PETE DOUGHERTY

Packer Plus - - NEWS - Pete Dougherty Note: NFL Grapevine, which nor­mally fills this space, will re­turn next week.

Aaron Rodgers leads Pack­ers to mem­o­rable vic­tory

Green Bay — The Green Bay Pack­ers’ sea­son flashed be­fore their eyes.

When Aaron Rodgers crum­pled on the turf at Lam­beau Field in the sec­ond quar­ter af­ter tak­ing an awk­ward hit to his legs, then rode a cart to the locker room a lit­tle later, the pos­si­bil­ity that the Pack­ers’ sea­son was over be­fore it had barely started looked very real.

But it wasn’t. In­stead, Rodgers jogged out of the tun­nel on his in­jured knee for the sec­ond half and gave a vir­tu­oso per­for­mance that will go down as one of the most mem­o­rable games of his fu­ture Pro Foot­ball Hall of Fame ca­reer.

In case any­one was won­der­ing, Rodgers showed why the Pack­ers signed him to a con­tract ex­ten­sion that will pay him $67 mil­lion in this cal­en­dar year alone. Lim­ited though he was to a pocket passer af­ter the in­jury, he still slung the ball around the field, made play af­ter play, and brought the Pack­ers from 20 points down for a 24-23 win over the Chicago Bears.

“He’s spe­cial,” Bears new coach Matt Nagy said. “We all know that. So you have to tip your hat to him. What a hell of a com­peti­tor.”

This is what great quar­ter­backs do, and why Rodgers and Tom Brady are worth just about any­thing their teams are will­ing to pay them. It brought back mem­o­ries of the Brett Favre era, when Favre on sev­eral oc­ca­sions got off the deck and played games when it looked like he couldn’t, and won games that looked lost.

Rodgers even men­tioned how play­ing be­hind Favre for three sea­sons showed him what an in­valu­able trait tough­ness is for a quar­ter­back in this league. It doesn’t guar­an­tee the Pack­ers will have a great sea­son — it’s only Week 1, and there will be plenty of ups and downs. But when the quar­ter­back comes through when he’s hob­bled and his team is down, it does fil­ter down through the ros­ter and help es­tab­lish a team’s char­ac­ter.

Tal­ent, of course, is huge, and Rodg- ers has as much throw­ing tal­ent as any­one who’s ever played this game. But foot­ball also is a bat­tle of wills, and this kind of dis­play of will from the most im­por­tant player on the team, it’s hard to over­state what a pro­found ex­am­ple it sets for a team.

“This is what we’re paid to do,” Rodgers said. “We’re paid to deal with in­juries and play through ’em. That’s what every­body is do­ing and will be do­ing through­out this sea­son. That’s the mea­sure of a team­mate, is what are you will­ing to put on the line for your team. And, to me, it’s a no-brainer.”

Rodgers and the Pack­ers aren’t say­ing what the in­jury is, but ob­vi­ously it’s not a torn ACL, or he never would have re­turned. The ques­tion now is whether he’ll be able to play next week against Min­nesota, and if so, how well af­ter the in­jury swells up overnight. He told a na­tional TV au­di­ence im­me­di­ately af­ter the game that he’s play­ing next week, and then in his news con­fer­ence af­ter­ward re­it­er­ated, “I plan on play­ing.”

As­sum­ing he does take the field, he will be lim­ited, at least for sev­eral weeks. Rodgers clearly couldn’t scram­ble in the sec­ond half Sun­day and even had some trou­ble mov­ing around in the pocket. He also played from the pis­tol and shot­gun so he wouldn’t have to drop back from cen­ter.

That’s the player he’ll be next week against the Vik­ings, who fig­ure to be one of the NFL’s best de­fenses again this sea­son af­ter lead­ing the league in fewest points and yards al­lowed last year. Not to men­tion that they’re the team last year that knocked Rodgers out for two months with a bro­ken col­lar­bone.

The Pack­ers would much rather have Rodgers at full strength be­cause of his play­mak­ing abil­ity out­side the pocket. But his lim­ited mo­bil­ity isn’t all bad, or at least wasn’t Sun­day night, be­cause it forced the Pack­ers into a quick-hit­ting pass­ing game that helped them get in a rhythm af­ter a first half that was hor­ri­ble even when Rodgers was play­ing.

“Got to get the ball out,” Rodgers said. “Can’t be mov­ing around a whole lot back there.”

Af­ter putting up a 50.3 rat­ing be­fore leav­ing the game in the first half, Rodgers in the sec­ond half put up a 152.7 rat­ing while ba­si­cally throw­ing all arm and no legs. That in­cluded a per­fect deep shot to Geron­imo Al­li­son for a 39-yard TD, a 51-yard com­ple­tion to Da­vante Adams that set up an­other score, and a short dart that Ran­dall Cobb turned into the game-win­ning 75-yard score.

Con­trast that with Mitch Tru­bisky, the Bears’ sec­ond-year quar­ter­back. He played OK but by the fourth quar­ter was sim­ply over­matched. While Rodgers was putting the ball on the money even though he couldn’t move, Tru­bisky was scram­bling for the oc­ca­sional first down but then miss­ing throws in the fourth quar­ter that could have won the game in the fi­nal two min­utes.

As much as mo­bil­ity helps quar­ter­backs in this league, in the end it’s the throw­ing arm that mat­ters. Even one­legged, Rodgers vs. Tru­bisky was an epic mis­match with the game on the line.

“I’ve seen (Rodgers) do it from afar, you know what I mean?” said Marcedes Lewis, who at age 34 is in his first sea­son with the Pack­ers. “But I’ve never been a part of it. Just his com­mand and, you know, him kind of just tak­ing over and tak­ing con­trol and ba­si­cally do­ing what he sees. It’s crazy.”

To win a game that looked lost, and to avoid an in­jury dis­as­ter at quar­ter­back, well, every­body from team pres­i­dent Mark Mur­phy on down will have slept well Sun­day night in­stead of see­ing the sea­son blow up in Week 1. Imag­ine be­ing Brian Gutekunst and watch­ing the fran­chise get carted off the field, only to re­turn and de­liver an im­prob­a­ble vic­tory in your first game as GM.

Coach Mike McCarthy’s charge now is to make sure his team doesn’t squan­der this spe­cial vic­tory. Favre, for in­stance, led a mem­o­rable come­back against Oak­land in the 1999 opener, but that sea­son ended at 8-8, which cost coach Ray Rhodes his job. Noth­ing go­ing for­ward is guar­an­teed.

But for a night, at least, all is well in Pack­er­land. This re­ally was an ex­traor­di­nary way to open this fran­chise’s 100th sea­son. Much more im­por­tant, though, will be how it fin­ishes.

MARK HOFF­MAN / JOUR­NAL SEN­TINEL

Train­ers talk with Aaron Rodgers af­ter his knee was in­jured in the sec­ond quar­ter. He re­turned to lead a stun­ning come­back.

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