Polzin: Aaron Rodgers shows once again why the Packers would be wise to delay the Jordan Love era
What's becoming more and more obvious with each game is that Gutekunst should do everything he can to make sure Rodgers is still the team's starting quarterback when the 2022 season rolls around.
GREEN BAY — Those fans who had delayed their departure from Lambeau Field on Saturday, Dec. 25, were serenading Aaron Rodgers with chants of "MVP, MVP, MVP" as he was being interviewed on the field after the game.
Homer opinions, to be sure, but that doesn't make them wrong: Rodgers continues to make a strong case that he should be the NFL's Most Valuable Player for the fourth time in his career while simultaneously making it more and more difficult for Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst to move on from the veteran quarterback following the 2021 season.
Rodgers threw three touchdown passes during the Packers' too-close-for-comfort 24-22 victory over the Cleveland Browns in a Christmas matinee, becoming the franchise's all-time leader in that category when he connected with Allen Lazard for an 11-yard score in the first quarter.
From there, Rodgers found his favorite target, Davante Adams, for a pair of touchdowns in the second quarter to help the Packers build a 21-12 halftime cushion that would come in handy when things got hairy for them in the fourth quarter.
While the offense stalled after a field goal to open the second half, that was mostly due to factors that had nothing to do with Rodgers: An end around that got one drive off to a rotten start, some questionable play-calling by coach Matt LaFleur and a big drop by Adams on a perfectly placed deep throw from his quarterback.
Packers get past Browns as Aaron Rodgers sets franchise TD mark Green Bay (12-3) stayed atop the NFC with the win, sealing the outcome when Rasul Douglas intercepted Baker Mayfield with 43 seconds left at the Packers' 40. It was Douglas' second pick of the day.
Despite all of that, Rodgers still finished 24 of 34 for 202 yards with a rating of 115.1, continuing a five-game surge in which he's thrown 16 touchdowns without an interception to become — with all due apologies to Tom Brady and our very own former University of Wisconsin hero, Jonathan Taylor — the front-runner for another MVP.
It was going to be impossible for Rodgers to match a spectacular 2020 season in which he ran away with the honor after getting 44 of the 50 votes. Rodgers registered career bests with 48 touchdown passes and a sparkling completion percentage of 70.7 last season, finishing with 4,299 passing yards and only five interceptions.
Through 13 starts this season — he missed a loss at Kansas City in November after testing positive for COVID-19 — Rodgers has thrown for 3,689 yards with 33 touchdowns and four interceptions while completing 68.0% of his attempts. All with a broken pinkie toe, mind you, an injury that was healing pretty well until Rodgers' foot got stepped on a couple times in the first half against the Browns.
There's a lot to like about those numbers, but what jumps out immediately is the low interception total. That's always been a trademark of Rodgers' game, but his ability to avoid mistakes never should be taken for granted.
Lazard stumbled upon a stat graphic in the days leading up to the game against Cleveland and couldn't help but be amazed how much of a disparity there was between Rodgers' interception total and that of Brett Favre, whose career passing touchdown record was tied by Rodgers last week and broken against the Browns.
Favre, in 253 career starts with the Packers, threw 442 touchdowns with 286 interceptions.
Rodgers, through 204 starts, now has 445 touchdowns and only 93 interceptions.
"Just to have those statistics is just so crazy and the fact that he had to sit on the bench for the first (three years) of his career, and for him to still reach that number, like, c'mon, that's greatness," Lazard said. "That's greatness, for sure."
The Packers have had an edge at quarterback in almost every game they've played for years — sometimes a huge advantage — but the matchup with the Browns provided another case study in the disparity between these teams at that position.
While Rodgers was making throws into tight windows at times while avoiding big mistakes, his counterpart was the gift that kept on giving. Cleveland's Baker Mayfield threw four interceptions, three of which came in the first half and were completely avoidable: An overthrow into double coverage; a ball that sailed over his intended receiver and into the hands of Chandon Sullivan; and a throw off his back foot that was picked off by Rasul Douglas.
Mayfield would have had another interception had rookie cornerback Eric Stokes not dropped another gift-wrapped ball early in the fourth quarter.
Rodgers, meanwhile, hasn't thrown an interception since the second half against Seattle on Nov. 14, a string of 187 attempts without one.
"We're fortunate to have a guy like him that is able to make, not only the decisions but just throw with such accuracy," LaFleur said after his regular-season record climbed to 38-9. "It's unbelievable."
What's becoming more and more obvious with each game is that Gutekunst should do everything he can to make sure Rodgers is still the team's starting quarterback when the 2022 season rolls around. Jordan Love can wait another season ... or two ... or longer.
A great quarterback makes all the difference for a team and they're hard to find. Just look at the opposing sidelines on Saturday: The Browns drafted Mayfield with the No. 1 overall pick in 2018 and, three seasons later, Cleveland has a player who's nowhere near Rodgers in terms of production or poise.
"The thing is, Aaron breaks so many records," Lazard said. "Literally every week, I get on Instagram (on) Monday morning, they're always posting some new record Aaron's breaking. For us, in a sense, it's another day at the office.
"Obviously, this one's a bigger milestone in that sense; for him to be able to get that franchise title was huge and everything but there wasn't too much discussion on what to do or who was going to get it, what the play was going to be. I think that's just kind of what makes the game beautiful is that you just never know with football. You don't know the coverage you're going to get. You can call whatever play. You can scheme it up however you want, but you just never know what the other side of the ball is going to do."
Maybe not, but the Packers have a pretty good idea what Rodgers is going to do when they line up each week: Play at an MVP level.
Contact Jim Polzin at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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