Packers QB Aaron Rodgers enters elite company with third NFL MVP award
GREEN BAY - Aaron Rodgers entered one of the NFL’s most distinguished clubs Saturday night.
With the announcement during the NFL Honors show that he was voted the league’s Most Valuable Player for 2020, Rodgers becomes only the sixth player in league history to win at least three MVP awards.
At the top of that list is Peyton Manning, who won a record five MVP awards and whose election into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a first-year eligible also was announced Saturday night.
Then there are five players with three MVP awards: Jim Brown, Johnny Unitas, Brett Favre, Tom Brady, and now Rodgers.
“It’s hard to put into real meaningful words,” Rodgers said of joining the three-MVP club. “Very satisfying, very special. I’ve met some of those guys. But when we started the offseason winning the MVP was definitely a goal of mine, and I really believe in manifestation and positive reinforcement of thoughts turn into actions.”
The MVP award in various names dates to 1957, though there is some dispute over who won the first four years because of faulty record keeping by the Associated Press and NFL. The NFL Record and Fact Book has Charlie Conerly, not Unitas, as the winner in ’59. But contemporary reports from the AP, which conducts the voting for the award, said Unitas was the winner, and that Conerly won the Newspaper Enterprise Association’s voting for MVP.
Regardless, Rodgers is indisputably in the three-MVP club, adding this season to his wins in 2011 and 2014.
He did it at age 37 by showing total command of coach Matt LaFleur’s offense in his second season in that system, and about eight months after the Packers’ controversial decision to draft his potential successor, Jordan Love, with a first-round pick last April.
“I was thinking a lot (early last offseason) about what is it going to take for me to have my best season?” Rodgers said. “The decisions I made from a professional standpoint were with that mindset. I’ve had a lot of great offseasons, but I haven’t had this much growth in my professional life and my personal life, so that’s why it’s very, very special to get back in the (MVP) conversation, because the guys on that list are guys I grew up watching – other than Johnny Unitas. To do it later on in my career, and Peyton (Manning) did in Denver and Tom (Brady) did a few years ago, there’s definitely something special about that.”
Rodgers’ 2020 offseason started with a mind-clearing trip in March to the Andes Mountains in Peru, where he hiked Mount Machu Picchu. His local guide was a shaman of Peruvian and Incan descent who led a slow, patient hike to the Incan ruins at the mountaintop.
“It was a real-life, top-of-the-mountain experience,” Rodgers said. “We got to the top of this, looked down on the ruins there at Machu Picchu, and that was kind of the beginning of this next experience. These are things I’ve been talking about and reading and thinking on, but then it gets spurred on by a top-of-the mountain experience.”
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A little more than a month later, the Packers shocked Rodgers by trading up to draft Love with their first-round pick. At that point, there was no knowing which way Rodgers’ 2020 season would go. Perhaps it would light his competitive fire, as New England’s drafting of Jimmy Garoppolo had done for Brady in 2014. Or maybe it would sour Rodgers on the Packers and make him feel undercut by his bosses after a 13-3 season and a trip to the 2019 NFC championship game in LaFleur’s first year as coach.
From the start of training camp, though, Rodgers’ vibe was clearly lighter than it had been in past seasons, both on the field and in his twice-a-week Zoom sessions with media – every Wednesday during the practice week, and then after every game. Aside from a somewhat prickly session the Wednesday after a loss at Tampa Bay in Week 6 – his lone poor performance of the season – Rodgers was consistently light, loose and introspective when he talked with reporters.
“(I decided) I’m going to have the perspective I want to have,” Rodgers said, “and I’m going to live with a lot of positivity and gratitude without any type of resentment or bitterness at all. And I feel like it’s been authentic, it hasn’t been a show for you guys or a show for my teammates. I feel like I’m legitimately a different person who kind of savors things a little more and has so much gratitude and lives just a little lighter. That’s how I want to be perceived.”
Rodgers’ performance on the field was exceptional. He had probably his second-best season ever in 2020, eclipsed only by his play in ’11, while leading the Packers to the best record in the NFC (13-3) and piloting the top-scoring offense in the league.
Having a year’s experience in LaFleur’s offense probably was the biggest factor in getting back into the MVP hunt. In an offseason conducted entirely on Zoom, he, LaFleur, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and quarterback coach Luke Getsy went through the offense piece by piece and kept things from 2019 they agreed worked, got rid of things that didn’t and added some new wrinkles.
Rodgers’ full command of the offense showed up weekly, and he thrived in LaFleur’s run-oriented scheme that meshed with his best abilities: reading defenses at the line of scrimmage to get into the best play and throwing lethally pinpoint passes off play action and bootlegs. He also showed he still can make plays outside the pocket, though he did it far less often than in previous seasons.
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“I couldn't be happier with just not only his performance, but how he led our football team, all the little things he does within that locker room to ensure that everybody is locked in, focused, ready to go,” LaFleur said in season-wrapping news conference last Monday.
Said Rodgers: “The fact that we’ve been able to run the ball and all of our (play) actions are tied to the runs has been a big part of our success in the passing game.”
Rodgers led the NFL in several key statistical categories: passer rating (121.5), QBR (84.3), completion percentage (career-high 70.7%), touchdown passes (career-high 48) and interceptions percentage (1.0). According to Elias via ESPN.com, Rodgers is the third player in NFL history to lead the league in touchdown passes and fewest interceptions (five). The others are fellow three-time MVPers Brady (36 and 4 in 2010) and Unitas (19 and 7 in ’58)
Rodgers now has the two best season passer ratings in league history – 122.5 in ’11, and 121.5 this year.
But his MVP season didn’t end with the ultimate prize: a Super Bowl.
Although the Packers had the NFC’s No. 1 seed and home field for the playoffs, they lost to Brady’s Buccaneers in the NFC championship game. After that game Rodgers cryptically spoke of the uncertainty of his future, which suggested he might not want to be back with the Packers or was looking for assurances he’d be their quarterback beyond 2021 (his contract runs through ’23 but has no more guaranteed money).
“Absolutely, he will be here for a long time,” LaFleur said last week. “I know I've said that before, but for a long time.”
With Rodgers winning his third MVP, the Packers now have nine league MVPs in their history: three each for Favre and Rodgers, and one each for Bart Starr (1966), Jim Taylor (1962) and Paul Hornung (1961).
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