Cover up his name, and the numbers are more than respectable. Thirty touchdown passes. Seven interceptions. For most NFL quarterbacks, that would qualify as a good season.
But this is Aaron Rodgers. Two-time MVP. Super Bowl champion. His standard is higher.
“It should be,” Rodgers said Wednesday, “based on (past) production. And I’m OK with that. It’s been definitely a different year for me, but I’m proud of the way we’ve responded through some adversity.”
It would be harsh to view Rodgers’ season as a disappointment. He has led his 10-win team to a familiar position. The Green Bay Packers will host the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday night at Lambeau Field in a de facto NFC North title game. It’s the third straight year the Packers have played for the division title in their regular-season finale.
Win or lose, the Packers will play the next week in the NFC wild-card playoff round. It’s their seventh straight trip to the postseason.
Rodgers is one of nine NFL quarterbacks with 30 touchdown passes entering Week 17. None have thrown fewer interceptions. If that’s the standard quarterbacks are held to — the all-important touchdown-to-interception ratio — Rodgers easily passes.
“He still looks the same to me,” Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “I have no idea. I’m not there. I don’t know what’s going on. All I see is the way he throws, the way he competes, the way he moves. When I played him in Cincinnati, he was outstanding. Last year, he was outstanding.
“I’m not a numbers guy, I guess. I just look at players."
Zimmer is in his third straight season preparing a defense to face Rodgers. The former Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator devised a scheme that held Rodgers to one touchdown and two interceptions during a 2013 win against the Packers. His Vikings' defenses have been less successful against Rodgers, at least so far.
Zimmer said he’s awestruck by what Rodgers can do on a football field. This season hasn’t left him any less impressed. Dig deeper, and there are discrepancies between Rodgers’ 2015 season and a typical year for the quarterback.
Rodgers ranks 27th in the league with a 60.4 completion percentage. He’s 31st with 6.69 yards per pass. Both would be his worst since becoming the Packers’ starting quarterback in 2008.
The Packers also rank 24th in total offense (333.5 yards per game), 26th in passing offense (215 yards per game) and 13th in scoring offense (23.7 points per game). All three rankings are at their lowest point during Rodgers’ tenure as the starter.
“I watch him,” Zimmer said, “and I’m in awe of the things that he can do, the way he throws the ball, the way he moves in the pocket, the vision that he has. I’m in awe of this guy and have been for a long time.”
Maybe Rodgers does deserve more credit this season. He lost his top receiver Aug. 23, during the Packers’ second preseason game at Pittsburgh. At the time, nobody doubted Jordy Nelson’s season-ending ACL tear would limit the Packers’ explosiveness on offense.
It would have been hard to predict just how damaging Nelson’s absence has become.
The Packers are on pace to finish without a 900-yard receiver for the first time since 2004. Since then, their only season without a 1,000-yard receiver was 2012, when Randall Cobb led the Packers with 954 receiving yards. Nelson also missed four games that season with a recurring hamstring injury.
Rodgers said he has been forced to play differently this season. The offense has been slower, more methodical. His patience has been tested.
“I think we have to rely a little bit more on the run this year,” Rodgers said, “because we just don’t have that deep threat that we’ve had that’s been able to open up some of those two-man routes deep down the field.
“We just don’t have that element to our offense. We just have to be a little more patient and realize it’s going to be more of a grind-out game sometimes.”
That’s a good description for the Packers' season. They've ground out 10 wins, scraped their way to the edge of a fifth straight NFC North title. It rarely has been pretty this year, but the results have been more than respectable.
Rodgers stopped short of labeling this season a disappointment. He knows what the Packers have been through to get to this point. If he doesn’t win a third MVP, if he doesn’t have pristine numbers, that’s fine with him.
“I’ve done that,” Rodgers said. “I’ve had those type of years, with those numbers. It’s all about winning, and winning championships, and that’s what we’re looking for. There’s a lot of guys who are part of that, a lot of guys who weren’t, and they bring that hunger as do we, who’ve tasted that success and who want to get back there.”
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