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.

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