If there was talk other than Aaron Rodgers’ golden left calf last week – I didn’t hear it.
In seasons past, the Green Bay Packers have won without some of their key players. In fact, a Super Bowl victory was fought and won with 15 guys on inured reserve.
This year, coaches and staff answered the bell big time; the changes made to the routines of the players and the in-week schedules has proven more than effective.
There were maybe … three guys hobbled for Sunday’s Divisional round tilt with “America’s [OLD] Team.”
Unfortunately, one of those three guys was Aaron Rodgers.
A Rodgers injury this late in the season is well worth 15 other guys. So, Packers Nation was again feeling the effects of an ill-timed injury bug, looming to perpetuate the “one-and-done” playoff stereotype to which they have been yoked.
Aaron Rodgers sits with the receiving corps during Sunday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys. Raymond T. Rivard photograph
However, while all others counted him out without his ability to extend plays with his feet … Aaron Rodgers, his coaches and his teammates knew better.
The first half of yesterday’s game was a bit difficult to watch.
Aaron was in pain from the first snap. He limped here, he threw a pass off his one good leg there. He overthrew receivers that he would normally hit in stride and he didn’t get enough on some of the passes for which he is best known.
Aaron Rodgers signals to rookie Davante Adams just prior to a second half play against the Cowboys. Raymond T. Rivard photograph
The one day of practice that he had with his receiving corps started to show; maybe they just weren’t on the same page with their All-Pro QB due to lack of reps during the week.
As with the previous game, a week 17 victory over the Lions, Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers “limped” into the half nurturing some aches and pains; leaving all of America wondering how he will get through 30 more minutes of football.
Down 14-10 at the half and having only registered 90 passing yards on the day, Rodgers took the third and fourth quarters by storm.
He was especially “special” in the fourth, moving around in the pocket like a semblance of his old self. He stepped into throws, he had his usual ZIP on the ball.
He found rookies Davante Adams and Richard Rodgers for crucial scores. Adams came streaming across the field from the slot, a perfectly led ball was placed in his hands as he streaked 49 yards for a touchdown. It was Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb-esque.
When the Packers needed to go up on the Dallas Cowboys late, after pulling within a point, Rodgers stepped up into a collapsing pocket and started to run toward the line of scrimmage.
All of the nation collectively held its breath. He couldn’t possibly be … trying to … run this in?
He took his normal dive out of danger to his left and found Rodgers slightly coming open in the end zone. Rodgers-to-Rodgers – a ball shot out of a canon, between two defenders and perfectly executed.
Aaron did something we hadn’t seen for a long while: he donned the Championship belt, as that go-ahead touchdown put the Packers in the NFC Championship game against the Seattle Seahawks, the reigning champions.
Sam Shields covered Dez Bryant for the majority of Sunday’s game. Raymond T. Rivard photograph
The Cowboys still had a chance to answer, a desperation 31-yard pass to Dez Bryant on fourth and 2 from the Packers 32 yard line was the play that will be talked about all week and for years to come.
Also known colloquially as the “Calvin Johnson Rule,” Bryant did not maintain possession through the entire process of the catch, going to the ground – and what was ruled a catch on the 1-yard line that would have allowed the Cowboys to retake the lead, was overturned.
It was a devastating blow to the Cowboys’ psyche at the end of the game, but with more than 4 minutes yet to play, it was far from over.
Rodgers and the boys took over from the spot of the turnover on downs, needing to run out the clock.
A very effective Eddie Lacy made it a manageable third and 3 – but McCarthy went to his guy – Rodgers – when it mattered most.
Rodgers found rookie Davante Adams for the first down, and the rookie threw his opponent to the turf for a 26-yard catch and run.
It all but sealed the victory for the Packers. An inconceivable, unbelievable, undeniable force had taken over this Green Bay Packers team, and the calf that was heard round the world was walking with just a little bit of SWAG.
Another third down and the Packers needed one conversion to kneel it out and turn their sights on Seattle.
Aaron Rodgers looks downfield for a receiver as the pocket collapses around him. Raymond T. Rivard photograph
With 11 yards needed, Rodgers again took to the air to seal the victory.
And as if the day was destined or special enough already, all circumstances being considered – a wayward (and very tipped) Rodgers’ pass to Jarrett Boykin, turned into a wobbly, soaring, hanging-in-the-air-for-an-ungodly-amount-of-time-floater that was caught by Randall Cobb, diving to the turf.
It was over.
The calf survived, the Packers survived and it was special.
Everything leading them here has been special.
What started in Seattle on that Thursday night in September, is coming back next Sunday.
The Packers feel that they need some closure on Seattle, as they have loomed large for the Packers, dangling the carrot for them since week 3 2012.
Aaron Rodgers gets good protection against the Dallas Cowboys. Raymond T. Rivard photograph
It is time for everyone to get the same feeling that Packers Nation has now: this is just a special team and a special time.
We feel good.
But what about the infamous calf?
Rodgers is nursing it still – but confident he “has 120 minutes left in him.”
On Feb. 2, that calf can R-E-L-A-X for a good, long while.