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Mike Vandermause column: Rodgers 'relishes the challenge' of big games

Jan. 7, 2013
 
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers throws a pass during the first half of an NFL wild-card playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field on Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013. Jeffrey Phelps/AP
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers throws a pass during the first half of an NFL wild-card playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field on Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013. Jeffrey Phelps/AP

Playoff quarterbacks

How some prominent NFL starting quarterbacks have fared in the playoffs:

Name W-L win% Rate TD Int
Bart Starr 9-1 .900 104.8 15 3
Tom Brady 16-7 .727 95.6 45 21
Eli Manning 8-3 .727 89.3 17 8
Aaron Rodgers 5-2 .714 105.4 16 4
Joe Montana 16-7 .696 95.6 45 21
John Elway 14-8 636 79.7 27 21
Steve Young 8-6 .571 85.8 20 13
Drew Brees 5-4 .556 103.9 22 4
Brett Favre 13-11 .542 86.3 44 30
Peyton Manning 9-10 .474 88.4 29 19

More

If Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers keeps this up, he could someday be known as the greatest big-game quarterback in NFL history.

Better than Tom Brady, Joe Montana, John Elway, the Manning brothers and Steve Young.

Rodgers has started only seven NFL playoff games in his relatively young career, so it’s too early to make any lasting judgments.

But heading into Saturday’s NFC divisional playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers, Rodgers has already built an impressive postseason resume.

He owns the best career playoff passer rating (105.4) in NFL history, and his post-season winning percentage as a starter (.714) is better than Montana (.696) and compares favorably to Brady (.727) and Eli Manning (.727).

“He’s a big-time preparation player as far as what he puts into each game, and that won’t change this week,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “He’ll be clutch for us like he always is.”

It’s almost a given that Rodgers will perform well on the big stage. He has posted passer ratings of greater than 100 in five of his seven playoff games.

“You never take it for granted,” Packers offensive coordinator Tom Clements said. “(When) you have one as good as Aaron, you appreciate it.”

Clements is reluctant to use the term “big-game quarterback” to describe Rodgers because that might suggest he doesn’t take non-playoff games as seriously.

“I consider him an every-game quarterback,” said Clements. “He usually plays pretty well most all the time but in the big games he’s come up big, too.

“I don’t want to say he gets up for those games a little bit more, but I think everyone realizes the significance of (a playoff) game and the tendency to be a little more focused and play at your best.”

Rodgers’ career regular-season passer rating (104.8) is almost identical to his flashy playoff mark, which demonstrates his remarkable consistency.

But Clements noticed a slight change in Rodgers’ demeanor last week as the Packers prepared for their wild-card playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings.

“He was just a little more intense in practice about wanting things to go properly in practice even though we had a lot of walk-throughs during the short week,” Clements said. “Even with walk-through reps during practice, obviously you need to get something out of it and when things didn’t work out the way he wanted them to be, he was upset about it.”

Rodgers proceeded to complete 23 of 33 passes (69.7%) for 274 yards, one touchdown and a passer rating of 104.9 in the Packers’ 24-10 victory over the Vikings. It was a typical performance by Rodgers, who thrives under playoff pressure.

“He’s a great competitor and at playoff time, it’s win or go home,” Clements said. “I think when it is a big game, he relishes the challenge.”

Rodgers has completed 66 percent of his playoff passes, fourth-best in NFL history. He has thrown four times as many touchdown passes (16) as interceptions (four) in the postseason. The only quarterbacks with better career numbers are Drew Brees (22, four) and Bart Starr (15, three), which is pretty good company.

Rodgers isn’t perfect. His 78.5 passer rating in the Packers’ divisional playoff loss to the New York Giants last year was sub-par, although he was the victim of several dropped passes and sacked four times.

Rough playoff patches are inevitable, even for big-time quarterbacks:

♦ Brady won his first 10 postseason games but is just 6-6 since, and his 87.8 career playoff passer rating pales in comparison to Rodgers.

♦ Brett Favre, Rodgers’ predecessor in Green Bay, burst into the playoffs with a 9-3 record that included 20 touchdown passes and nine interceptions, but in his final 12 post-season games he went 4-8 with 24 touchdown passes and 21 interceptions.

♦ Montana (95.6), Eli Manning (89.3), Peyton Manning (88.4), Young (85.8) and Elway (79.7), to name a few prominent quarterbacks, don’t come close to matching Rodgers’ career playoff passer rating and completion percentage.

When it comes to numbers, fair or not, quarterbacks are ultimately judged on how many championships they bring home.

Dan Marino was a great quarterback but must live with the stigma that he never won the big one.

It took Rodgers just three seasons as a starter to capture his first Super Bowl title following the 2010 season. Now he has his sights set on something bigger.

Since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970, Montana (four), Terry Bradshaw (four), Troy Aikman (three) and Brady (three) stand above the quarterback crowd in terms of Super Bowl titles.

If Rodgers wants to join that elite group, he knows what he must do. Based on the way he performs in big games, he has a chance.

“When it’s an important game, you can count on Aaron,” Clements said.

mvandermause@greenbaypressgazette.com and follow him on Twitter @MikeVandermause.

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