Rodgers nitpicky on interceptions
Aaron Rodgers fidgeted in the pocket, spotted receiver Randall Cobb 25 yards downfield and tried to thread the football between three Seattle Seahawks defenders.
The pass was pure desperation. Rodgers didn't have a better option. With the Green Bay Packers trailing by almost three touchdowns near the end of their season opener last month, he had to make a play.
This time, desperation beat him. Seahawks safety Earl Thomas — not Cobb — had the best chance of catching Rodgers' pass. Thomas twisted his body in midair, turning back toward the pass, but the football bounced off his pads incomplete.
As he walked off the field, Rodgers knew he got away with a mistake. Thomas stayed on the turf, kneeling until a teammate peeled him off.
"Defensive guys, thankfully, there's a reason they play defense," Rodgers said. "Because most of them are not the best at catching."
For most, it was a forgettable play in garbage time. No interception, no harm. Not for Rodgers. The Packers quarterback recalled his "potential" interception on his weekly ESPN Milwaukee radio show Tuesday. Even now, almost five weeks later, Rodgers' description was vivid.
Here is the separation between great and elite. It's not the touchdowns, the highlights, the way he can pull magic from thin air. What makes Rodgers transcendent is more than taking care of the football. Opposing safeties usually don't find themselves kneeling on the turf, fuming over a missed interception.
With Rodgers, they rarely get close enough to have a chance.
"That's kind of the goal every year, to limit those, but some of those happen," Rodgers said. "There's deflections, a guy's falling down, and then there's just bad throws. I think the key is to limit the number of opportunities you give them. Earl dropped one late in the first game that was kind of behind him, but other than that there haven't been a lot of even potential ones."
Rodgers always has been careful with the ball. When he reached 200 career touchdown passes during last week's win against the Minnesota Vikings, Rodgers had the fewest interceptions of any quarterback to hit that milestone. His 53 career interceptions were 35 fewer than New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who held the record.
Former Packers quarterback Brett Favre had 111 interceptions when he threw his 200th touchdown pass.
The advantage Rodgers has over Favre always has been his protection of the football. With 12 touchdowns and one interception through five games this season, Rodgers is even outdoing himself.
He is on pace for 38 touchdowns and just three interceptions this season. Those numbers would be historic. No NFL quarterback has thrown at least 30 touchdowns with only three interceptions in a season.
"It's something we preach," Packers offensive coordinator Tom Clements said. "We have to take care of the ball. You don't want to give the opponent anything free."
Every quarterback takes pride on something. For Rodgers, it's the ability to avoid interceptions.
Joking on Tuesday, Rodgers said his tendency to take care of the ball came from playing with the Chico Jaguars, back in the eighth grade.
"We weren't very good," Rodgers said, "but I threw more interceptions than touchdowns."
He didn't repeat those mistakes the next fall as a high school freshman. In four seasons at Pleasant Valley, Rodgers said he threw double-digit interceptions only once. Even then, it came down to one poor performance in a playoff loss.
Rodgers left Cal with a program-record 1.9 interception percentage, something he still holds dear. In seven seasons as the Packers starter, his 1.7 interception percentage is the lowest in NFL history.
"I enjoy having the NFL record for lowest interception percentage," Rodgers said.
Rodgers knows his competition.
A 12-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio would break Brady's mark in 2010, when the Patriots quarterback threw 36 touchdowns and four interceptions. Last season, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles had 27 touchdown passes and two interceptions, but he played only 13 games.
"There's been a couple years that were spectacular, in my opinion," Rodgers said. "… To take care of the football like that is phenomenal."
That kind of efficiency is rare.
Foles has five interceptions through the first five games this season. The difference with Rodgers? In his nine seasons as a Division I and NFL quarterback, Rodgers has thrown fewer than 10 interceptions seven times.
Rodgers did throw an interception in the opener against the Seahawks. In the third quarter, a pass tipped off receiver Jordy Nelson's hands. Nelson said he dropped the football. Rodgers admitted he missed his target by about a foot.
Since then, Rodgers has pitched a clean slate. He'll enter Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins with no interceptions in his past four games. It's the fourth time in Rodgers' career he's accomplished that streak.
In 16 seasons with the Packers, Favre never went four straight games during the course of a season without an interception.
"There's some guys in this league that are truly special, and this quarterback rates up there with the best of them," Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle told Miami media this week. "He's really amazing to watch. Some guys, you just watch on tape. You just put the tape on and kind of just observe. You wish you didn't have to necessarily try to defend him, because he's magical with what he does with the ball.
"The decision-making, and the speed that he gets the ball out with, his accuracy, his ability to extend plays — it's really uncanny. Coupled with the fact that he's got a rifle of an arm, he's a big challenge."
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ByRyanWood