Before the Sunday game, Lambeau Field slowly filled with the Green Bay faithful and a smattering of Dallas Cowboys supporters.
Then, a thunderous roar erupted as the Packers emerged from the tunnel – the passage every Green Bay Packer walks from the locker room to the field.
Within, a preserved slab of original Lambeau Field cement stands, flanked by a sign chronicling the legendary Packers who’ve crossed it.
On this day, the crowd’s roar was a tribute to one of the most excellent Packers, perhaps the greatest of all – Aaron Rodgers.
As Rodgers stepped onto the field, a swarm of cameras surrounded him.
He jogged with a confident bounce in his step, akin to a prized show horse, signaling that regardless of his calf injury, he was ready to battle through.
The relentless, focused gaze mirrored the one I witnessed in August 2008 when Brett Favre returned from a two-month retirement, setting the stage for a showdown to reclaim his starting quarterback position.
I recalled Aaron’s response to the prospect of competing with his mentor:
“If I have to compete with my mentor, I will.”
The sentiment he expressed in 2008 echoed on this Sunday: No matter the challenge I am facing, I will find a way to win.
On paper, the Sunday matchup appeared to favor the Cowboys.
The Packers’ notable vulnerability was their struggle to halt the run, while Dallas boasted a formidable running game spearheaded by DeMarco Murray.
Coupled with Rodgers’ injured calf, skepticism lingered about the Packers’ prospects.
However, doubts dissipated as a determined Rodgers strode onto the field, exuding confidence.
During the first half, the Packers concentrated on safeguarding Rodgers, relying heavily on their running game.
When he did throw, it was from the pocket without any rollouts, bootlegs, or evasive maneuvers.
Even Rodgers recognized that trying to elude the rush and extend plays in the pocket was risky.
Just a fortnight prior, he had aggravated his calf injury by attempting too much against the Detroit Lions.
Occasionally, he clung to the ball too long, resulting in sacks he typically wouldn’t concede.
In essence, Rodgers exhibited an extraordinarily gritty performance, maneuvering around on one leg.
With 4:04 remaining in the third quarter and the Packers trailing 21-13, Rodgers produced a drive for the ages.
Not only was it the pivotal drive of the game, but it might well have been the pinnacle of Rodgers’ career, given the circumstances.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy deployed a personnel grouping featuring four wide receivers and one tight end.
Demonstrating unwavering faith in his franchise quarterback, McCarthy ceded play-calling duties to Rodgers.
He utilized the versatile Randall Cobb in a hybrid WR/RB role, executing decisions and completing throws that were genuinely “elite” (refer to screenshots below).
The rapid-paced, no-huddle approach kept the Dallas defense off balance.
At this moment, Rodgers showcased why he deserved consideration for the NFL MVP title.
With the precision of a skilled surgeon, he examined the Cowboy defense with rapid-fire passes that seemed impervious to defense.
The ball left Rodgers’ hand before any pressure could take effect. It was one of those moments when it appeared as if Rodgers had entered a state of perfect focus, and everything around him moved in slow motion.
From that point onward, the Packers seized command and secured a 26-21 victory, propelling them into the NFC Championship.
Following Sunday’s triumph, Rodgers articulated,
“I think I’ve got 120 minutes left in me. So I’m going to do everything I can to make sure I can play all those minutes.”
Rodgers is fully aware of the challenges ahead, facing potentially tough matchups against two formidable defenses.
He acknowledges his limitations but remains resolute in his capabilities.
For several years, Rodgers has held the mantle of one of the NFL’s premier quarterbacks.
Yet, his recent performance, navigating the game essentially on one leg with the entire weight of victory on his shoulders, made one thing abundantly clear: Rodgers has transcended from being merely one of the best to undeniably the best.
And he’ll need to maintain that extraordinary level of play for the trials that await him.