Rodgers showing he can lead comebacks, too

Pete Dougherty
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Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers celebrates after throwing the game winning-touchdown in the closing seconds against the Miami Dolphins.

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Aaron Rodgers knows all about the numbers that suggest he has a hole in his game: leading comeback wins.

That probably explains his playground reaction Sunday after he hit tight end Andrew Quarless with the 4-yard touchdown pass with three seconds left that gave the Green Bay Packers a 27-24 win over the Miami Dolphins.

After the catch, Rodgers jumped, then fell backwards onto the turf at Sun Life Stadium, feet and hands pointing to the sky.

"I saw it in his eyes that it meant a lot to him," guard T.J. Lang said. "People can say what they want to, that he isn't a come-from-behind quarterback. But he's a guy that (if) we've got a chance to score the last drive of the game — he's the guy I want leading our offense. I think it was very big for him."

Even now, with Rodgers basically a consensus premier quarterback in the NFL, it's hard to know what to make of his clutch-quarterback stats.

You've probably seen it in some form or another over the past two or three years.

Going into this season, he was 6-17 in games decided by four points or less.

He had only 10 game-winning drives — that is, games in which he led the Packers to a go-ahead score in the fourth quarter, and they never gave up that lead. By comparison, Atlanta's Matt Ryan, who like Rodgers became a starter in 2008, has 25.

And according to Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders, Rodgers was 6-25 in games in which the Packers trailed by eight points or less in the fourth quarter. He's now 7-25. By comparison, Peyton Manning is 40-48; Brett Favre was 30-72, Andrew Luck is 8-7, Russell Wilson is 8-10, Tony Romo is 22-30, Tom Brady is 31-28, Joe Montana was 31-29, and Dan Marino was 36-46.

So maybe there's something to the notion that Rodgers is more cautious than most NFL quarterbacks, and especially the other top ones. And while that limits interceptions, it also makes it harder to come back late in games. Maybe.

More likely, these numbers have been more a statistical anomaly with only a hint of truth. At least it's starting to look that way.

Go back to the regular-season finale last year, when Rodgers put the Packers into the playoffs with his 48-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb with 38 seconds left for a 33-28 win at Chicago.

Then there's Sunday, when the Packers were on the brink of defeat in the 86-degree South Florida heat. With 2 minutes, 4 seconds to play, they trailed by four and needed to go 60 yards for the game-winning score.

It was almost exactly like the two-minute drills the Packers run regularly in training camp and once a week during the season. In those settings, they almost always are trailing by four and usually have about 1:40 to play and one timeout. This time they had 24 seconds more, but no timeouts.

Rodgers' game-winning drive Sunday included one fourth-down conversion, a back-footed throw completed to Jordy Nelson that converted a fourth-and-10. It also had a third-down conversion, a pass to running back James Starks.

There also was the gutsy fake clock-stopping spike — a move Favre tried a few times without any success I can remember — that rookie Davante Adams converted into a 12-yard gain to set up the final score.

But the drive also showed how perilous such comebacks can be. Early in the drive, Rodgers fumbled while being sacked. If Miami had recovered, the game was over. But Lang made one of the plays of the game by pouncing on the loose ball, and that gave Rodgers the chance to make his difficult fourth-down throw on the next play.

"We talk about time and downs," Rodgers said. "If you have time on the clock, you have an opportunity to score and win. We called some plays we liked and guys made a lot of plays."

Maybe most telling is what Dolphins coach Joe Philbin thinks of Rodgers in the clutch. Or more accurately, what Philbin did because of his respect for Rodgers with the game on the line.

Philbin, the former Packers offensive coordinator, knows Rodgers better than any opposing coach in the NFL. He also undoubtedly knows about all those fourth-quarter and come-from-behind stats, too.

Philbin opened himself to huge second-guessing Sunday when he had offensive coordinator Bill Lazor throw the ball in the final 4 minutes and the Dolphins protecting a three-point lead.

The Dolphins were trying to take as much time off the clock as possible, and the Packers had only two timeouts left. Yet, Miami was unexpectedly aggressive. Lazor had quarterback Ryan Tannehill drop back to throw four times in seven plays, and two of those resulted in clock-stopping incompletions.

That saved the Packers precious seconds. But Philbin and his coaching staff had decided in game-management meetings last week that they couldn't afford to give the ball back to Rodgers in such circumstances.

"We know the type of quarterback we're playing against," Philbin told the Miami media after the game. "We decided — I told Bill (Lazor) that we were going to do whatever we had to do to get a first down, whatever the call. I told them to be aggressive. ... We knew, you have to do whatever you have to do to gain a first down."​

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