'Hard Knocks,' Week 4: Rodgers talks trash and more

New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers provided the teaser, telling reporters after the last preseason game, "Wait for 'Hard Knocks.' There's some good content." It was his response to a question about his heated exchange with a player on the New York Giants.
Rodgers wasn't kidding.

Showing his feisty side, the 39-year-old Rodgers unleashed some old-school trash talk at Giants pass rusher Jihad Ward -- the highlight of episode four, which aired Tuesday night on HBO.

After getting bumped by Ward after throwing a completed pass on Saturday night, Rodgers shoved him back and got in his face.

"That's f------ bull----, bro," a mic'd-up Rodgers barked. "What the f--- is that? Show some respect, bro. C'mon, what the f--- is that? Five damn steps? I don't even know who you are, bro."

After throwing a touchdown to Garrett Wilson on the next play, Rodgers went back at Ward, rubbing it in.

"Don't poke the bear," Rodgers chirped.

He knew his night was over after the touchdown, so there was no fear of retaliation by Ward. Moments later, on the bench, Rodgers recounted the exchange with some teammates, relishing his moment of triumph. He also invented a word.

"I gave him a line that's un-come-back-with-able," he said on the bench. "I said, 'I don't even know who you are.' He said, 'I don't know who you are.' I said, 'Bull----.'"

In this episode, we saw two types of fire from Rodgers. Early on, they showed clips from a frustrating practice in training camp, one that prompted a string of F-bombs from the quarterback, who was upset with his receivers and pretty much everyone on offense.

But Rodgers regained his poise, took control of the mess, made some in-practice adjustments with his teammates and -- voila! -- a dramatic turnaround.

From ticked-off Rodgers to Mr. Fix-It, just like that.

Other takeaways from episode four, which intertwined the stories of three long-shot wide receivers:

Two out of three ain't bad: It took a while, but "Hard Knocks" finally featured some Cinderella stories -- one of the hallmarks of the long-running series. They focused on Jason Brownlee, Xavier Gipson and Jerome Kapp, all undrafted receivers.

Kapp went viral last week with his performance in the rookie show, his Eminem impersonation from the movie "Eight Mile." This time, he showed off another skill -- juggling -- but the real focus was on his uphill fight to make the team and the emotional investment of his family.

There was no fairytale ending for Kapp, who was seen walking out of the Jets' facility after getting cut. Unlike past "Hard Knocks" seasons, no players got cut on camera. The organization, which pushed back on doing the show, felt it would be insensitive to show that to a national audience.

It was a different story for Brownlee and Gipson, good friends who defied the odds and made the 53-man roster. Coaches and teammates, most notably Rodgers and veteran receiver Randall Cobb, gushed about Gipson throughout the episode.

Coach Soprano: It was only a matter of time before "Hard Knocks" worked a Sopranos element into an episode. After all, it's all based in New Jersey. Sure enough, there was coach Robert Saleh driving to MetLife Stadium to the "Sopranos" theme song ("Woke Up This Morning" by Alabama 3). The only thing missing was a cigar.

Just like Tony Soprano in the opening to the iconic HBO series, Saleh drove through a toll booth and past the Statue of Liberty. Talk about poetic license; Saleh doesn't drive anywhere near the Statue of Liberty on his way to the stadium. But, hey, that's show biz.

Camera shy: General managers usually are important characters in "Hard Knocks," but Joe Douglas has yet to appear. There were a couple of glimpses of him in the early episodes, but not one speaking line! Maybe they're saving him as a breakout character in next week's finale. (P.S. Not likely.)

That's Smart(s): How can you not admire Tanzel Smart's heart and toughness?

In a fight to make the roster, the journeyman defensive tackle injured his left shoulder in last week's game and went for an in-game X-ray, clearly in pain. He refused to sit out and became emotional on the sideline as he talked about why he needed to get back in the game. He knew his job was on the line and he didn't want to miss too many game reps. He gutted it out, playing hurt as a camera showed his wife, Jada, in the stands, agonizing with him.

This didn't appear in the episode, but Smart, 28, was released on Tuesday. The NFL is a tough business. There's a chance he could return on the practice squad.

Funniest moment: Cobb got razzed, mostly by Rodgers, for his ill-advised blindside block against the Giants. Cobb's wife, Aiyda, was mic'd up in the crowd.

"That was a great block, I thought," she told her two young sons, not sounding totally convinced. Later, she lamented the likelihood of a fine by the NFL office, noting that he once got fined $19,000.

Rodgers quote of the week: "Jet Life Stadium."

Unique coaching moments: Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett lectured the offense on the importance of celebrating as a team, not as individuals. Using video, he showed a teachable moment -- a solo touchdown celebration by rookie Israel Abanikanda.

Defensive line coach Aaron Whitecotton passed out a chain link to each player in his room, asking each one to stand up and say, "I will not be the weakest link."