When two heated rivals meet, whether it be in the regular season or postseason play within any league, every play is magnified. It’s no different when the historic rivalry matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears takes place within the friendly confines of both home stadiums. When both clubs lined up against each other in Week 9 at Lambeau Field, it figured to add another ordinary chapter to the long-winded fierceness between the two organizations.
Despite dropping two of the first three contests, quarterback Aaron Rodgers and company reeled off four-straight victories to put themselves in contention for the team’s third-straight NFC North crown. Chicago was supposed to trend backward after a groin injury to quarterback Jay Cutler against the Washington Redskins in Week 7, which prompted several to expect the Pack to roll over the lowly Bears. The only aspect of the game that was a roll over was Green Bay’s short-term dreams of a division championship with Rodgers’ collarbone injury mesmerizing a horrible nightmare for the organization, players and fans alike.
Rodgers returned to the field for the first time since the injury in the regular season finale at Soldier Field and added further to the narrative. After roughly 59 minutes of grind-it-out football, the former Cal Golden Bears‘ pocket passer found wide receiver Randall Cobb for a 48-yard connection to secure the franchise’s seventh NFC North title and third in as many years.
That wild play accurately exhibits everything Rodgers brings to the team — vision downfield, a strong arm and the ability to escape would-be tacklers (thanks to a picturesque chip block by fullback John Kuhn on Julius Peppers off the edge) — and is something everyone around the league should expect to see more and more of in 2014.
After his dominant MVP season in 2011 in which he completed 68 percent of passes for 4,643 yards with 45 touchdowns and only six interceptions, the Pleasant Valley High School product’s numbers slipped ever so slightly from that point on. His completion percentage dropped in successive years, even if it was only by one and two percentage points, respectively.
The ensuing touchdown-interception ratio still put him in the top tier of starting quarterbacks, but throwing for 268.4 yards per game in 2012 did not match up with the standards set for Green Bay’s leader. In fact, the outlying performance trailed seven other quarterbacks that year and was the lowest during a full 16-game slate since his first year as a starter in 2008.
However, the minimal shortcomings cannot be solely put on Rodgers’ shoulders. The offensive line was atrocious in 2012, ranking 28th in sack percentage. (The argument can certainly be made that Rodgers was largely responsible for the unit’s lackluster play by holding onto the ball for a second too long on numerous occasions.)
The running game was anything but a proven commodity. And other skill players on the offensive side of the ball succumbed to a combination of nagging and significant injuries over the two-year stretch while Greg Jennings ditched the green and gold during 2013’s open-market season for a considerable salary bump with the Minnesota Vikings.
The 2014 campaign has a different feel to it. The big boys in the trenches have finally seemed to find their identity with a much-improved 2013 stat line, registering a 59 percent sack percentage, and will be given a boost with the return of Bryan Bulaga to shore up the right tackle position. The prolific combination of Eddie Lacy and James Starks brought forth a ground-and-pound-with-quickness running style that hasn’t made its way to Green Bay since 2009. Jordy Nelson and Cobb, when healthy, will only continue to grow into their elite playmaking status. Plus, Mike McCarthy‘s offense boasts ample secondary options in the passing game with Jarrett Boykin and Myles White.
At the end of the day, when Rodgers is at his best, the numbers and accolades come with it, and it’s foolish to disregard the notion of him having another MVP-type season, just like it was foolish for those who thought No.12 wouldn’t make a play in the clutch in Week 17.