BALTIMORE – Anyone who thought Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers couldn’t match his MVP performance from last season should have listened to what he said after Sunday’s win over the Baltimore Ravens.
“I feel like I’m playing better in many respects,” Rodgers said.
Better than his 48-touchdown, five-interception, 4,299-yard season from last year?
Better than when he directed a Packers’ offense that led the NFL in scoring, touchdowns, red zone percentage and time of possession in 2020?
Well, he provided adequate supporting evidence as the Packers eked out a 31-30 win by stopping the Ravens’ go-for-broke 2-point conversion attempt with 42 seconds left. On the day he tied Brett Favre’s franchise record with his 442nd career touchdown pass and the Packers clinched the NFC North for the third time in as many seasons under coach Matt LaFleur, Rodgers completed 23 of 31 passes for 268 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. His Total QBR of 84.3 was his second highest of the season behind only the 34-31 loss at Minnesota in Week 11, when he posted a mark of 88.2.
But it’s not just this past Sunday.
Beginning with the Vikings game, Rodgers has posted some of the best numbers in the NFL. In that four-game stretch, he has the highest Total QBR (76.5), the second-most passing yards (1,301), the third-highest completion percentage (70.5) and the best touchdown (13) to interception (zero) ratio in the league.
His season numbers, with 30 touchdowns and four interceptions to date, probably won’t match last year’s even with the benefit of the 17th game -- Rodgers missed the Week 9 loss at Kansas City because of COVID-19.
But what’s more, the 38-year-old returned from that absence with a fractured pinkie toe on his left foot yet he has seemingly been unaffected by it –- perhaps thanks to the pain-killing injections he said he has taken before most games since the injury.
“He’s had multiple games with multiple touchdowns and no picks,” said receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who caught five passes for 98 yards and the record-tying touchdown against the Ravens. “I don’t really know too many guys that can do that consistently. He doesn’t turn the ball over. He makes throw after throw that you’re just like, how did he get that ball in there? Like the one he threw to me in two-minute across the middle of the field, it’s just like, how did that ball get through there. But he’s the best, and that’s who he’s going to be.”
He might have even worked his way back into the MVP race.
If the reigning award-winner was behind Tom Brady entering the weekend, Sunday’s events –- with Brady and the Buccaneers’ 9-0 loss to the Saints among them -– certainly changed things. Perhaps this is a year where a non-quarterback –- say Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor -– wins the MVP, but not before Rodgers makes a run at a fourth.
Securing the No. 1 seed, which the Packers (11-3) will do if they win their last three games regardless of what anyone else does, might help Rodgers’ case, too. However, the backlash against the way he handled his nonvaccinated status could factor in with some voters.
The MVP race aside, since the loss at Minnesota, Rodgers & Co. have shown they can win by outscoring teams when their defense -– which by most accounts has improved -– can’t quite measure up. In their past four games, they’ve averaged 32.5 points per game on offense but have allowed 30.5 points per game.
“I sure hope not,” LaFleur said if that’s how they’re going to win. “We’d like to hold teams to less points. I think our defense has shown what they’re capable of doing.”
"He makes throw after throw that you're just like, how did he get that ball in there?" Marquez Valdes-Scantling
The same can be said for Rodgers, even behind a patchwork offensive line that was down to one regular starter (rookie right guard Royce Newman).
While Rodgers acknowledged that he missed a few throws Sunday against the Ravens –- the potential record-breaking touchdown to Allen Lazard among them –- and the Packers’ red zone production has fallen off significantly from last season, he’s shown almost no side effects from either the pain of the toe or the multitude of missed practices in order to rest it.
As for some of the ways in which he might be better this year, Rodgers rattled off a few after Sunday’s game.
“I feel like my movement in the pocket, my feel, my timing,” he said. “Tonight there were a couple of throws that I was proud of. There’s not many games where you make a throw and you’re kind of really smiling on the inside because it makes you feel good, but I threw a ball to Marquez on the first play of the two-minute and it was kind of harkening back to a feeling I had years ago as far as my footwork and my timing and ball placement. I’ve still made many of those throws this year, but those are the fun ones and those are the ones that you feel really, really good about.”