Rodgers outduels Brady for win in first-ever matchup of elite QBs

The Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers (left) shakes hands with the New England Patriots' Tom Brady after the Packers' 26-21 win.

Tom Lynn/Tom Lynn/Associated Press

GREEN BAY, Wis. — It was supposed to happen in 2010. Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady were scheduled to meet that season in a cross-conference matchup between the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots. Rodgers’ concussion that week derailed those plans four more years.

Finally getting on the same field Sunday for the first time in their careers, the performances by Rodgers and Brady made it well worth the wait. In the long-awaited showdown of former league MVPs and the NFL’s two highest-scoring offenses, Rodgers and the Packers came out ahead with a 26-21 win.

"I’m sure the league and the networks really enjoyed this game," wide receiver Jordy Nelson said with a smile. "I think it was a pretty interesting game. Somewhat entertaining and probably what they wanted."

Rodgers completed 24 of 38 passing attempts for 368 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions (112.6 passer rating). Brady was 22-for-35 for 245 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions (102.7 passer rating).

Both had their moments that showed why they’re regarded as two of the best to ever play the position. Brady got rid of the ball quickly and wasn’t sacked until his final snap of the game. Rodgers showed his ability to keep plays alive without hurrying, including the final meaningful play of the game when he had forever to throw and connected with Randall Cobb for a victory-clinching seven-yard gain.

"I thought Aaron played extremely well," head coach Mike McCarthy said. "I thought New England’s defense did an excellent job with their pass rush plan, their ability to be disciplined and staying in their lanes, keeping us in the pocket, and Aaron did a great job extending plays from the pocket and then buying our receivers some more time."

While Brady was on the opposing sideline adding to his already large number of expletives shouted, there was a lot of excitement on Green Bay’s sideline as Rodgers was able to kneel down three times to run out the clock. But, when asked whether this game was more meaningful or memorable given the team and quarterback on the other side, Rodgers said, "Not really."

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All week leading up to the game, Rodgers refused to acknowledge this as being himself versus Brady. He would point to how it’s the Packers offense facing the Patriots defense and that when Brady is on the field, Rodgers is just a spectator. Logical though it may be, it was impossible to not appreciate two of the masters at work. Comparisons then become inevitable.

Green Bay’s struggles in the red zone were on Rodgers’ mind a lot more than beating Brady was.

"When you’re playing a good team, you’re fortunate to win when you’re 0-for-4 in the red zone," Rodgers said.

In facing Brady, the Packers’ defense knew there wouldn’t be many sacks. But however the stops came, Green Bay needed a better performance than what it delivered the last time an elite quarterback stood behind center. That was in Week 8 when Drew Brees led the underachieving New Orleans Saints to a victory by throwing three touchdowns and no interceptions.

Though the Packers didn’t force an interception (or a turnover of any kind), they did force four punts. And that was enough to keep New England from scoring as many points as usual.

"We were told, ‘Don’t be frustrated," said defensive lineman Mike Daniels, who teamed up with Mike Neal for the one and only sack on Brady. "Playing against a Hall of Fame quarterback, he’s going to get the ball out of there, he’s going to get out of the way, he’s not going to go down.

"He’s one of the great ones. He’s one of the best to ever play the game. When you’ve got a guy like that, you have to just keep on chopping wood and you never know when you’ll get to him."

Packers 26, Patriots 21

Added Clay Matthews: "We came in here knowing that we can’t get discouraged being so close. I felt like I had some good rushes. I’m sure the other guys did as well. Ultimately when it came down to it, we made the plays when we needed to."

Brady felt that despite all the positives he had in this game, it wasn’t enough.

"Twenty-one points isn’t going to be enough against a good team like that, so we have to figure out how to score more points," Brady said.

A lot more goes into the outcome of an NFL game than the play of the quarterback. That was certainly the case Sunday at Lambeau Field. Jordy Nelson broke away from Darrelle Revis for a critical touchdown before halftime, Green Bay’s defense got the stops it needed and the Packers controlled time of possession. Still, when there’s two quarterbacks this good, it can’t be ignored. That’s the reality of a quarterback-driven league.

This was a great Round 1. However, with 37-year-old Brady likely to retire in the next four years before New England and the Packers will be scheduled to match up again in a regular-season game, the only way to see a Round 2 is if these two teams meet again in the Super Bowl. With as well as these two teams — and quarterbacks — played, it wouldn’t be surprising.

"We have some big goals and we’re getting into December football now with the chance to have everything right in front of us," Rodgers said. "We’re going to celebrate this win tonight and move on."

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