From his chiropractor to his pass-catchers, Aaron Rodgers had plenty of explanations for what happened Sunday afternoon. The fact that a day that began with a stiff neck had ended in a record-setting performance had less to do with what the Green Bay Packers quarterback had done and more to do with the work of others.
Or so he said.
It didn’t sound like false modesty, either, in the wake of Sunday’s 38-20 victory over the Washington Redskins. What it sounded like was a guy – after having woken up unable to turn his head without pain and watched his receivers ring up more than half of his passing yards after the catch – who was struggling to explain how he completed 34 of 42 passes for 480 yards and four touchdowns (146.0 passer rating) when he said he was “not really” in the so-called “zone” at all.
Rather, by Rodgers’ calculations, it was local chiropractor Michael Zoelle, who hustled over to Lambeau Field – after Rodgers woke up in pain at 8:45 Sunday morning – to work on him in the team’s training room, and receivers James Jones, Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley, who spearheaded a YAC-attack that amassed 283 yards after the catch according to ESPN Stats & Information, who’d done the heavy lifting for him on Sunday.
“I didn’t feel great before the game,” explained Rodgers, who tied his former backup Matt Flynn’s franchise record for passing yards in a single game and shattered his own personal bests for regular-season (408 yards vs. Denver in 2011) and postseason (423 yards in an NFC Wild Card loss to Arizona in the 2009 playoffs) production. “My neck was really bothering me; it was stiff. I’ve got to thank my guys in the training room (and) Dr. Zoelle from coming over and giving me an adjustment. Because I was hurting pretty bad.
“I wasn’t feeling great pre-game. But once the adrenaline started going, (I) just kind of got into a rhythm.... It was 480 yards, but how much of that was YAC? Jermichael had an unbelievable play there, how many tackles he broke. James had a great day, obviously, and a lot of yards after the catch. Randall, Jordy – everybody got involved, everybody contributed.”
And that’s exactly the way coach Mike McCarthy wants it. While he may never take his quarterback for granted, he’s seen it happen enough to know that it does happen. And the way McCarthy figures, with Rodgers now in his ninth season and sixth as the starter, it’s up to him to do just what he did Sunday: Win, and get everyone involved in the process.
“Aaron spoils you. He makes it look easy,” said McCarthy, whose team’s 580 total yards on offense were the second-most in team history, behind a 628-yard effort at Philadelphia on Nov. 11, 1962. “He was on point all day. I thought the communication, just all the little things just went right. But he did a great job distributing the football and I thought our perimeter did an outstanding job breaking tackles, extending plays and then generating a lot of big plays.
“Aaron’s a special football player. He’s at the point of his career where he’s about making other people better, pulling everybody up. It’s the ultimate team game. The quarterback position gives you the opportunity, particularly when you have a great one, to lift everybody up. And he definitely did that today.”
In the zone or not, Rodgers had a little something to do with the Packers’ production. After being sacked three times in a four-play span in the first quarter and settling for a field goal at the end of a nearly 7-minute opening drive, Rodgers went into video game mode starting with the Packers’ third offensive series. From Cobb’s 35-yard touchdown catch-and-run on fourth-and-3 to Rodgers’ 14-yard third-down TD strike to Nelson on a post to him rolling, rolling, rolling before throwing a 3-yard touchdown to Finley, the game went from 3-0 to 24-0 in seemingly no time at all.
“Man, that’s just what he does around here – 400, 500, nothing surprises me,” said Jones, who went from being shut out last week by San Francisco to setting career highs in receptions (11) and yards (178) Sunday. “It was good to get involved --- as many targets as I had and as many catches as I had – it’s good getting involved and helping my team win. Our quarterback is trying to get everybody involved. He’s trying to win, we’re trying to win. You’re going to have days like this, you’re going to have days like that.”
By the time Jones turned what would have been another touchdown into a touchback when he lost the ball at the pylon with 9 seconds left in the half, the game had been decided. For good measure, Rodgers added a second touchdown pass to Nelson, who made an incredible leaping 15-yard catch to make it 31-0, then let running back James Starks (20 carries, 132 yards, snapping the team’s 44-game regular-season streak without a 100-yard rusher) do most of the work on the ensuing drive with an 11-yard run to start the series and a 32-yard touchdown to cap it sandwiched around a 37-yard catch by Nelson.
“I felt like I threw the ball accurately, but that was in part due to the fact that we were protected pretty well and guys were getting open. I don’t think this was my best game,” said Rodgers, who set the team’s single-game completion mark with 40-plus attempts by connecting on 81 percent of his passes. “I’m very happy with the accuracy and the way things went in the passing game. But we definitely have things to work on.”
And when the Redskins got garbage-time points and yards to pull within 38-20 with 7:36 to play after McCarthy admitted that he “kind of took my foot off the gas there,” Rodgers hit Jones on a third-and-9 from the Packers’ 14 and successful ran out the rest of the clock, finishing the game with three kneel-downs.
“This is what we expect,” said Cobb, who like Jones set a career best in receiving yards (128) while tying a career high in receptions (nine). “We know how good he is. We know he’s a great quarterback. He’s a tier above the elite in all of our eyes. When he’s putting up numbers like that, we know we have to go out there and do our job and take care of everything that we can to continue to give him those yards.
“I think that goes to show just how great of a quarterback he is. We expect this from him week in and week out, and I think it’s more so on all of us being able to make the plays and pick up the yards for him.”
A week after their third loss in 364 days in their suddenly intense rivalry with the San Francisco 49ers, Sunday wasn’t a must-win game by any stretch of the imagination, but it was important. Having won 26 of their last 28 games at Lambeau Field, and with a daunting trip to Cincinnati up next, the Packers (1-1) needed not only to reassure their passionate fan base that they were still OK, but maybe themselves a bit as well.
“We feel pretty good about ourselves after today,” said McCarthy, who admitted that he didn’t have a great feel for his team coming out of training camp. “Early season is hard. It is for me personally as a coach. You’re never satisfied, but that’s my responsibility – pushing the team, pushing the coaching staff, pushing the support staff. We’ll be better this week.
“I think it’s like any team transitioning out of training camp, it’s not exactly how you want it. The energy is incredible, the guys are working extremely hard, I can’t say enough about the players. There’s a different personality to this football team. All teams have their personality, their way about them. This team has a chance to be really good. It has a lot of football in front of it. We need to continue to grow.”
And Rodgers will be in charge of helping that growth – but it won’t be him alone.
“I like the vibe of this team,” Rodgers said, repeating a line he’d delivered several times throughout the offseason and training camp. “It’s disappointing to go on the road and lose (to the 49ers), but it was a tough football team. There was a good focus this week in practice.
“I think you’re seeing some leaders step up, which is probably the part that’s most fun. You’re seeing guys like Johnny Jolly, B.J. Raji, Randall Cobb, A.J. Hawk kind of having a bigger speaking role. Guys need to hear that. Clay Matthews. Guys that are respected players in the locker room are taking a bigger leadership role, especially vocally. That’s not exactly my forte. I like to lead by example. I’m not a rah-rah guy. But you need some of those energy guys. Guys are stepping up and filling those roles and it’s been very positive for our team.
“I think we just need to settle down a little bit because it’s the second game of the year, we’re 1-1, obviously we’re going to feel good about this performance offensively. We have a tough game next week at Cincinnati and then the bye and then 13 in a row after that. It sets up pretty tough for us, you got to win your home games, but we’re going to enjoy this one and then come in tomorrow and get to work.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.