GREEN BAY – The second pick-six of Aaron Rodgers’ career had a strange similarity to the first.
It also had one significant difference.
Rodgers pointed out the odd coincidence himself – the last name of the defender. Tampa Bay’s Tanard Jackson in 2009 gave way to Cincinnati’s William Jackson on Sunday at Lambeau Field.
“Stop throwing to Jacksons,” Rodgers quipped in a self-critique.
The difference was eight years ago, the Bucs’ Jackson ran back his Rodgers’ interception with less than a minute left to put away the game. No shot at redemption for Green Bay’s star QB.
On Sunday, the Bengals’ Jackson pulled off the rare feat with more than 2½ quarters left to play. The two-time MVP was going to get a chance to make up for this one.
“Lot of time left,” Rodgers said of the play that put the Packers behind by 14 points. “We’ve been down before. Obviously the fans weren’t too happy about it. It’s not great getting booed, but we understand it. The fans have every right to do that. I probably would have, too, watching that first-half performance.”
In the second half, Rodgers changed from being human to being Rodgers again in leading the rally for a 27-24 overtime win. Against a defense that sacked him a half-dozen times, he directed touchdown drives to open and close the second half, with a field goal in between, and hit the back-breaking big play in OT.
For the record, it took until Rodgers’ 4,758th career regular-season pass before he threw his second pick-six. Maybe this was payback from the football gods for the one that probably should have been added to his ledger two weeks ago, but wasn’t, thanks to a questionable penalty on the Seahawks’ return.
In any event, Head Coach Mike McCarthy called Sunday’s comeback one of Rodgers’ best games, given the absence of reliable receiver Randall Cobb and the employment of at first one and eventually two backup tackles.
“I thought he was tremendous today,” McCarthy said. “He had a lot to deal with.”
Pulling a 66.8 halftime passer rating up over 100 by game’s end was an accomplishment in itself. Thanks to Green Bay’s defense holding strong at key moments, it was enough for Rodgers to pull out his first career overtime victory in eight tries, including playoffs.
To be fair, Rodgers didn’t even get to touch the ball in four of the previous seven overtime periods. The last time he got an overtime possession was in 2010. He estimated he had about six overtime pass attempts in his entire career.
It only took three on Sunday for lightning to strike, zapping away, at least momentarily, a set of difficult circumstances the Packers may be dealing with again in just four short days.
Rodgers knew what he was in for before the game, when he looked around the locker room and saw Mike Daniels, Nick Perry, Davon House, David Bakhtiari and Cobb among those not suiting up.
“You’re going, man, there’s some studs not playing,” he said. “We’ve had kind of a rallying cry, and that’s no excuses. The guys out there are expected to play and play well, and I’m expected to play and play well. We have to dig deep sometimes and push through some adversity.”
In doing that, Rodgers also found another weapon he can truly rely on in the clutch. Second-year receiver Geronimo Allison came on strong toward the end of his rookie season and broke out in a big way Sunday, his second game of 2017 after serving a Week 1 suspension.
With just two catches through the first 56 minutes, Allison had grabs of 17, 11 and 3 yards to help get the game-tying drive going. The second and third catches came on back-to-back plays immediately after Allison dropped a short pass over the middle, a sign Rodgers' confidence in him never wavered. Then his 72-yard catch-and-run on Green Bay’s third snap of overtime was the knockout punch.
On a day of eerie reminders, when Allison broke open down the sideline, Rodgers said his mind flashed to an 83-yard TD pass he threw to James Jones against Detroit at home in 2013 on a similar route from almost the exact same spot. Rodgers said the flashback told him how hard to throw the ball.
Had Allison scored on his, it would have been a 79-yarder.
“I’ve known Geronimo’s been a player for a long time,” Rodgers said, not astonished in the slightest by Allison’s performance. “He’s a fantastic part of our offense. He’s a tough, tough kid. Really tough competitor.
“I remember the first day I watched him at training camp, I said, ‘How the hell did this guy not get drafted? This kid’s fantastic.’ He’s got a great attitude. It’s good having him back.”
This is one of those good wins, too, even though it wasn’t pretty. The Packers play young players early and often, whether forced to or by choice, and McCarthy reiterated the importance of that again after Sunday’s game.
If any of them wondered what it takes to win an NFL game when a lot of things are working against you, they just got a lesson they’ll never forget.
“It didn’t always look like a win today, especially in the second quarter,” Rodgers said. “But I think this team took a big step forward in confidence, believing in themselves. We added some new guys to the mix, haven’t been around.
“It was good for them to see it’s never over ’til it’s over.”
Even when their fearless leader does something he hadn’t done in, oh, about 4,000 passes or so.
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