CHICAGO — The legend of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is only going to grow bigger, bolder and better following a game-winning touchdown pass for the ages on Sunday at Soldier Field.
Playing for the first time in nearly two months after breaking his collarbone, Rodgers shrugged off some early rust and rallied the Packers to a heart-stopping, last-minute 33-28 victory over the Chicago Bears to claim the NFC North championship and a fifth consecutive playoff berth.
Rodgers’ fourth-and-8, do-or-die, 48-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb with 38 seconds remaining will go down as one of the most dramatic in Rodgers’ career.
“It’s two guys making a great, great play that'll be running on the highlights now for the rest of my time on this Earth,” said an emotionally spent Packers coach Mike McCarthy. “What a great finish.”
Rodgers has won bigger games, with a Super Bowl title under his belt. He has accomplished greater individual achievements, with an NFL MVP award in his trophy case. But what he did in the waning moments against the Bears, on a cold and blustery day with the Packers’ season hanging in the balance, is the stuff of which legends are made.
When asked where that touchdown pass ranks in his already storied career, Rodgers replied: “Right near the top.”
It was reminiscent of another Packers quarterback legend, Brett Favre, and his late-game touchdown bomb to Sterling Sharpe to beat the Detroit Lions on the road in the waning seconds of a January 1994 playoff game.
With everything on the line, the great ones find a way to deliver the goods, and that’s exactly what Rodgers did on the Packers’ 87-yard touchdown march to glory.
“I thought Aaron played great,” said McCarthy. “We can sit here and talk about what he didn't do, but I think we've got to focus on what he did do.
“You hope for people to play like that and ultimately Aaron got it done down the stretch when we scored a bunch of points. I think that clearly reflects how we played offensively and when you're in the no-huddle, a lot of that is on the quarterback.”
On the game-winning throw, Rodgers did a remarkable job of eluding Julius Peppers, who was part of a seven-man rush in which the Bears were looking for the kill shot.
Instead, the cool and collected Rodgers delivered a death blow to the Bears’ season when with the help of fullback John Kuhn, he dodged Peppers and set himself long enough to find a wide open Cobb racing down the field.
“I think that speaks to Aaron’s athletic ability and his ability to (not only) throw the football but the ability to throw the ball from all different angles,” said McCarthy. “Aaron’s a tremendous athlete.”
Somehow, the Packers found a way to keep their playoff hopes alive when Rodgers was sidelined for half the season. Upon his return, Rodgers wasn’t about to let those hopes slip away under his watch.
Rodgers overcame a rocky start when he threw interceptions on the Packers’ first two possessions. He wasn’t his characteristic razor-sharp self, especially in the first half when his passer rating was a dismal 44.7.
But with everything on the line, Rodgers led the Packers to touchdowns on three of their final four possessions, and helped them convert three fourth-down plays on the game-winning drive.
“He comes back and he’s Aaron,” said Cobb. “He does what he does. He came in the huddle and he led the huddle like we all expected him to. He was able to make adjustments on the go on the field in the running game, on the backside, on little quick passes. We were making adjustments all throughout the game and he still never mentally left the game. It was just physically getting back out there. Once he got the first hit, I think he was good.”
Rodgers deflected credit to his teammates, as heroes typically do. But make no mistake, the Packers are alive and kicking because Rodgers is back.
Although the Packers (8-7-1) enter the playoffs with the worst record, anything is possible with a legend on your side.
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