Aaron Rodgers shows game wasn't meaningless to Packers

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -– Aaron Rodgers made it clear last week that he planned to play in the penultimate game of the Green Bay Packers' lost season.

He plans to do the same in next Sunday's regular-season finale against the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field, which will be just as meaningless as Sunday's Week 16 game against the New York Jets.

And now it's obvious how he will play.

The two-time MVP quarterback, in the midst of perhaps the poorest season of his NFL career, played with the same kind of energy and passion he showed in the regular-season opener when everything was on the line. He did the same with nothing on the line except for the shame that would have come had the Packers lost for the eighth time in as many road games this season.

But thanks to the cue from their quarterback, the Packers avoided the first winless road season since 1958 and pulled off a thrilling -- even if irrelevant -- 44-38 overtime win at MetLife Stadium.

"That's who he is," Rodgers' center, Corey Linsley, said. "It's in his nature."

And it wasn't a surprise.

"That's why he is who is," Linsley added. "For him to do that, we're all putting our bodies on the line, but I think there's a general sense that maybe the star quarterback shouldn't do this or that, he doesn't. He fights his ass off. I don't know if there's a perception of whatever, but he doesn't fulfill that."

Rodgers explained last Wednesday why it was important for him to play even after the Packers were eliminated from playoff contention following last week's loss at Chicago, which dropped them to 0-7 on the road and 5-8-1 overall. It was about leadership, he said.

Still, Rodgers could have sat in the pocket, and if things didn't develop, throw the ball away. Why put his body at risk after a season that was impacted by the Week 1 left knee injury and last Sunday's pulled groin?

Yet there was Rodgers putting on perhaps his best running performance of the year. He ran for a pair of touchdowns -- and had a third that would've won the game in overtime called back by a penalty. It was just the second two-rushing-touchdown game of his career and his first game with even one on the ground in almost two years. He also ran in a two-point conversion. All of that came after the Packers trailed by 15 points, 35-20, entering the fourth quarter.

Afterward, Rodgers simply said he wanted to show everyone "that it matters."

"That even when the record isn't great and you're not going to the playoffs, that it still matters," Rodgers said. "I have a lot of pride. I love competing -- in anything. Like I said on the field after the game, I don't want to look back in 20 years and wonder, 'What if I played that game? Could something special have happened?' What would it look like to my teammates if they knew I kind of quit on them? I hope my teammates know I'm never going to quit on them. I'm going to battle through anything I've got."

It became contagious.

There was defensive back Tramon Williams back in the game after getting clocked on a punt return by an illegal hit that sent him to the locker room for stitches above his right eye.

And left tackle David Bakhtiari, who finished the game despite an injury to his right leg trying to chase down an interception return on a two-point conversion -- a play that was wiped out by penalty.

And Davante Adams, who caught 11 passes, including the winning 16-yard touchdown in overtime that pushed his catch total for the season to 111 -- one short of Sterling Sharpe's single-season team record.

And Jamaal Williams, the last running back standing who rushed 15 times for 95 yards and a touchdown and had 61 more yards on six catches.

"I told the guys before the game, this will be a character game," said Rodgers, who threw for 442 yards and two touchdowns on 37-of-55 passing. "It's going to show what kind of pride that we have, what kind of mental toughness that we have and what we're willing to lay on the line for our teammates. Obviously, those guys laid it on the line and played really well."

It was Rodgers' seventh win in a game in which he trailed by 14 or more points in the fourth quarter since 2012. No other quarterback has more during that span. It was the second win in three games under interim coach Joe Philbin.

"It matters for pride, it matters for Joe," Rodgers said. "We love Joe. We want to play for Joe and give him the best opportunity possible. And it matters for leadership purposes. Again, what kind of leader would I be if, 'Well, I could probably play but maybe I'll shut it down until next year.' That's the type of competitor that I am. I like to put my body on the line for my teammates and let them know that I want to be out there, that it matters, that their presence on the field matters, as well. Hopefully, they saw that this week, they saw that today, they saw us battle. Maybe that sticks with them and means something down the line when we need it."

The Packers needed it from Rodgers after all the special teams miscues -- among them the Jets' 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Andre Roberts, a 51-yard return by Roberts, a fake-punt conversion and a fumbled kickoff return by J'Mon Moore.

And they're going to get it again from Rodgers in this week's finale, too.

"I've got another week in me," Rodgers said.

He might not be the only one.

"Like I say, if 12 is out there, I'm out there," Bakhtiari said shortly before he hobbled out of the locker room.