GREEN BAY, Wis. — On the list of Aaron Rodgers’ accomplishments in three seasons as the Green Bay Packers’ starting quarterback, one stands out as being something that really didn’t seem possible when he first took over as the starter.
He made Brett Favre an afterthought in Green Bay.
Going into Sunday’s NFC championship game against the Bears in Chicago, Rodgers is the undisputed face of the Packers and his success in the playoffs is winning over almost anyone who still had doubts about his place among the NFL’s elite quarterbacks.
“I think he’s definitely the quarterback we all hoped he would become,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “He was a young talented quarterback, had a very bright future, and now we’re in year three of his development and he’s definitely developed into a special player.
“He does it the right way. He’ll break them down physically, mentally. He’s in a great rhythm right now.”
He certainly made a believer out of veteran Packers receiver Donald Driver.
“I love him,” Driver said. “I don’t know if you can put words to it but he’s playing like one of the best quarterbacks in the game, if not the best.”
Rodgers might not have made the Pro Bowl this season, but there’s no shortage of praise coming his way after a dominant performance in last Saturday’s playoff rout of Atlanta. Rodgers has been particularly sharp since he sustained his second concussion of the season and sat out the Packers’ Dec. 19 loss at New England.
Bears linebacker Lance Briggs said he isn’t bothered by all the attention on Rodgers.
“No, that’s all it is, it’s a sign of respect for what the Packers and Aaron Rodgers have been able to do,” Briggs said. “They have been doing a lot of that this whole year. Credit is due.”
Rodgers appreciates the praise from fellow players, fans and pundits, but doesn’t think he deserves it — not yet.
“We have to put some more hardware around here,” Rodgers said.
It once seemed as if Rodgers would never escape comparisons with Favre. But with No. 4 now retired — perhaps even for good this time — Rodgers finally is free.
Favre interjected himself into the conversation about the Bears-Packers rivalry this week, telling ESPN in an email that Rodgers is “the best” quarterback remaining in the playoffs and paying compliments to the Packers’ receivers and defence.
“I think they will win it all! I hope they do, if you are wondering,” Favre said in his email to the network.
Some fans snickered throughout Wisconsin. No, they really weren’t wondering.
When asked about Favre’s comment, Rodgers’ response was upbeat but brief.
“Any time I’m getting a comment like that from somebody who’s had a ton of success in the NFL, it’s quite an honour,” Rodgers said.
And that’s about the most Rodgers and the Packers have said about their former quarterback in recent weeks.
With the Packers still scrambling to make the playoffs in December, somebody asked Rodgers whether his apprenticeship under Favre helped or hurt his career.
“I’ll be honest with you, man, I’ve answered that question a gazillion times,” Rodgers said then. “So I don’t really want to go back into that. Especially not this week.”
And after the Packers beat the Vikings at the Metrodome in November, McCarthy was asked whether his team might finally be rid of the Favre-driven circus.
“I’m rid of it; you need to get rid of it,” McCarthy said at the time.
Rodgers hit the toughest stretch of his season a few weeks after that Vikings game, sustaining his second concussion of the season against Detroit and sitting out against New England. Rodgers said he was proud of the way backup Matt Flynn played against the Patriots, but missed playing himself.
“When you go from being a backup for three years to the starter, you just relish those opportunities,” Rodgers said. “And when it gets kind of taken away from you, it’s just really tough to not be able to get back in the game.”
Rodgers has been hotter than ever since returning, leading the Packers to back-to-back wins to make the playoffs. His standout play has continued in the postseason.
“Aaron is a very consistent player and it probably stems from his personality,” McCarthy said. “He is clearly one of the most consistent quarterbacks that I have had the opportunity to work with.
“He is the same person every day. He doesn’t swing with the highs and lows of how the season is going or how our practice is going, and I think it really carries over to the playing field.”