Of course, this was Ted Thompson’s point all along, that the Green Bay Packers would be far, far better off without Brett Favre. And so now the Packers are Super Bowl champions again by virtue of their 31-25 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers last night in Super Bowl XLV, a game that closed the door on Favre forever and officially opened the book on the next great star in the NFL.
The Packers have their Steve Young, it turns out, but here’s the thing: theirs is a good deal younger than the original. Young was 30 when he became a starter in the NFL, 33 when he won his first and only Super Bowl. Rodgers will play virtually all of next season at 27 and already has won as many titles as his predecessor, who must have watched yesterday’s game draped in the black and gold of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Favre always has been about Favre, after all.
At the end, in Green Bay especially, it was far more about him than it was about them.
And so as the NFL heads into the offseason amid great labor uncertainty, let there be no doubt about which franchise stands to lose the most: the Packers. Green Bay is coming off a Super Bowl. The Packers have one of the youngest teams in the NFL. Their quarterback is now entering his prime years liberated from the burden of having to be Favre’s successor, elements that cannot help but make you wonder about Green Bay’s potential for greatness in years to come and about the shift almost certain to take place in the NFL.
Rodgers and 28-year-old Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger may yet meet again, but the clock is ticking much faster on men like Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and, yes, Tom Brady.
Fact: in the Super Bowl era, among quarterbacks with at least five games played and 100 pass attempts, Rodgers now has the highest postseason passer rating of all-time. He also has the highest completion percentage. Those numbers obviously are slightly deceiving given the evolutionary changes in what has become a pass-happy NFL, but they also indicate a disturbing truth if you are a fan in New Orleans, Indianapolis or New England.
Aaron Rodgers is no longer just the future of the Packers and the NFL.
He is the present, too.
Amusing, isn’t it? Entering this postseason, one of the biggest questions in Green Bay concerned Rodgers’ ability to win in the playoffs, as if he were Dan Marino. During his three years as a starter for Green Bay, Rodgers had made one career postseason start, that coming in a 51-45 loss to the Arizona Cardinals in the wildcard round. In that game, Rodgers completed 28 of 42 passes for 423 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. He had a rating of 121.4 and also ran for a score. Had the Packers defense been merely a shell then of what it is now, Green Bay might have advanced to the next round of the playoffs.
Instead, Rodgers was left with a career postseason record of 0-1, proof that wins and losses are a team statistic, not an individual one.
Now Rodgers is 4-1, the Vince Lombardi trophy in his grasp and a symbolic championship belt wrapped around his waist. In his five career postseason starts, Rodgers has had a rating of 111.5 or better in four of them. He has thrown 13 touchdown passes and rushed for as many TDs as he has thrown interceptions (three). Rodgers one flaw might be that he holds onto the ball too long and makes himself vulnerable to unnecessary hits, but there is little else he fails to achieve on the football field.
Think about it: Rodgers is every bit as mobile as Roethlisberger, if not more so. He is every bit as accurate as Brady. He has arm strength and smarts that at least rival those of Manning, and he has it all out there in front of him, the chance now to win multiple Super Bowls and become one of the truly special talents at one of the most exclusive positions in sports.
If you are a team like the Patriots – or a merely a New England follower – all of this can only make you wonder what might have been. Like Rodgers, Brady was merely 27 when the Patriots last won a Super Bowl, against the Philadelphia Eagles in February 2005. A great deal has changed since. The Pats have since let seasons and potential titles slip through their grasp, from 2006 to 2007 to, perhaps, this season. At the start of next season, Brady will be 34. The Pats are still looking for their successor to Brady, their Steve Young, as the sand slides through the hourglass. And as Brady creeps toward the end of his career, along with Manning and Brees and others, one cannot help but wonder about the shift in balance of power in the parity-driven NFL.
As Aaron Rodgers ascends, we must ask whether we are witnessing the start of a changing of the guard.
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