Good days in Rodgers' neighborhood
Favre's shadow still looms, but his successor proving worthy of the honor
He might not have the star power of a Brett Favre or Tom Brady. He also doesn't have an undefeated team, as is the case with Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. But Rodgers does have a squad that is hitting its stride at the same time he's capping off a Pro Bowl-worthy season. For now, that should be plenty good for the folks in Green Bay.
It's important to mention Rodgers because last season his campaign was all about how he'd handle succeeding Favre as the Packers' starter. This season it's been about something altogether different -- how right Green Bay was to make that move in the first place. For all of Favre's success with the Minnesota Vikings this fall, there's no denying the 26-year-old Rodgers has shown the potential to be an elite quarterback for many years to come. His numbers alone are enough to support that point.
Rodgers has thrown 25 touchdown passes and only seven interceptions this season. His passer rating (103.3) ranks fourth in the league. What he's also displayed is a greater comfort with being the face of a franchise that belonged to Favre for 16 seasons.
"It has been more fun for me in Year 2 [of being the Packers' starter]," said Rodgers, who also leads all quarterbacks with 277 rushing yards. "And the big change has been my leadership role. I felt like I was being counted on more when this year started.
"It was that way last year but there was a different vibe because of everything that happened off the field and the uncertainty. This year there was an expectation that I was supposed to lead and I've really embraced that."
Rodgers was referring to his supporting role in a 2008 summer drama that featured Favre trying to force his way back onto the Packers' roster following his retirement in March of that year. It was a controversy that put Rodgers in an awkward situation from the moment it ensued. At a time when he was preparing for his shot as a starter after three years on the bench, Rodgers was faced with the added pressure of proving why it was time for the organization to cut ties with its greatest quarterback in the first place.
There are those who will say that Minnesota's two victories over Green Bay this year are evidence of the Packers' faulty judgment in that instance. That also would be shortsighted thinking.
What Rodgers revealed last season -- when he threw for 4,038 yards and 28 touchdowns for a team that finished a disappointing 6-10 -- was that he had the stomach to handle the scrutiny that came with replacing Favre. And once he was able to move beyond that year, he was more than ready to make his own mark on the league.
Packers wide receiver Donald Driver can tell that much simply by observing the way Rodgers has grown with each passing week.
"Aaron knows that this isn't going to be anybody else's job now," Driver said. "It belongs to him and when you have that kind of confidence, it's easy to do your job. Following in the footsteps of Brett was tough but Aaron handled it well. He was humble. He was strong. And he proved he could play."
If Rodgers displayed his mental toughness in handling the Favre drama, he's revealed his physical toughness by how he's dealt with challenges this season.
No quarterback in the league endured more abuse than the weekly beatings that Rodgers faced at the start of the season. Of the 45 sacks the Packers have allowed, 38 came in the first nine games. That kind of pain would lead to happy feet and quick triggers in most quarterbacks. Rodgers, however, remained undaunted as the Packers eventually stabilized their shaky offensive line.
That kind of steadiness was one of Rodgers' goals this season, by the way. He knows the difference between top quarterbacks and ordinary ones is the ability to deliver each week.
"Consistency is what I've really been striving for," Rodgers said. "I want the gap between my great games and my average ones to always be shrinking. I was looking at [San Diego quarterback] Philip Rivers' stats and he hasn't had a game this season where he's had a passer rating lower than 84.0. That's a pretty good standard for a consistent quarterback. And that's what I'm trying to get to."
What Rodgers doesn't have to worry about is his ability to inspire his teammates. When the Packers lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Nov. 8 -- a setback that gave the Bucs their only win of the year and dropped Green Bay to 4-4 -- Rodgers was one of the players who spoke loudest about avoiding another disappointing season.
All the Packers have done since that time is rip off four straight wins. All Rodgers has done since then is complete 69.4 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and just two interceptions.
Those kinds of numbers make players like Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings say, "We know we can count on Aaron regardless of the situation."
It's also why Packers head coach Mike McCarthy believes Rodgers has settled into his role as Green Bay's leader. But the most exciting news for the Packers is that Rodgers has transitioned from being a guy who is trying to convince people of his future to being one who is certain that it is as bright as ever.
And from the looks of things, he's laying the foundation for a legacy that shouldn't be too shabby in its own right.
Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com.
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