Rodgers closes in on 4th MVP

QB more focused on winning Super Bowl
Bill Huber

When Aaron Rodgers won his first MVP in 2011, it was the culmination of a professional journey that started with his unforgettable plunge deep into the first round of the 2005 draft to his rise to the summit of the NFL.

When Rodgers won his second MVP in 2014, it put his stamp on Hall of Fame credentials.

When Rodgers won his third MVP in 2020, it marked his return to the pinnacle of the NFL after a couple so-so seasons.

What of Rodgers’ potential fourth MVP?

“I don’t think you can be the biggest jerk in the league and punish your team and your organization and your fan base the way he did and be the Most Valuable Player,” MVP voter and Pro Football Weekly editor Hub Arkush said on Chicago radio station 670 AM. “I think he’s a bad guy, and I don’t think a bad guy can be the most valuable guy at the same time.”

A “jerk” to some but beloved by his teammates, Rodgers has turned in another phenomenal season. After throwing two interceptions in the week one loss against New Orleans, Rodgers threw 37 touchdowns vs. two interceptions in his final 15 games. He ended the season ranked No. 1 in the league in passer rating, touchdown percentage and interception percentage, a feat accomplished in the Super Bowl era only Rodgers last season, Tom Brady in 2010, Steve Young in 1992 and Ken Anderson in 1981.

He threw at least two touchdowns with zero interceptions in his last seven games, the second-longest streak in NFL history. It was his 13th game with those credentials this season, an NFL record. In NFL history, there have been four seasons of at least 11 games of two touchdowns and zero picks: Rodgers in 2021, Rodgers in 2020, Rodgers in 2014 and Brady in 2010.

It’s all absurd as Rodgers appears poised to win his fourth MVP exactly one decade after winning his first.

Physically, he still throws the ball as well as anyone in the NFL. Mentally, he’s leaps-and-bounds better than he was in 2011 through more than 10,000 additional game reps and countless numbers of practices and film sessions.

“The physical part is an interesting one because, obviously, I don’t run as much as I used to — less scrambles, less scramble drills, less touchdowns outside the pocket, I would assume, based on that year,” Rodgers said last week. “I think the older you get, the smarter you have to get in a number of different areas. Obviously, the experience gives you a lot of banked memories you can draw from.”

Physically, Rodgers has adapted to stay ahead of Father Time. Former coach Mike McCarthy used to say that a quarterback is done when his legs are shot. That stuck with Rodgers.

“Just from a physical standpoint, I probably weighed between 225 and 230 the majority of the season in 2011, and I’ve been between 215 and 220 in the majority of this season, so that 10 pounds has made a big difference for me,” he said.

“It’s allowed me to still move in the pocket, to still keep legs. I rededicated myself in the weight room to squats, which has been really important. I haven’t had the knee problems that I even had 10 years ago, which has been great. Just playing smarter, smarter with diet and body maintenance off the field has been important to still play at a high level. But the greatest asset is the experience and the banked memories and just the ability to play on instincts so often on game day.”

Here’s a comparison of Rodgers’ MVP seasons:

• 2014 (fourth-best of his MVP seasons): Rodgers’ passer rating of 112.2 trailed only Dallas’ Tony Romo and ranks 17th in NFL history. He threw 38 touchdowns vs. only five interceptions as the Packers went 7-1 after getting crushed at New Orleans. Jordy Nelson caught 98 passes for a franchise-record 1,519 yards and 13 touchdowns, Randall Cobb had his best season with 91 receptions for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns and a rookie named Davante Adams chipped in 38 catches for 446 yards and three scores.

• 2021 (third): Rodgers’ passer rating of 111.9 led the NFL and ranks 20th in NFL history. The Packers once again won 13 games despite All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari missing the first 16 games and the losses of Pro Bowl left guard Elgton Jenkins and rising tight end Robert Tonyan to torn ACLs. The passing game revolved almost wholly around Adams, whose 123 receptions were almost as many as the next three players on the team combined. Adams had 1,040 more receiving yards than anyone else, as well.

• 2011 (second): Rodgers set the NFL record with a passer rating of 122.5, a mark that has held up for a decade. He threw 45 touchdowns vs. six interceptions as the Packers scored the second-most points in NFL history and finished 15-1. It was a star-studded group of pass catchers. Led by Nelson’s 68 receptions for 1,263 yards and 15 touchdowns, the Packers had five players with at least 37 receptions and six touchdowns (receivers Nelson, Greg Jennings, James Jones and Donald Driver and tight end Jermichael Finley). It was a group so good that rookie Cobb finished just seventh in catches.

• 2020 (first): Rodgers had arguably the best quarterbacking season in football history. His passer rating of 121.5 led the NFL and is the second-best in the NFL history. Rodgers joined one of his mentors, Steve Young, as the only quarterback since 1940 to lead the NFL in passer rating, touchdown percentage, interception percentage and completion percentage in the same season.

Rodgers threw 48 touchdowns vs. five interceptions in 2020 despite having only one consistently reliable receiving threat, Adams, who had more than twice as many receptions and almost twice as many receiving yards as anyone else on the roster. With Rodgers’ passer rating rising by 26.1 points compared to 2019, the Packers averaged 8.3 more points per game.

Of course, the Packers didn’t win the Super Bowl after each of Rodgers’ first three MVP seasons. In fact, no NFL MVP has won a Super Bowl since the Rams’ Kurt Warner in 1999. Entering the playoffs, Rodgers knows what’s at stake. In the locker room after the loss at Detroit, he reminded his teammates.

“The fact is it’s win or go home at this point,” Rodgers said after the game. “We have a little over a month left in the season. Let’s make sure we’re thinking about the right things, doing the right things, focused on the end goal.”

That goal is winning the Super Bowl. Rodgers led the Packers to a championship in 2010. Year after year, the team has been in position to win another. Year after year, it’s fallen short. Even if Rodgers returns in 2022, getting in this position again won’t be easy given the team’s massive salary cap problems.

“The coach is always going to keep you as blindered as possible with a narrow focus,” he continued. “But I do believe in the power of manifestation and the power of speaking things into existence. I encourage the guys all the time to start dreaming about what it would feel like to be on that stage.

“I don’t think that’s overlooking an opponent. I just think that’s more of the visualization process to picture yourself in those situations playing in the Super Bowl. That’s the focus every single year and now it’s right in front of us. We’ve got homefield advantage, we’ve got a week off and I think that needs to be on the guys’ minds moving forward.”