For now, Rodgers no longer miss­ing

Packer Plus - - COMMENTARY - ROB REISCHEL Send email to ro­breis­chel@gmail.com

Green Bay — My 9-year old daugh­ter is a jokester, a prankster and a fu­ture co­me­dian all rolled into one.

She’s also a foot­ball afi­cionado.

So her worlds col­lided per­fectly as she came home from school with this yarn last month.

“Dad, did you know there was a pic­ture of Aaron Rodgers on my milk car­ton to­day,” she said.

“Re­ally,” I asked. “Why was that?”

“Be­cause he’s been miss­ing all year,” she chuck­led.

It was mid-Oc­to­ber, and my lit­tle comic was right. Rodgers was in the midst of a 17-game funk dat­ing back to 2015 in which his passer rat­ing eclipsed 100.0 just once. His ac­cu­racy had dis­ap­peared. Frus­tra­tion was sky high.

But it ap­pears those milk car­tons can be tossed in the trash. It ap­pears the real Rodgers has been found.

And even though the Pack­ers suf­fered a 33-32 loss in At­lanta on Sun­day and fell to 4-3 on the year, the resur­gence of their one-time MVP quar­ter­back pro­vides hope.

Over the last six quar­ters — two against Chicago and four vs. the Fal­cons — Rodgers has com­pleted a whop­ping 75.0% of his passes (48 of 64). Rodgers had seven touch­downs in that time, no in­ter­cep­tions and a stel­lar quar­ter­back rat­ing of 128.5.

With no real threat of a run­ning game, Rodgers also rushed for a team-high 60 yards against At­lanta. The only draw­back was Rodgers again failed to rally the Pack­ers late, some­thing that has al­ways been his kryp­tonite.

For fans who had grown used to Rodgers putting up video game-like num­bers, it was al­most as if the pre­vi­ous 18 games were a bad dream. And even though the Pack­ers have dug them­selves a hole in the NFC North and the con­fer­ence over­all, if Rodgers is back to be­ing Rodgers, any­thing is cer­tainly pos­si­ble.

“I thought he played ex­tremely well (Sun­day),” Pack­ers coach Mike Mc­Carthy said of Rodgers. “I can’t com­pli­ment him enough.

“I think he did a re­ally good job of tak­ing what they gave us. You break the game down into two halves, they played a zone in the first half and man in the sec­ond half. They tried to chal­lenge us out­side more. The three-man rush, he ex­tended plays and ex­tended plays and ran it for first downs, so that was very im­por­tant.”

Maybe it took run­ning backs drop­ping like flies to get Rodgers back on track. James Starks had knee surgery in mid-Oc­to­ber, then a few days later, Ed­die Lacy suf­fered an an­kle in­jury that landed him on the in­jured re­serve list.

Those in­juries cer­tainly put more on Rodgers’ al­ready jam-packed plate.

On Sun­day, re­ceiver Randall Cobb missed the game with a ham­string in­jury, and re­ceiver-turned-run­ning back Ty Mont­gomery sat out with a kid­ney ail­ment. Just three days ear­lier, the Pack­ers had re­leased lo­cal boy and fan fa­vorite Jared Ab­bred­eris.

Once again, even more of the bur­den fell on Rodgers. And af­ter throw­ing the ball 56 times against Chicago, Rodgers fired 38 passes against At­lanta. Over the last two weeks, Rodgers had a whop­ping 107 drop backs.

But it ap­pears that’s what it took to wake the quar­ter­back from his slum­ber. Be­cause for the sec­ond straight game, Rodgers got the ball out quickly, his ac­cu­racy was much bet­ter, and he was fir­ing darts through a sus­pect At­lanta sec­ondary.

On the other end, young­sters Jeff Ja­nis, Trevor Davis and Geron­imo Al­li­son all de­liv­ered when their num­bers were called.

“Per­son­ally, I’m just re­ally proud of those guys who made plays to­day,” Rodgers said. “We got Jordy (Nel­son) go­ing early with the big com­ple­tion, but we had three touch­down passes — one each to Geroni- mo Al­li­son, who wasn’t on the open­ing-day ros­ter, to Trevor, who’s had lim­ited op­por­tu­ni­ties, and Jeff Ja­nis for the go-ahead touch­down. I’m just so proud of those guys and the way they bat­tled.”

Rodgers will have to bat­tle with a short deck for the fore­see­able fu­ture. Green Bay will likely be short­handed at run­ning back a few more weeks un­til Starks re­turns. The run­ning backs showed noth­ing in At­lanta, and Lacy could be done for the year.

The re­ceiver po­si­tion also re­mains in limbo. Ham­string in­juries are again hit­ting the Pack­ers like colds at a day­care cen­ter, leav­ing Cobb’s sta­tus up in the air. Green Bay will also be ex­tremely cau­tious with Mont­gomery, who was emerg­ing as a force as both a run­ning back and a wide­out.

But the great ones find ways to win when things are bleak. And if the Pack­ers are go­ing to have any chance of re­vers­ing course fol­low­ing a medi­ocre start, Rodgers will have to be con­sis­tently great once again.

“He’s the best quar­ter­back in the game,” Pack­ers cen­ter JC Tret­ter said. “Of course he can be great.”

Green Bay will need Rodgers at his best.

While it’s ex­tremely early, the Pack­ers are one of three teams tied for the No. 5 seed in the NFC. Green Bay has three con­fer­ence losses, though, which could prove tough to over­come when tiebreak­ers come into play.

There’s cer­tainly plenty of time left in the sea­son for Green Bay to catch fire. The sched­ule is far from daunt­ing. And the Pack­ers should get health­ier in the days ahead.

But noth­ing mat­ters as much as Rodgers turn­ing back the clock to 2009-’14. And the quar­ter­back must make sure he doesn’t show up on any milk car­tons again.

WIL­LIAM GLASHEEN / USA TO­DAY NET­WORK-WIS­CON­SIN

Green Bay quar­ter­back Aaron Rodgers crosses the goal line on a 2-point con­ver­sion in the fourth quar­ter of the At­lanta Fal­cons' 33-32 vic­tory over the Pack­ers at the Ge­or­gia Dome in At­lanta on Sun­day.

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