Aaron Rodgers has a smirk about him that Packers fans love. That same look on his face causes others to hate him. If you’re a Green Bay Packers fan, it’s confidence and swagger. If you don’t like the Packers, it’s Rodgers’ look of arrogance.
It’s also a look that the Packers have seen little of for the last season and a half. Rodgers looked like a pedestrian at times last year as opposed to a two-time NFL MVP.
Much of that blame was placed on the absence of Jordy Nelson. Rodgers was absolved from criticism for much of that season.
When the Packers came into training camp for the 2016 season, many thought that with Nelson back, it would be the return of their high flying offense from 2014.
When the team struggled through their first two games, questions got louder about what was wrong with the offense. Nelson was back. The offensive line had been great, there really was no built in excuse anymore.
Then came the first half of a Week 3 game against the Detroit Lions. When Rodgers hit Nelson for his fourth touchdown pass, he headbutted right guard TJ Lang and said two words that had every fan excited. “I’m back,” Rodgers said.
Only he wasn’t. He threw three interceptions in his next two games and fumbled twice. For the first time since he became a starter, questions were surrounding whether Rodgers had maybe lost some of his skill set.
The first half of a Thursday night game against the Chicago Bears did little to quiet that criticism. The Packers scored six points against a bad defense. They made some drives but were unable to finish with touchdowns.
Rodgers opened the third quarter by fumbling in the end zone that was recovered by Leonard Floyd. That gave the Bears a 10-6 lead. The Packers were being booed at home for the second consecutive game.
That all changed when Ty Montgomery broke a 30-yard run on the team’s next possession. The Packers would not punt in the second half. They scored three touchdowns. Rodgers looked more sure of himself. He was spreading the ball around to different receivers. He was throwing with the pinpoint accuracy that made him a two-time MVP.
The Packers won that game 26-10. Rodgers threw for 300 yards for the first time since Week 9 of the 2015 season. Despite that performance, there were still questions surrounding him.
While the offense did get back on track in the second half, it was against a bad Bears defense. That could easily have been dismissed.
With the Falcons next on deck, and the Packers missing their top three corners, they needed a vintage performance from Rodgers to remain in the game. The Packers got just that. Rodgers did miss a couple throws, but he looked much better than he did for most of the season. He threw the ball on time. He spread the ball to different receivers, despite their overall inexperience. He was going score for score with the top offense in all of football.
Rodgers was finally doing what was expected of him from the beginning of the season. When the day finished he threw four touchdown passes to four different receivers. He hit a big play to Jordy Nelson. He did all of these things without two of his top weapons. Randall Cobb and Ty Montgomery missed the game due to a hamstring injury and illness, respectively.
Ultimately, he was able to put up 32 points, which was the second-highest output of the season. There was still some inconsistency through the day, but the Packers looked like a much more structured offense. That starts with the quarterback.
With the defense still missing some of its parts, the Packers are going to need that version of Rodgers for the rest of the season if they want a chance to get back into the NFC North race.
Rodgers said that he was back after a throw in the third week of the season. His follow-up performances deemed that was not true. Now, it is up to him to remain consistent. The entire Packers team is based around him being the best player in the NFL. The last two weeks he has looked much more like that.
In order for the Packers to make the playoffs, he may have to be even better. If he can build on what he’s been the last two weeks, the Packers offense should get back to at least close to their previous form.