GREEN BAY, Wis. — Aaron Rodgers made his triumphant return Sunday to help the Green Bay Packers win the NFC North. Now, the former NFL MVP quarterback has a big challenge from the San Francisco 49ers awaiting in the wild-card round of the playoffs.
In his weekly chat with reporters, Rodgers discussed how he’s feeling physically, the 49ers’ strong defense and how to beat San Francisco after having lost the past three times these teams have met.
Here are five question-and-answer highlights from the interview with Rodgers:
1. In the regular-season finale in Chicago, at what point did you know you were OK to be playing after an eight-week absence with the fractured collarbone?
RODGERS: "I felt pretty good going in. I don’t think they would have put me out there if I wasn’t ready to go. That being said, it had a preseason feel for me in terms of my mindset. You kind of want to go take that first shot and you kind of want to go get that first pass zipped in there to kind of let the adrenaline get going and start feeling like yourself. My first shot actually was a semi-painful one, getting fallen on there, but after that I was just getting into a rhythm and trying to make good decisions. Made a couple of poor ones, but I’ll learn from those and have a better week this week."
2. Just how good is the 49ers’ defense, and is there one player in particular from that group who stands out to you?
RODGERS: "It’s really hard to pick out just one with them because there are so many big names and guys who play well. The film does not lie. I think it’s good for a guy like NaVorro Bowman that he gets the credit he deserves. For the last three or four years, he’s been one of the top guys in the league, but he’s playing next to a guy with one of the greatest name recognition linebackers in the league. Patrick (Willis) and NaVorro do a great job playing off one (another). Very similar players. Up front they’ve got guys who can get after you rushing the passer. On the back end, you’ve got some . . . a young player like Eric Reid, who has had a very good season. (Donte) Whitner, he’s a very good player. Tarrell Brown is one of the more underrated corners in the league. I think he does a great job in man coverage. They ask him to do a lot. (Tramaine) Brock has stepped in and done a really nice job and Carlos Rodgers is . . . a compliment here, he reminds me of Charles Woodson in the slot, a tough position to play and he plays at a high level. So, it’s a talented defense and it’s hard to pick out one guy. There’s not a recipe I think to get after them. You have to be very accurate throwing the football and you have to execute your offense as well as you can."
3. How big of a difference does Randall Cobb make when he’s on the field with you?
RODGERS: "Randall does so much for our offense. We can give him the ball, we can get it to him quickly out of the backfield, we can have him in the slot. When he was out, though, one good thing I think that came out of that was Jarrett Boykin’s emergence. He really stepped up and made some big plays for us and proved his value to this offense. And also we got to move Jordy (Nelson) inside and he got to show his versatility inside. So, bringing Randall back with the way those guys can be interchangeable at different positions definitely has a lot to offer."
4. Practicing outdoors in the cold this week, what do you have to do to have that be helpful in preparing for the upcoming cold-weather game?
RODGERS: "You just have to dress warm. The cold is a part of winter in Green Bay. You get kind of used to it. You deal with it. You learn how to throw the ball effectively and you figure out what are the most important things to keep warm, and that’s your head and your hands. As long as you have a good hand-warmer and some sort of heat around your head, you should be OK. It definitely does change the texture of the football, so you have to factor that in when you’re tossing the ball to a back or when you’re throwing it, you have to make some small adjustments."
5. What have you learned from losing to San Francisco three times in the past two seasons?
RODGERS: "Ah … you have to play well to beat them."