But receiver Greg Jennings was in a different mood when asked about quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ outing in Super Bowl XLV. A sarcastic mood.
“He played OK, he played OK,” Jennings deadpanned before quickly turning serious again. “Hey, he’s at the helm for a reason.”
That he is, and Rodgers didn’t disappoint on Sunday night at Cowboys Stadium. He carved up the league’s No. 1 scoring defense to the tune of 304 yards and three touchdown passes to earn Super Bowl MVP honors in the Packers’ 31-25 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Rodgers completed 24-of-39 passes and did not throw an interception in compiling a 111.5 quarterback rating. He absorbed three sacks but was otherwise flawless against one of the toughest all-around defenses he’s ever faced.
The plan was to spread the Steelers out with four- and five-receiver sets to find matchups on the perimeter in Green Bay’s favor, and to keep Pittsburgh’s formidable front seven from controlling the game. It worked, and Rodgers’ numbers could have been even more impressive had his receivers not dropped a handful of well-thrown passes.
“We were by no means conservative,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “We were going to try to move ball down the field, try to take our shots. No regrets, no excuses. Aaron did a great job staying poised and staying consistent. He didn’t get too high, he didn’t get too low when things didn’t go his way. It was an MVP performance.”
Particularly on one of his touchdown passes and on two huge throws in the fourth quarter.
The TD toss was his second of the game, a 21-yarder to Jennings that made it 21-3 in the second quarter. Cutting over the middle, Jennings had inside leverage on safety Troy Polamalu but fellow safety Ryan Clark was closing from the other side. Rodgers fired it in there with some serious gusto, as Clark dove for a deflection in vain and Jennings absorbed a hit at the goal line but hung on.
Then in the fourth quarter, the Packers led 21-17 and faced third-and-10 from the Pittsburgh 40. Receiver Jordy Nelson, who caught Rodgers’ first TD pass of the game from 29 yards out and was his top target on the night with career highs in both receptions (nine) and yards (140), had just dropped a ball on a crossing route on the previous play.
But Rodgers went right back to him, on a deeper in cut this time, and Nelson made the grab, eluded a tackler and got around the corner for a 38-yard gain to the 2. Two plays later, Jennings caught his second TD pass of the game for a 28-17 lead.
Finally, just after Pittsburgh pulled within 28-25, Rodgers faced third-and-10 from his own 25. A three-and-out would have kept all the momentum on the Steelers’ side, but Rodgers connected with Jennings on a deep post route over the middle. The pinpoint throw was good for 31 yards and maybe the game’s biggest first down.
A handful of plays later and the Packers tacked on a field goal for a six-point lead that held up.
“It’s a special feeling knowing Mike trusted me enough to make the decisions there and make the plays,” Rodgers said. “They have a great front seven, tough to run against, but we felt like if we could pick (their blitzes) up, there were some lanes to throw. I appreciate Mike’s trust in me to make the right decision.”
He also appreciates the faith McCarthy and General Manager Ted Thompson have shown in him from the beginning, when he was Thompson’s first draft choice as the 24th overall selection six years ago, and especially through the turbulent summer of 2008.
“I told Ted back in 2005 he wouldn’t be sorry with his pick,” Rodgers said, “and I told him in ‘08 I was going to repay their trust, and get us this opportunity.”
Thompson declined to enter into any discussion about whether this season’s events, and Sunday’s result in particular, validated the decision made 2½ years ago to move ahead with Rodgers at quarterback and trade future Hall of Famer Brett Favre. But it’s safe to say he has no regrets.
“Life’s too short for that,” Thompson said. “We’re very happy to have won a world championship. That doesn’t happen all the time. Aaron is a good quarterback. We’re very happy he’s our quarterback. He was MVP of the game, certainly MVP of our team this year, and has been a dynamo down the stretch in these playoffs.
“But we don’t reflect back like that. It doesn’t work. It’s what’s next. It’s like our players. If somebody gets hurt, it’s who’s next.”
What’s next for Rodgers is hopefully more of the same, though he’d be the first to admit it wouldn’t hurt to get weapons like tight end Jermichael Finley and running back Ryan Grant back. He even won the Super Bowl MVP award without veteran receiver Donald Driver (ankle) for most of the game, almost making an MVP out of Nelson in the process.
But that’s just what Rodgers does. If it’s in ho-hum fashion to his teammates, so be it.
“He did what he had to do, and he did what he’s done all season,” guard Daryn Colledge said. “We believe he should have been the MVP of the league. When we lost all the guys on offense, he stepped up his game even more.”