All kidding aside, Rodgers came through with what even he called his finest performance of the season in a critical 45-17 win that kept the Packers’ playoff hopes alive heading into the season finale against Chicago next Sunday at Lambeau Field.
Having sat out last Sunday’s loss at New England, Rodgers completed 25-of-37 passes for a regular-season career-high 404 yards, four touchdowns and a 139.9 passer rating against the Giants on Sunday. The four touchdowns matched his regular-season career high, set earlier this season at Minnesota in Week 7, and the yardage total was the most by a Packers quarterback in a regular-season game since Lynn Dickey threw for 418 at Tampa Bay on Oct. 12, 1980.
It was also the 10th time in Rodgers’ career that he posted three-plus touchdown passes and no interceptions, which broke Kurt Warner’s mark (nine, 1999-2001) for the most by an NFL quarterback within three seasons of his first career start.
“Having that No. 12 guy back, it helped us a little bit today,” wide receiver Greg Jennings said. “Man, he is special.
“He is back. He is definitely back, and the stats definitely show that he is back. I am excited for what he did today.”
Jennings surely wasn’t the only one to share those sentiments, with Rodgers’ performance helping the offense match its season high in points and rack up the most yards (515) since Green Bay registered 548 yards at Oakland on Dec. 22, 2003.
Seeing his first action since sustaining a concussion in the second quarter at Detroit two weeks ago, it didn’t take long for Rodgers to get back into the swing of things. On the first play of the Packers’ second possession, a play-action fake to running back Brandon Jackson set up a deep pass down the middle to wide receiver Jordy Nelson, who was able to get behind safety Antrel Rolle to make the catch near the Green Bay 45 and take it the rest of the way for an 80-yard score.
“Something we work on a lot with the play-action and he is kind of going down the middle,” Rodgers said. “I felt like it was going to be some sort of two-high look. I just wanted to make a decent fake and we pulled Antrel just enough to get a good throwing lane there. I was able to put a good throw on it and Jordy took off.”
The long scoring strike was Rodgers’ second of the season of 80-plus yards, having connected with Jennings on an 86-yard touchdown pass vs. Miami in Week 6. It was the first time since 1967 that the Packers have had two players post 80-yard catches in the same season, with wide receiver Carroll Dale and running back Elijah Pitts each doing in Green Bay’s Super Bowl II season.
After a Tramon Williams interception three plays later gave the offense the ball at the New York 44, Rodgers led the offense on a 10-play, 44-yard march that he capped off with a 3-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver James Jones. The drive even included a 15-yard scramble by Rodgers to the Giants’ 6 that ended with him sliding rather than absorbing a hit. His concussion at Detroit came on a run up the middle when he didn’t get down in time to avoid contact, so after hearing plenty of advice from those close to him since then, Rodgers couldn’t help himself as he made a “safe” signal like a baseball umpire after the run on Sunday.
“I got a lot of texts the last two weeks from friends and family,” Rodgers said. “Slide was the main subject there. I basically was teasing (team physician) Dr. (John) Gray all week, really the last couple of weeks, because he has been talking about being smart outside the pocket.
“So I slid and kind of did the safe signal and pointed over at Dr. Gray that I was thinking about what he told me.”
The Giants trimmed Green Bay’s lead to 24-17 midway through the third quarter, but Rodgers and the offense responded with another quick-strike scoring drive. On the Packers’ first play of the series from their own 30, Rodgers ran another play-action fake to Jackson to set up a pass to wide receiver Donald Driver down the seam. Driver made a nice diving grab to pick up 33 yards with cornerback Terrell Thomas in coverage.
On the very next play, Rodgers lofted a perfectly thrown ball down the right sideline to Jennings, who beat cornerback Corey Webster to pick up 36 yards to the New York 1. After Jackson was stopped for no gain on first-and-goal, Rodgers stepped up in the pocket to avoid pressure from defensive end Justin Tuck before finding tight end Donald Lee for the 1-yard score.
“We had a number of good calls; it was just a matter of rolling through them,” said Rodgers, who matched his season high by completing passes to nine different players on Sunday. “We hit Donald (Driver) on a call we had worked on all week, a call we liked. I hadn’t hit him all week on that play, but he made a nice catch on it. Then came back and just kind of had a base check there and Greg made a real nice catch to get us into range and take a two-score lead.”
The fact that Rodgers was coming off a concussion probably added to the storyline, but one of the key matchups heading into Sunday’s game was how Green Bay’s offensive line would hold up against the Giants after giving up 13 sacks over the previous three games. New York entered the game ranked No. 2 in the NFL in sacks with 42, with defensive ends Tuck and Osi Umenyiora comprising the league’s only double-digit sack duo (10 each).
The Packers’ front responded on Sunday, allowing just two sacks of Rodgers, one by Tuck and one credited to the team, along with just three quarterback hits.
“You can’t say enough about the offensive line today,” Jennings said. “Coming into this week, everyone was talking about their pass rush, we were talking about their pass rush. We knew what type of guys they have got on their defensive line, their front four, and our front five, they did a solid job of keeping them off our quarterback and that’s why we were able to do what we did today on offense.”
While he no doubt was disappointed about not being on the field last Sunday New England, Rodgers tried to look at the positive side of the missed game, which he now will look to carry over into a season finale against the Bears that will be a play-in game for Green Bay.
“It was like a week off late in the season for my body,” Rodgers said. “I felt all week a lot of energy. My arm felt like it was live. I threw the ball real good in practice. I had a lot of confidence going into the game that I was going to perform that way.
“Now obviously not as well as it went, but I think you can attribute that to some real good play calls at certain times and some big plays for some guys.”