By Jason Keidel
Since it sounds so blasphemous, I waited until higher members of the NFL aristocracy confirmed my feelings.
So when I heard ESPN’s Colin Cowherd confirm my take, I felt more assured. But he, like me, is a member of media blowhards whose football knowledge is negligible compared to someone who bled on the gridiron.
But when I saw that Mark Schlereth and Brian Urlacher were also simpatico, I had enough collaboration for a pseudo-controversial column. So here it is…
Right now, Aaron Rodgers is the greatest quarterback to ever play American football. And, as Schlereth and Urlacher asserted, it’s not even close. And remember that Schlereth played with John Elway, against Joe Montana and Dan Marino, and has three fingers bulging with Super Bowl rings. Urlacher played against Brett Favre, Tom Brady, and Peyton manning. Combined, each former NFL player faced off against a conga line of QB luminaries.
This is not because Rodgers beat Brady last week. The game was whisker-close and you could easily argue that the Patriots would win a rematch on a neutral field. This is about stats, scent, and sense.
The stats are self-evident. Rodgers is having a surreal season – throwing for 3,325 yards, 32 TD, and 3 INT. Yes, three interceptions. His quarterback rating is 118.6, and his total QBR is 86.4.
Four years ago, he singularly led the Packers to the Super Bowl, beating my beloved black & gold, which makes this declaration rather painful, personally. But then he had what was probably the best season in NFL history, but was obscured because his Packers lost their first playoff game to the eventual champion New York Giants.
In 2011, Rodgers completed 68.3 percent of his passes, for 4,643 yards, 45 touchdowns and 6 (six!) interceptions. He averaged 310 yards passing per game. Rodgers hasn’t thrown more than eight interceptions in the last four seasons, and has thrown more than 10 just once since 2008, when he threw 11 INT.
Over the same period of time, Brady has thrown double-digit interceptions three times, and Manning four times. Even during Brady’s historic 2007 season, he threw more INT (8) and averaged fewer passing yards per game (300) than Rodgers did in 2011.
If that weren’t enough, Rodgers hasn’t thrown an interception at home in two calendar years. Repeat – he hasn’t thrown a pick at Lambeau Field since December 2, 2012. He also broke Brady’s NFL record – back in Week 11 – by throwing 322 passes at home without an INT. (Brady had tossed 288 passes without being picked off.)
And then there’s the proverbial smell test. Despite Manning and Brady’s obvious splendor, both occasionally throw a ball they wish they could yank back on a string. When was the last time you saw Rodgers make a dumb throw?
Then there’s the immutable tiebreaker – Rodgers can run and throw on the run better than anyone since Elway. While the immobile icons Brady and Manning can be thwarted while shoved from their pocket bubble, making them exponentially less effective, Rodgers is equally dangerous when he rolls right or left.
Since most of us weren’t around when John Unitas made a mockery of the plodding, line-plunge football of the ’50s and ’60s, we can only summon the Super Bowl era signal callers. Just as our fathers belch “Jim Brown” whenever we think we saw the greatest runner ever, we can’t rightly argue against the iconic Baltimore Colt. But I feel fairly safe in saying Aaron Rodgers could throw the ball on any field, in any epoch.
Before you call this missive a homer’s drooling homage to Rodgers, I draw my holy water from the three rivers of the Ohio, Allegheny, and Monongahela. When I was born the doctor wrapped me in Terrible Towels, with zero allegiance to the mythology of Lambeau Field or Vince Lombardi. Indeed, I still say my Men of Steel handed Green Bay the Super Bowl, thanks to a late game fumble by Rashard Mendenhall.
Sour grapes? You bet. But there’s nothing sour about the sugar-sweet game of Aaron Rodgers, who is a man alone in Lambeau. If there’s a professional proviso, he needs to win another Trophy named after the patron saint of football.
But if Green Bay wins this year’s Super Bowl, not only will his place in the NFL pantheon be amply archived, but it will be time to regard Rodgers as not just an immortal, but also the king of all NFL quarterbacks.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden.
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