Bennett gives Rodgers a different dimension on offense
— For The Win, a website published by USA TODAY ( ftw.usatoday.com), recently ranked the Top 20 quarterbacks in NFL history. Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers checked in at No. 14, five spots behind Bart Starr and 10 back of Brett Favre.
Both ESPN and Athlon Sports recently ranked Rodgers at No. 10.
At 33 years old and still playing at an extremely high level, Rodgers has time to jump many of the all-time greats ahead of him on these lists. But there’s really only one surefire way to do it.
“He needs another ring or two,” one NFC executive said last month. “It’s that simple.
“All those passing numbers are great, but it’s about rings. If he gets another one, he’ll be right there with some of the all-timers.”
Rodgers was written off by many midway through the 2016 season following a bizarre and inexplicable stretch of mediocre play.
Rodgers went a career-long 14 games with a quarterback rating below 100.0 between Week 8 of 2015 through Week 3 of 2017. Rodgers went 17 games without throwing for 300 yards. And, Rodgers was a huge reason Green Bay was an unsightly 4-6 in late November last season.
At that point, though, Rodgers had the fearlessness to say the Packers could “run the table.” Rodgers then proceeded to play arguably the best football of his Hall of Fame career while leading the Packers to the NFC Championship Game.
In the process, any talk of Rodgers being on the downside of his career quickly vanished.
“It's a leap of faith at that time,” Rodgers said. “You're confident in your players and yourself. But obviously a lot has to happen.” A lot did happen for Rodgers. Over the final seven regular-season games, Rodgers threw 18 touchdowns and no interceptions. Rodgers had a passer rating of at least 108.9 in six of those seven games, and his overall rating in that stretch was 120.0.
Rodgers completed 168 of 241 passes (69.7%) for 2,018
yards and averaged 8.4 yards per passing attempt in that stretch. And Rodgers finished the year with the second-most touchdowns (40) and third-most passing yards (4,428) of his career.
Rodgers then played extremely well in playoff wins over the New York Giants (125.2 rating) and Dallas (96.6). But his slow start in the NFC Championship Game played a large role in the Packers being routed by Atlanta.
“Every year is new,” Packers quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt said of Rodgers carrying his 2016 finish into 2017. “We’d like to say yeah, it should, but we were 4-6 at one point and we weren’t playing very well and he had a heck of a stretch down the (end of the) season. So nothing is guaranteed, every year is different.
“But you would like to think (so), that we’d like to keep it rolling. But it’s NFL football. Like I said, every year is different, every team is different. Different parts to it, different players, different scheme, maybe additions here or there, but I think I feel pretty good about where he is and where he’ll start off the season.”
Rodgers will turn 34 in December, but still moves extremely well. In fact, Rodgers ran for a career-high 369 yards last season and was Green Bay’s secondleading rusher.
Rodgers has an arm that still rivals any quarterback. After having major accuracy issues for roughly a full season, his accuracy returned during the second half of the 2016 season. And Rodgers’ football I.Q. and memory have few peers.
Now, what Rodgers must do to elevate himself among the all-time greats is put together another postseason like the one he produced in 2010. That season, Rodgers led the Packers to four straight playoff wins — including a victory over Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XLV— threw nine touchdowns, two interceptions and posted a 109.8 passer rating.
Rodgers has led Green Bay to eight consecutive postseasons. But he’s never played as well as he did in the 2010 playoffs.
In 2011, the Packers were coming off a 15-1 regular season and were an 8-point favorite against the New York Giants in the divisional playoffs. But Rodgers had a passer rating of just 78.5 and completed only 56.5% of his throws and the Giants stunned the Packers, 37-20.
In 2012, Rodgers couldn’t keep up with San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers hammered the Packers, 45-31, in the divisional playoffs.
In 2013, Rodgers was returning from a broken collarbone and threw for just 177 yards and one touchdown in a 23-20 home loss to San Francisco in the wild-card round.
In 2014, Rodgers was outstanding in a divisional playoff win over Dallas (125.4 rating). But Rodgers threw a pair of costly interceptions and had a paltry 55.8 passer rating when the Packers blew a late 19-7 lead and eventually lost the NFC Championship Game in Seattle.
In 2015, Rodgers’ passer rating was 77.9 in a 26-20 divisional playoff loss at Arizona.
And after two stellar playoff games in 2016, Rodgers was off his game during the NFC Championship Game in Atlanta. In the first half, Rodgers had a passer rating of 65.6, threw one interception and no touchdowns and was a big reason why the Packers trailed at halftime, 24-0.
Rodgers now has a 9-7 record in the postseason. And if he hopes to someday be discussed with players like Tom Brady, Joe Montana and Peyton Manning, he needs to be better in January and February.
“What separates the really good quar- terbacks and the all-time great quarterbacks is championships,” the executive said. “Always has, always will. If (Rodgers) gets another one, he’ll climb a few more notches on any list you want to throw out there.”
No. 2 Brett Hundley faces a critical training camp.
After excelling during the summer of 2015, Hundley battled an ankle injury during training camp last year and played just 20 snaps in exhibition games. Hundley then completed just 2 of 10 passes during mop-up time and finished the year with a rating of 0.0.
The Packers spent a fifth-round draft pick on Hundley in 2015. If he has a big training camp, Green Bay might try trading him during the off-season in 2018 and get a healthy return on its investment.
“Good young player, a lot of talent,” Van Pelt said of Hundley. “A lot of ability in his body. He’s catching up mentally now. He should have a fine camp moving forward, that’s what I totally expect.”
Joe Callahan made the roster last year as an undrafted free agent. Callahan was released in mid-October, resigned to the practice squad on Dec. 2 and promoted to the active roster on Dec. 17.
The Packers have traditionally kept just two quarterbacks under general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy. So Callahan will have his work cut out for him to make the final 53 again.
“He’s growing,” Van Pelt said of Callahan. “His footwork has gotten a lot better, understanding of the offense has gotten better in his second year. Just continue to do that and then show it in the preseason when he gets to play.”
Taysom Hill, a 26-year-old, undrafted free agent from BYU, is hoping to surprise and find a home in Green Bay.
“Taysom’s done a nice job,” Van Pelt said. “Came in, worked really hard this spring to pick up the offense. I think he’s moving in the right direction. He’s shown some good progress.”
Packers QB Aaron Rodgers
Brett Hundley (second from left) is the backup to starter Aaron Rodgers (left) while Joe Callahan and Taysom Hill (8) will battle for roster spots. Callahan made the roster last year as an undrafted free agent.