Aaron Rodgers caps his most tumultuous season with his fourth and most unlikely MVP award
GREEN BAY – If Aaron Rodgers didn’t exit the 2021 season carrying the championship hardware he wanted, the Green Bay Packers quarterback got a hefty consolation prize Thursday night.
Rodgers capped the most tumultuous season of his career with his most unlikely Most Valuable Player award yet. Not that there was ever any doubt how this year’s voting would end. When Rodgers received 48 of 50 votes to be selected first-team All-Pro by the Associated Press, another MVP award presented by the same organization was a foregone conclusion.
In his acceptance speech, Rodgers paid tribute to "the man that drafted me," longtime Packers general manager Ted Thompson, who died last year.
Rodgers also made a point of thanking the Packers' front office, naming president Mark Murphy, GM Brian Gutekunst and director of football operations Russ Ball.
Rodgers also singled out his coach.
“I would like to thank Matt LaFleur," Rodgers said, "and his perfectly groomed eyebrows.”
The backdrop of Rodgers’ fourth MVP, placing him among the NFL’s most elite company, comes at the end of a season that almost never happened. Rodgers said he contemplated retirement last offseason, so disgruntled with the Packers' front office he almost chose to walk away from the game. A year ago, the possibility Rodgers could replace idol Alex Trebek as the next "Jeopardy!" host seemed perhaps even more plausible than returning for another season with the Packers.
He instead reported to training camp on Day 1, saying his decision to play in 2021 came only days before. Rodgers proceeded to have not only one of the finest regular seasons of his career, but maybe the most adverse. His season began with a flop in the Packers' opener against the New Orleans Saints, a game that was moved to Jacksonville because of Hurricane Ida. It ended with a flop in the NFC divisional-round loss to San Francisco, a game that will be remembered as perhaps the most disappointing of his career.
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In between, Rodgers missed a start in Kansas City after testing positive for COVID-19. When it was discovered he was unvaccinated, surprising news after the quarterback inferred he was during camp, Rodgers became a polarizing figure and was mocked on "Saturday Night Live." Rodgers spewed misinformation about COVID-19 vaccinations in his weekly conversation on "The Pat McAfee Show," losing his nine-year partnership with Prevea Health in the process.
Rodgers openly questioned whether the controversy would prevent him from ever winning another MVP. When a Chicago-based voter called Rodgers “the biggest jerk in the league” and a “bad guy” in explaining why the quarterback would not receive his vote, it seemed to lend credibility to that concern.
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Ultimately, nothing could keep Rodgers from pulling away from a crowded midseason pack for the award.
After his two interceptions in a 38-3 loss to the Saints, the Packers’ most lopsided defeat in an opener since 1970, Rodgers led his team to the NFC’s top overall seed with one week to go in the season. He authored an iconic moment after a rushing touchdown in Chicago, rolling up from the Soldier Field grass to remind Bears fans he owns them. On Christmas Day inside Lambeau Field, Rodgers surpassed Brett Favre for the most touchdown passes thrown in Packers history.
Rodgers finished his 2021 season with 4,115 passing yards, 37 touchdown passes (tied for fourth in the NFL), only four interceptions and a league-leading 111.9 passer rating.
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He already was among the NFL’s all-time greats with three MVP awards before this season. Only five other players in league history have won three: Favre, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Johnny Unitas and Jim Brown. Now Rodgers is in even more illustrious company. The only other player to win more than three MVPs is Manning, whose five remain the most all time.
Rodgers also became only the fifth player in NFL history to win MVP in consecutive seasons, joining Brown (1957, 1958), Joe Montana (1989, 1990), Favre (1995, 1996, 1997) and Manning (2003, 2004; 2008, 2009) as the only players to do so. Favre is the only player in NFL history to win three MVPs in a row (although he shared the '97 award with Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders).
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That the pivotal stretch in his MVP run came on a broken pinky toe was probably fitting, given how the rest of Rodgers’ season went. After knocking the rust off in an underwhelming 17-0 win against the Seattle Seahawks, Rodgers returned from his COVID-19 absence on a tear. He threw for 20 touchdowns with no interceptions over a six-game stretch late in the season, leading the Packers to the top seed and home-field advantage in the playoffs.
Rodgers' season ends in disappointment in playoffs, short again of the Super Bowl
The 13-10 loss to San Francisco that ended the Packers' season will leave a stain on Rodgers’ fourth MVP. After engineering an opening touchdown drive, Rodgers was unable to lead the Packers into the end zone in any of their final nine possessions. He missed several opportunities to add a second touchdown that would have sealed the victory, including a severely underthrown pass to a wide-open Aaron Jones down the right sideline that set up a blocked field goal before halftime.
Rodgers’ final pass, a desperation prayer to Davante Adams in double coverage deep down the right seam, came as receiver Allen Lazard streaked open across the middle of the field on third down. The game was still tied. A completion would have been more than enough for a first down, potentially sparking a game-winning drive. The Packers punted instead, and Rodgers watched as the 49ers drove into position for a game-winning field goal.
The Packers had perhaps their easiest Super Bowl path in Rodgers’ 14 seasons as their starter, needing only to beat a 49ers team quarterbacked by Jimmy Garoppolo and a Los Angeles Rams team led by longtime whipping post Matthew Stafford inside Lambeau Field. They’ll instead watch as the Rams play the Cincinnati Bengals, and second-year quarterback Joe Burrow, in Super Bowl XLVI.
If a second Super Bowl trip remains the missing piece in a career that will make Rodgers a first-ballot Hall of Famer five years after he retires, his fourth MVP only adds to a historic legacy.