GREEN BAY—Aaron Rodgers downplayed on Wednesday the whole hometown angle to this week’s playoff game in San Francisco, but he would seem to have his reasons.
Of course, he talked briefly about attending baseball games as a kid in Candlestick Park and watching on TV the last Packers-49ers postseason game there, the Terrell Owens game 14 years ago.
But Rodgers didn’t go on and on about growing up in the Bay Area and about the 49ers being his favorite team and about being snubbed by them at the top of the 2005 draft. He has told all those stories before, and maybe he’s simply tired of rehashing them.
Or maybe he doesn’t want to feed that inevitable storyline for the same reason he does his weekly press briefing at his locker and not in the auditorium. The position of quarterback of the Green Bay Packers elevates him enough publicly that he’d rather not self-propel the boost, particularly not under the white-hot spotlight of the postseason.
“I think at this point in the season, everybody has a common goal and that’s winning a championship and knowing you kind of have to be selfless, and realize it’s all about that championship,” Rodgers said.
That was in response to a question about spreading the ball around to 10 different receivers in last Saturday’s wild-card win, but it provides a glimpse into Rodgers’ psyche at this time of year.
He’s a leader, and everything he’s going to do or say will be about leading the team to what it hopes to achieve. His words on Wednesday reflected a player who’s perfectly in tune with the knowledge that his performance on the biggest stage matters, but his leadership matters just as much because of its impact on others’ performance.
“I touch the ball every play, and guys are counting on me to play well,” Rodgers said. “I take that to heart, and I know my role as a quarterback and a leader, and I try to go out and play well for my guys.”
Rodgers has without question done that in the playoffs. Since throwing an interception on his first ever postseason pass – in the 2009 NFC Wild Card game at Arizona – he has completed two-thirds of his passes over the course of seven playoff starts, with 16 touchdowns and just three additional interceptions.
“I think you learn that you have to start well in the game and you can’t make mistakes,” Rodgers said of the playoff mentality honed by that heartbreaking overtime defeat three years ago to the Cardinals. “You have to make the plays that are there.”
That obviously won’t be easy against one of the top defenses in the league. San Francisco possesses multiple Pro Bowlers at every level of their defense – Justin Smith and Aldon Smith up front, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman at linebacker, and Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner at safety.
The 49ers run and hit on that side of the ball like no other team in the NFC playoffs, and that defense is what cranks up the Candlestick crowd.
Mike McCarthy credited Rodgers’ communication skills on the road as a key for the Packers this week. Putting up 34 points in the Metrodome two weeks ago was just the latest example.
“It’s a real strength of how we play offense,” McCarthy said of the constant communication on the field. “He deserves a lot of credit for that. That really gives us the ability to do things at the line of scrimmage, whether home or away. I think that’s a big part of keeping us in clean plays and letting him play the quarterback position the way it’s supposed to be played.”
Rodgers leads – at his locker, in the huddle, under center. Playing one of many big games in his career somewhere special, in his hometown on Saturday night, won’t change that.
“He’s the same guy,” receiver James Jones said. “In practice, he’s focused, trying to get everything right during the week in the meetings, so we can go out and play our best game.” Additional coverage - Jan. 8