GREEN BAY, Wis. -- He has two NFL Most Valuable Player awards, a Super Bowl ring and a soothsayer’s knack for foreseeing greatness to come.
He said last year he thought the team could “run the table” when it was 4-6 and mired in a four-game losing streak, and darned if he didn’t lead a six-game winning streak to end the regular season and get the Packers back to the brink of the Super Bowl.
Now, he’s facing something that might be even more difficult.
Aaron Rodgers will play Sunday for the first time since he broke his right collarbone at Minnesota on Oct. 15. The Packers, at 7-6, not only need to win at Carolina this week, they also need to win the next week against the Vikings and in the regular-season finale at Detroit to have any chance at a ninth straight postseason appearance.
It will test Rodgers’ physical ability and the strength of his surgically repaired clavicle.
But if there’s one thing the Packers don’t have to worry about, it’s the mental toughness that Rodgers will bring to such a daunting challenge. In fact, coach Mike McCarthy called that his quarterback's “greatest asset.”
“Obviously, what he does physically and his ability on the field, but just the way he not only conducts himself mentally and emotionally to get ready for a game, but you can see the same intensity, the awareness, the education ability to get into other things to enhance his opportunity to get back,” McCarthy said. “It's probably, in my opinion, his greatest asset. His mental toughness is, you'd like to say, old-school because you can refer to how things were probably in the past in this league. This guy could have played mentally in any generation in the National Football League. That's a big part of why he's ready today."
Rodgers said he is “not coming back to save this team." But if he were to lead a team with a 9.2 percent chance of making the playoffs (according to ESPN’s Football Power Index) to the postseason once again, it would rank as one of the top accomplishments in what will end up as a Hall of Fame career.
In fact, a longtime NFL personnel executive said it would rank No. 2 on Rodgers’ legacy list behind only Super Bowl XLV.
With that in mind, here’s a look at some of Rodgers’ greatest accomplishments to date (and leave a spot open for Run the Table 2.0):
Super Bowl XLV: Before Rodgers won either of his two MVP awards (for the 2011 and 2014 seasons), he was the MVP of the Packers’ Super Bowl win over the Steelers. Two weeks after one of his finest performances in the NFC title game win at Atlanta, Rodgers put on another clinic, throwing for 304 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. He made one of the most impressive throws of his career late in the game, a 31-yard rocket to Greg Jennings (which will go down as one of Rodgers’ greatest plays) for a key first down to help milk the clock in the Packers’ 31-25 win.
15-1 and MVP No. 1: A year after the Super Bowl, Rodgers won his first MVP on the way to a near-perfect regular-season record. He set an NFL single-season record with a 122.5 passer rating and set franchise records for touchdown passes (45), passing yards (4,643) and completion percentage (68.3).
R-E-L-A-X and MVP No. 2: The Packers started 1-2 in 2014, and fans were in a panic. Rodgers, on his ESPN Wisconsin radio show, not only told Packers fans to relax but he spelled it out for them one letter at a time and added, "We're going to be OK." The audio clip was played over and over through a season in which Rodgers threw 38 touchdown passes and only five interceptions. The Packers won seven of their last eight games to finish 12-4. After beating the Cowboys in a divisional playoff game at Lambeau Field, the Packers had a 12-point fourth-quarter lead at Seattle only to lose the NFC title game in overtime.
Run the table: Did anyone really believe Rodgers last November when he said he thought the Packers could “run the table” when they were sitting at 4-6 and had lost four straight? It was a calculated move more than a prediction on Rodgers’ part as a way to get the team to rally at their most difficult moment. And Rodgers took the lead. In the six-game winning streak to close the regular season, he threw 15 touchdown passes without an interception. With the season on the line in December and January, he threw 13 touchdown passes and no interceptions in the final five regular-season games. According to Elias, the only other quarterback in NFL history with at least 10 touchdown passes and no interceptions from Dec. 1 to the end of the regular season is Tom Brady, who also had 13 and zero in 2010.
Collarbone return No. 1: One year before Rodgers’ second MVP season, he broke his left collarbone on Nov. 4, 2013, against the Bears. The Packers were 5-2 going into that game but won only twice (with one tie) after Rodgers went down. After weeks of debate over whether Rodgers would be cleared to return, he was finally given the OK the week of the regular-season finale at Chicago. Rodgers overcame a slow start with two early interceptions to throw for a pair of touchdowns, including the game-winner -- a 48-yard bomb to Randall Cobb in the final minute that clinched the NFC North title and a playoff spot despite just an 8-7-1 record.