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Rodgers proves a worthy successor

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Mark Kriegel

Mark Kriegel is the national columnist for FOXSports.com. He is the author of two New York Times best sellers, Namath: A Biography and Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich, which Sports Illustrated called "the best sports biography of the year."

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ARLINGTON, Texas

Even a coach as rhetorically cautious as Mike McCarthy had to admit this season was really about succession.

“From one quarterback to the next,” he said.

Not just for the Green Bay Packers, but for all of professional football.

From Brett Favre, who dominated the headlines, to Aaron Rodgers, who dominated Super Bowl XLV on Sunday.

“Aaron is off to a heckuva start,” McCarthy said.

Actually, it’s more than that. It’s worth mentioning that Rodgers, at only 27, has already done something Favre never did: Win a Super Bowl MVP.

What’s more, he succeeded the league’s all-time leader in yards, touchdowns (and, of course, interceptions) under the most difficult of circumstances. I’m not referring to the media hordes Rodgers so gracefully faced down three summers ago, although that should count for a lot. I’m referring to what he did this season.

People have been talking all week about the Pittsburgh Steelers losing their center, Maurkice Pouncey. OK. Just remember that the Green Bay Packers not only took the title back to Titletown but did so as the most injured team in professional football.

Green Bay starters missed a total of 86 games this regular season. Fifteen players went on injured reserve. Running back Ryan Grant was lost in Week 1. Tight end Jermichael Finley was done by Week 5. Just for good measure, it seemed, outside linebacker Erik Walden was declared inactive just before XLV.

“Aaron Rodgers,” McCarthy said, “we put this game on his shoulders.”

I can’t recall a quarterback being asked to win a Super Bowl with such a justifiably unheralded running game. Green Bay called only 13 rushing plays Sunday. Then again, not only did the Packers lack anything approximating a Pro Bowl-caliber back, they also lacked experience — especially compared with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have played in three of the past six title games, winning twice.

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Of course, Green Bay’s elder statesmen on either side of the ball — Donald Driver and Charles Woodson — didn’t make it back for the second half.

“You lose Donald Driver, that changes things,” said Ted Thompson, the general manager who drafted Rodgers after the quarterback fell to the 24th pick in 2005.

If you have Aaron Rodgers, losing Driver only makes a star out of somebody named Jordy Nelson, who had nine catches for 140 yards — despite dropping three balls.

While I’m at it, the numbers on the quarterbacks: Ben Roethlisberger, with all that Super Bowl experience, was 25 for 40, 263 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions. Rodgers was 24 for 39, 304 yards, three touchdowns (might have been four, but for a drop by James Jones), no interceptions.

Did I mention that Pittsburgh has the best defense in football? Still, Sunday saw Rodgers join Kurt Warner as only the second quarterback to throw for 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns in a single postseason.

And like Warner, Rodgers can do religion without being preachy.

“I don’t think He really cares who wins or loses,” Rodgers said.

That’s not to say the quarterback was downplaying the victory. Going back almost six years, he had taken his fall in the draft very personally, once confiding in Driver, “I should’ve been the first quarterback picked.”

“I told Ted back in 2005 that he wouldn’t be sorry with his pick,” said Rodgers, who recalled making the general manager the promise after the organization finally told Favre to stay home. “I told him in '08 that I was going to repay their trust and get us this opportunity.”

As Super Bowls go, it was an excellent game, but a strange one as judged by the stat sheet. Forget Maurkice Pouncey. The Steelers ran the ball just fine. Their edge in possession time was eight minutes. They had fewer penalties and drops. For most of the game — as Rodgers and his offense waited on the sidelines — it felt as though a Pittsburgh come-from-behind victory was inevitable.

But Pittsburgh couldn’t match Green Bay at quarterback or receiver. Rodgers found Nelson blowing by cornerback William Gay on the right sideline for a touchdown in the first quarter.

“The one to Jordy was an adjustment,” Rodgers said. “I haven’t really thrown to him in that progression. I just liked the matchup, and he made a great catch.”

In the fourth quarter, Rodgers did something even rarer, suckering the league’s Defensive MVP, Troy Polamalu to connect with receiver Greg Jennings.

“I saw Troy,” the quarterback would recall, “but I was looking to the left and coming back to the right side, and had a good idea from a couple of plays before that Greg was going to be open on a corner route.”

For the Packers, it was their last touchdown.

For Aaron Rodgers, it was a great start.

Tagged: Packers, Steelers, Donald Driver, Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, Maurkice Pouncey

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