also connected with Cobb on a skinny post that went for 61 yards second-and-16 from the 8-yard in the third quarter. Cobb might have scored had he not stumbled.
“A couple of those throws, he threaded the needle,” McKenzie said. “Even on those deep balls, hitting Jordy and Greg right in stride, it’s not like he had to throw it and they had to turn around. It was right in stride. There were a lot of those. He was pinpointing them today.”
In leading the Packers to a 4-0 start, Rodgers has thrown for 1,325 yards, the most in team history in the first four games of a season. His 12 passing touchdowns tied Brett Favre for the most a Packers quarterback has even thrown for in the first four games. Favre did it in 1996, the second of his three MVP seasons.
“He is playing as well as any quarterback that I have seen, and this is my 23rd season,” Broncos coach John Fox said. “He has a pretty good supporting cast, and Mike McCarthy and his staff do an outstanding job. They are pedal-to-the-metal, and they execute very, very well.”
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @RobDemovsky.