It’s amazing what ended up uniting almost all NFL fans last weekend. Take any 50 NFL diehards at random, and you will get amazingly diverse opinions on who the best teams are, who the best coaches are, and whether the sport is now too safe or not nearly safe enough.
But there was a universal sense of lament after Aaron Rodgers’s collarbone injury early in the first quarter in the Packers-Vikings game. Yeah, even among Vikings fans. Even among Cowboys and Seahawks fans. People who have seen Rodgers time and time again pound a stake through the heart of their favourite teams’ collective playoff aspirations.
Look, it’s a brutal sport, and major injuries happen every year to excellent players — players we always look forwarding to seeing play.
But Rodgers leaps off the page as a vital part of our NFL viewing habits, and we’re worse off without him — that cannot be denied. When Tom Brady was injured in Week 1 of the 2008 NFL season, sure, it was interesting that a Chad Pennington-led Miami Dolphins team won the AFC East with an 11-5 record, but it didn’t move the needle for fan interest when they replaced the Patriots in the post-season.
Do you want to see Case Keenum as the starting quarterback for a home team in the playoffs in January? The answer is no unless you’re a Minnesota Vikings fan.
So it’s easy to conclude as viewers, the post-season would be a little less interesting without Rodgers doing things like this.
But a Rodgers-less playoffs isn’t an inevitability just yet. The six-time Pro Bowler and two-time MVP underwent successful surgery Thursday, and the team has yet to release a timeline for his recovery.
My guess is they’ll at least still be mathematically in the mix to win the NFC North after 13 games, but what happens from that point on is up in the air. Green Bay finishes their home schedule against Minnesota on Dec. 23 and then head to Detroit on New Year’s Eve, so there still could be something for Rodgers to rush back for.
All that said, we cannot be sure of what Rodgers will be when he comes back — whether that’s this year or next.
The collarbone injury was on the right side of his body — his throwing side — and that’s far more concerning to his long-term excellence than the 2013 injury that cost him seven starts. Rodgers rushed back after injuring the collarbone on his left side and helped the Pack steal the NFC North title with a record of 8-7-1, thanks to a Week 17 win over the Bears at Soldier Field. But even then Rodgers struggled in a home playoff loss to San Francisco and that was that.
Rodgers will turn 35 at the start of the 2018 season, and we have rarely seen a quarterback as mobile and powerful be as productive in his late 30s as he was in his early 30s. Keep in mind what an anomaly Brady appears to be at age 40.
Joe Montana’s productivity suffered a steep decline after he turned 33, and he didn’t like to run at all outside of the pocket. Dan Marino and Peyton Manning ended up in scenarios where they obviously weren’t the same quarterbacks as before, despite each winning playoff games in their final seasons (and Manning, obviously the Super Bowl in that historic run by Denver’s defence).
Still, none of this means the Packers have to begin planning for the future now at quarterback, and Mike McCarthy was absolutely right to publicly deride, on Monday, a question by a media member about “bringing in” Colin Kaepernick.
Look, I think Kaepernick is being conspired against, and I think with a proper off-season and training camp, he can still help certain NFL teams win games. But it’s crazy to think he could swoop in now and suddenly learn the Packers offensive scheme and offensive personnel, get up to speed on the defensive schemes and personnel of their upcoming opponents, and somehow shelter his new teammates and the organization from the “distraction” of his arrival.
Time has been invested in former UCLA star Brett Hundley, who, I think, if all goes well, is going to remind NFL fans of a young Daunte Culpepper. I don’t expect that level of success, and there sure isn’t a young and exuberant Randy Moss on the Packers to go up and out and grab anything and everything Hundley throws downfield. But I think he’ll be good.
The struggle in Green Bay is the roster and supporting cast may not be near enough to tide them over until Rodgers returns.
But it will be fascinating watching them try to stem the tide. Rodgers as a star and must-see commodity in the NFL has even escalated from the last time he missed games in 2013, and Matt Flynn, Scott Tolzien and (what???) Seneca Wallace all had to make starts in his absence for the Pack. You can be envious of the Packers having a quarter-century of either Favre or Rodgers as their guy, especially when you consider Buffalo truly has yet to replace Jim Kelly, Miami has never found a long-term follow-up to Dan Marino, and Cleveland still waxes romantic about the Brian Sipe and Bernie Kosar glory years.
But I’d still rather be wrong than right about my concern that we’ll never see quite the same Aaron Rodgers again. Especially with just the one Super Bowl appearance, I think we’d all feel slightly shortchanged if we don’t see another.
More than that, a Brady-vs.-Rodgers Super Bowl has looked close a bunch of times in the past decade, and it’s yet to happen. Brady and Rodgers have both started games for their teams on six of the past seven Divisional Playoff weekends, and on three of the six Rodgers and the Packers failed to advance.
Still, the universal outpouring of support the last few days has demonstrated, as if there was any doubt, that Rodgers belongs in that rarified air of the all-time greats. And the league is never better than when an all-time great is on the field each and every weekend.