To borrow a Buddhist concept, Aaron Rodgers has achieved NFL enlightenment.
He is the league’s reigning Most Valuable Player. He possesses complete understanding of opposing defensive schemes. His knowledge of Green Bay’s own West Coast offense is so comprehensive that it has allowed head coach Mike McCarthy to add even more concepts into an already complex playbook.
"It definitely gives us the opportunity as a staff to be very creative," McCarthy told FOXSports.com after his team’s Thursday practice. "There’s a lot of trust in Aaron, a lot of communication.
"His input and interaction with the players is ten-fold what it was three years ago. He’s very much in command. That’s ultimately where you want your quarterback to be."
But like Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha in his quest for spiritual illumination, there are still questions for which Rodgers will never have answers. Among them:
Why hasn’t the regular-season MVP won a Super Bowl title in the same league year since former St. Louis Rams quarterback Kurt Warner in 1999?
"That doesn’t make any sense," Rodgers told FOXSports.com when asked.
He then smiled and said, "Hopefully I can change that this year."
For Rodgers, anything less than winning his second Lombardi Trophy would be considered a personal letdown. That’s how high he has set the bar.
As the Packers prepare to open the 2012 season Sunday against San Francisco on FOX (4:25 pm ET kickoff), Rodgers has gained respect as being the league’s best quarterback. Arguments can be made for Drew Brees, Tom Brady and even Eli Manning with his two Super Bowl wins in the past five seasons.
Rodgers, though, is coming off a year in which he notched the NFL’s highest single-season quarterback rating ever (104.1). His career mark of 122.5 is the best in league history. No other quarterback in his first four seasons as a starter has posted as many passing yards (17,037) since Rodgers grabbed the reins from Brett Favre in 2008. And while Favre and Bart Starr will always remain iconic Packers quarterbacks, Rodgers separated himself from that duo last season by breaking eight franchise passing records.
Even more important, Green Bay was dominant.
The Packers entered the playoffs at a league-best 15-1 following a 13-0 start — an especially impressive feat considering the franchise was facing the added pressure of being defending Super Bowl champions. Rodgers received first-place MVP votes on 48 of the 50 Associated Press media ballots.
Such success also makes Green Bay’s postseason plunge so disappointing.
Multiple factors contributed to a stunning 37-20 home loss to the New York Giants. To their credit, the Giants were on a late-season roll that carried over to victory in Super Bowl XLVI. But the seeds for Green Bay’s downfall were planted well before the game when Green Bay offensive coordinator Joe Philbin’s 21-year-old son Michael drowned in a Wisconsin river. Understandably, the feel-good vibe inside team headquarters that had existed throughout the season ended as Philbin and the Packers tried to come to grips with the tragedy.
Green Bay then helped New York’s cause on the field by committing an uncharacteristic four turnovers with three fumbles and a Rodgers interception. For a change, the Rodgers-led offense couldn’t overcome the season-long sloppiness of Green Bay’s 32nd-ranked defense.
"We put a lot into it," said Rodgers, whose passing statistics (26 of 46 for 264 yards and two touchdowns) were solid but below his high standard. "We care about it so much. We realize every team is a one-year opportunity that will never be the same.
"That part of it sucks. It sucks to lose at home in the playoffs when you’re coming off a real good regular season."
Rodgers, though, didn’t let the loss consume him. Like he does after every season, Rodgers left Green Bay’s football-crazed environment for his California home. He completely disconnected from Xs and Os. He wisely remembered that football is a game and his livelihood, not what defines him as a human being.
"When you put it in perspective, it’s easy to kind of get past it, learn from it and move on," Rodgers said.
McCarthy said Rodgers was influential in helping teammates do the same after returning in April for offseason workouts.
"This young man has a lot of depth to him," said McCarthy, who shares one of the NFL’s tightest head coach-quarterback bonds with Rodgers. "He did a good job. He got away. He keeps himself busy. He has outside interests. When he came back in April, he was focused and ready to go.
"It’s definitely a concern how (the team) comes back and attacks the next opportunity. I don’t worry about Aaron Rodgers too much."
When back in the swing of things, Rodgers continued another offseason habit of trying to learn from other elite NFL quarterbacks. Besides his usual dialogue with Hall of Fame passer Steve Young, Rodgers picked the brains of Brees, Brady and Dallas’ Tony Romo when the two attended a celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe.
"I’m coming off the kind of year I want to play every year and be consistent," Rodgers said. "It’s just more experience. You see so many (defensive) looks every year. The defense is always evolving. You’re adding that to the mental piggy bank and just figuring out how to prepare a little better every year."
With the 28-year-old Rodgers already entering his eighth NFL season, McCarthy believes his quarterback still has more upside. If proven true and the Packers play well enough around him, Rodgers could very well snap that long drought since a regular-season MVP won a Super Bowl.
"I hate the term window but I think he’s at the beginning of an MVP run," McCarthy said. "He won his first MVP and has played at that level really the past two years.
"The exciting part for everyone is how long is he going to do it. I think he’s just getting started."