Sunday, January 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Aaron Rodgers is playing quarterback like it has never been played, smirk and all

Start with the smirk.

It's the expression of someone who knows something you will never fully understand.

That bravado was on display when Aaron Rodgers changed the Packers' fortunes when, at 4-6, he issued the eight most important words spoken this NFL season:

"I feel like we can run the table."

Rodgers has done much more than that. His incredible run has created a credible argument that he is the best NFL quarterback of all time. We can debate that, but this much I can say with certainty: Nobody has played the position better than Rodgers is right now.

The Packers have won eight in a row headed into today's NFC Championship Game at Atlanta. Since his proclamation (it wasn't quite a prediction), Rodgers has thrown 24 touchdowns and one interception, which came last week at Dallas and ended a streak of 318 passes without a pick.

Numbers alone don't buttress that claim.

It's really the manner in which he's doing it. All of it was on display last week with his incredible 36-yard pass with three seconds left in the Packers' 34-31 victory against the NFC's top seed, the Cowboys.

Making up a play in the moment, Rodgers rolled to his left and fired a strike to toe-tapping tight end Jared Cook right in front of the Cowboys bench to set up Mason Crosby's clinching 51-yard field goal.

It's Rodgers' skill set that we have never seen before, a combination of athleticism, accuracy and arm strength that is the best in the league — maybe ever.

He also is very smart. Rodgers can dissect a defense with the precision of Peyton Manning, often catching teams with too many men on the field during their attempts to substitute. He has the nimble feet and speed to flee the pocket of Steve Young. He has the arm strength of Brett Favre.

He's the one quarterback even Tom Brady, the Lord of the Rings, has to stop and watch.

"I think he does things that no one in the league has ever done, or can do, because of his physical ability," Brady said last week. "Some of the plays he makes are just — they're phenomenal. Not just the throws but the scrambles.

"Everything really looks effortless with him, which is probably the amazing part. He's definitely working hard, but he's making it look easy. It's a very effortless style he plays with. The velocity of the ball, the placement of the ball, he's just an incredible player. He works very hard at it, he's a very talented player, and he's having an incredible season. It's fun to watch him play. I always love watching him play. Whenever he's on, I stay up and watch."

It's easy to become a prisoner of the moment and declare you've stumbled on the greatest of any era.

Brady has four Super Bowl rings. Rodgers has won one. Legacies are often determined by championships. But he is only 33 with lots of sand in his hourglass. Consider that for his career, Rodgers has thrown four touchdowns for every INT. Nobody else has enjoyed a 3-1 ratio. Brady is at 2.85. Rodgers' lifetime career passer rating is 104.1, the best of all time.

The funny thing is nobody would teach a quarterback to play Rodgers' way.

His feet are rarely under him when he throws. He always seems to find a retreat from the pocket by rolling out, backpedaling or stepping up while passing from an array of arm angles with touch or by firing smoke.

He also has some magic to him. The game is never over. His Hail Mary throws, launched at an arc and trajectory previously unseen, are less answered prayers than kept promises.

"I've never seen an eight-game stretch like this," ESPN's Trent Dilfer said. "And I can't communicate it. I can't find a term or a phrase or something to try to properly explain how incredible it is. Aaron Rodgers has become the kind of quarterback that other Hall of Fame quarterbacks look at and their jaws drop."

Rodgers didn't play this well when the Packers won a Super Bowl in 2010 or when he was named MVP in 2014.

No quarterback has ever played as well as Rodgers right now. If that makes him the greatest quarterback to ever play the game, I'm not going to argue. Just smirk.

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