Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers throws a 3-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jordy Nelson during the first quarter of an NFL football game against the St. Louis Rams Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, in St. Louis. / Tom Gannam/AP
ST. LOUIS — Regardless of how anyone graded Aaron Rodgers through the first five games, there was no concluding he was playing at the off-the-charts level he set last season.
But in the last two weeks, Rodgers has looked every bit like the record-setting 2011 MVP while leading the Packers to wins at Houston and then Sunday at the St. Louis Rams. In those two games, he’s thrown for 780 yards, nine touchdown passes, no interceptions, a 73.0 completion percentage and a passer rating of 140.8.
“He’s making a lot of great throws, making plays with his legs,” receiver James Jones said. “I think he’s settled down now and he’s more comfortable and just playing his game. When he’s comfortable and playing his game, watch out.”
Rodgers’ sharp play (132.2 rating) in the Packers’ 30-20 win Sunday came a week after he’d injured his calf against Houston. He didn’t take any 11-on-11 snaps in practice Wednesday, then returned to full-time work the rest of the week.
“I didn’t feel great pregame,” he said. “I felt real good Thursday practicing; Friday was (only) OK. For whatever reason, the last couple days I haven’t felt good but was hoping it would loosen up. It did loosen up during the game.”
The Rams sacked Rodgers three times in the first quarter and defensive end Robert Quinn was giving left tackle Marshall Newhouse some trouble on speed rushes. But then the Packers started chip-blocking more on Quinn and end Chris Long with a running back or tight end, and Rodgers started making the kind of throws outside the pocket that turn potential losses into the plays that change games.
In the second quarter, for instance, he scrambled and on the run hit tight end Jermichael Finley for an 18-yard gain. In the third quarter, he had a scramble and dump-off to halfback Alex Green that gained 13 yards on a second-and-20.
And on the biggest play of all, Rodgers took advantage of a free play when Rams defensive lineman Kendall Langford jumped the count to scramble to his left and find Randall Cobb for a 39-yard touchdown that put the Packers ahead 27-13 with 3:06 to play. Even though Rodgers was running to his left, he turned and threw a fastball against his body that hit Cobb in stride and was just over the hand of cornerback Trumaine Johnson.
“I don’t know if there’s a throw I haven’t seen him make whether it’s to his left, to his right,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “Aaron’s a very gifted player.”
The touchdown to Cobb was one of two throws Rodgers hit on free plays — the other was a 52-yarder to Jordy Nelson that set up the Packers’ first touchdown.
On both, center Jeff Saturday snapped the ball when he saw a defensive lineman jump the count, and then the receivers essentially all ran go patterns. On the touchdown to Cobb, Rodgers gave the receivers extra time to get open by scrambling to his left. Cobb had gotten behind Johnson, and there was no safety help behind the cornerback.
“To be honest with you, as I moved to my left, I couldn’t quite tell when Jeff snapped it if (St. Louis) was offsides or not,” Rodgers said. “Usually, maybe it’s different at home, but I feel like I can see the flag a little better out of my peripheral (vision). As I caught the snap, I saw the guy on my right jump a little bit — I couldn’t tell if he was across the line. It gets in that gray area. Jeff is aggressive to snap it, but forcing the (throw) there when it’s not offsides would not be a good thing. So, as I moved to my left, I did feel like it was either us or nobody on that throw, and he made a great catch.”