ARLINGTON (AP) – Aaron Rodgers celebrated his first Super Bowl scoring pass by simply raising both arms in the familiar signal for “Touchdown!” before briefly embracing an offensive lineman.
After his next two touchdown tosses, Rodgers slowly meandered to the end zone to pat his receiver on the shoulder.
Quite clearly, Rodgers is no Brett Favre. Didn’t pretend to be him. Doesn’t need to worry about emulating him. Rodgers does things his way: He’s a quarterback who boasts California cool and precision passing, a generally laid-back guy who does not engage in the sort of wild, high-risk throws or leaping, helmet-smacking, post-TD displays Favre made famous.
And now Rodgers owns as many Super Bowl victories as Favre does, along with an honor No. 4 never claimed: MVP of the big game. Rodgers completed 24 of 39 passes for 304 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions Sunday night to lead the Packers to a 31-25 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, giving Green Bay its first NFL championship since Favre’s in January 1997.
“Aaron is Aaron. Aaron and Brett are two totally different quarterbacks,” said Greg Jennings, who caught two TD passes. “Aaron brings a lot of great things to the table. Obviously, Brett — he set his own legacy. He laid down his own legacy. I say, let Aaron form his own legacy and let him be Aaron.”
That’s right. Now there is absolutely no need to bring up Ol’ What’s His Name ever again. Rodgers brought a title to Titletown USA, too.
Rodgers is 27 years old, just as Favre was in 1997. And after biding his time as a backup until the Packers split with Favre, Rodgers has quickly established himself as one of the game’s best. This was his third full season as a starting QB, and he was particularly good throughout the playoffs, leading the No. 6 seed Packers to three NFC road victories before winning the championship Sunday.
“I’ve never felt like there’s been a monkey on my back. The organization stood behind me, believed in me,” said Rodgers, general manager Ted Thompson’s first-round draft choice six years ago. “I told Ted back in 2005 he wouldn’t be sorry with this pick. I told him in ’08 that I was going to repay their trust and get us this opportunity.”
He made good on those promises.
Which did not surprise any of his teammates.
“I didn’t expect anything less from A-Rod,” Packers defensive tackle B.J. Raji said.
Don’t forget, Rodgers’ super performance came against Pittsburgh’s defense, the one that limited opponents to a league-low 14.5 points per game this season, and the one that features NFL Defensive Player of the Year Troy Polamalu and hard-hitting linebacker James Harrison.
“He showed his mettle,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said, “and continued to stand in there and throw the football accurately.”
That’s not all. Rodgers changed plays at the last moment, reading the defense before the snap and adjusting. He overcame a poor start, a couple of key drops and a third-quarter lapse. And he did it all without the benefit of any help from a Packers running game that was limited to 50 yards.
“We put everything on his shoulders,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “He did a lot at the line of scrimmage for us against a great defense.”
Rodgers was hardly perfect all game. But perhaps he could be forgiven if he was experiencing some jitters: After all, the guy only played in one playoff game in his career before this season.
“We kind of struggled at times on offense,” Rodgers said.
That’s true. He began the game by overthrowing receivers and generally being off-kilter, completing only one of his first five passes. But he knows a thing or two about slow starts.
Just look at Rodgers’ career arc. Despite record-setting years during high school in Chico, Calif., the slim Rodgers — he was 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds back then — was not seriously recruited by major college football programs. That was OK, though. Didn’t let it bother him.
Rodgers went to a community college, while starting a growth spurt that added four inches and more than 50 pounds to his frame. Then he starred for two seasons at California. Finally, he was on everyone’s radar, although he wound up sliding to Green Bay’s 24th overall pick in 2005.
How good does that choice look now to cheeseheads everywhere?
“That guy,” Packers receiver Donald Driver said, “is a true leader.”
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, with his two previous Super Bowl championships, was supposed to be the one who would shine on the grand stage. But while he was throwing two first-half picks, it was Rodgers who played mistake-free football.
Rodgers put the ball right where he wanted to, and managed to overcome some drops by wideouts, as well as an injury to Driver.
He also showed good judgment, holding onto the ball when he appeared to be looking to throw a jump-pass on first-and-goal. Instead of forcing matters, Rodgers took the sack.
On second down from the 8, Rodgers spun a spiral to Jennings in the far corner of the end zone to put the Packers ahead 28-17. After Pittsburgh pulled within three points, Rodgers led Green Bay right back down the field for a field goal. On one vital third down, he hit Jennings for 31 yards down the seam.
“Outstanding throw,” Jennings said.
Rodgers’ work was done.
After the Packers stopped the Steelers’ last drive, all he had to was walk on the field and kneel down to run out the clock. A short while later, Rodgers was yelling, “Yeah, baby!” at teammates while clutching the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
No longer are Bart Starr and Favre the only Packers quarterbacks with Super Bowl titles.
After joining that company, Rodgers sat for a postgame TV interview near a section of stands. Chants of “Aa-ron Rodg-ers!” and “M-V-P!” filled Cowboys Stadium.
Green Bay’s new Big Cheese.
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