GREEN BAY – Aaron Rodgers doesn’t care about the stats. He just wants to win when it matters most, like now.
That was the quarterback’s message as the Packers’ season has reached its most important stage – a division-title showdown on Sunday night against Minnesota, followed by do-or-die playoff time.
The two-time MVP is unlikely to win a third award this year. His 93.7 passer rating is his first sub-100 mark since his first season as a starter in 2008. Unless he throws for 400 yards on Sunday, his yardage total (currently 3,530) will be his lowest in a full season. His passing TD total (30) will also be his lowest in a full season since 2010.
History will record 2015 as a down year statistically for Rodgers, even if it wouldn’t be for many other QBs, but he said he understands and accepts as much.
“I’m OK with that,” he said. “It’s definitely been a different year for me, but I’m proud of the way we’ve responded through some adversity.”
Losing receiver Jordy Nelson to injury in the preseason and dealing with an offensive line constantly in flux would top the list of adverse situations.
After 15 games of highs and lows, including a Hail Mary win and a 30-point loss this month alone, to have double-digit wins, a seventh straight playoff berth and a shot at a fifth straight NFC North title have given Rodgers the confidence he expressed in this team after last Sunday’s rough outing. His numbers don’t impact how he feels about this team.
“We’ve accomplished a lot,” he said. “The individual stuff, I’ve kind of been there, done that. I’ve had those types of years you can be really proud of.
“This year I’m very proud of as well. I’m proud of the way we’ve competed and I’m proud of the way we’ve kept it together through adversity and through the ups and downs of everything that’s come at us this year. At this point, it’s all about winning games and making a run in the playoffs.”
To do that, the Packers will have to find an offensive rhythm and consistency that’s eluded them. The change in play-callers wasn’t a cure-all. Big plays in the passing game have been harder to come by, which has forced Rodgers to be “more patient” and willing to “grind it out,” which in turn has reduced the Packers’ margin for error against the league’s best teams.
When mistakes have piled up against the likes of Denver, Carolina and Arizona, it’s been difficult to reverse course. That’s the level of competition the Packers will face from here on out, including Sunday against the playoff-bound Vikings, and they’ll be relying on a core of veterans who have been to the playoffs annually and been in Week 17 division-title tilts the past two years to make the difference.
“We’re getting to the part of the season here, it’s just (about) getting the job done,” said right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who returned to practice on a limited basis from his ankle injury while left tackle David Bakhtiari remained out.
“All the rhetoric about we need to improve on this, we’ll work on … that’s gone. From this game on, obviously we’re guaranteed two games here, but it’s playoff-type mentality. We need to win and get on a roll and get things going here.”
Rodgers heads that list of veterans who have been through these battles, and he understands expectations for him are highest of all, internally and externally. He’s fine with that, too, and knowing he hasn’t changed his meticulous study habits or intense dedication to his craft means he’s not going to apologize for the emotions, good or bad, that stem from the results.
“We go out there every week, rely on our preparation and expect to play well, and that’s why when you don’t it’s pretty frustrating,” he said. “But when you do, it’s pretty special.”
Two years ago in this spot, it was a 48-yard, fourth-down TD toss to Randall Cobb in Chicago that defined the season. Last year, it was Rodgers and his injured calf re-emerging from the Lambeau Field tunnel to a chanting home crowd to spark the team against the Lions.
“It’s moments like that, and Detroit this year, which you keep coming back for,” Rodgers said. “You never know when it’s going to happen like that. That’s why you love the opportunity every week to go back out there and try to prove yourself.”
Rodgers isn’t out to prove anything with stats. He wants to prove himself and the team with wins in high-stakes games. Leading both veterans who have tasted Super Bowl success and young players hungry for it, it’s time to define this season.
“It’s been a disjointed year, schedule-wise, play-wise, inconsistency-wise, and it’s been frustrating at times,” he said. “But it’s also been really exciting at times, and it’s been a year that I think a lot of us will never forget, and hopefully we can add some more memories the next couple weeks.”
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