Rodgers overcomes ‘nerves’ to complete biggest comeback of career
GREEN BAY, Wis. — When Aaron Rodgers looked up at the scoreboard early in the second quarter and saw 21-3 in favor of the visiting New York Jets, the former NFL Most Valuable Player admitted he felt some nerves. It’s not a situation that Rodgers has found himself in often in his seven years as the Packers starting quarterback.
After outscoring the Jets 28-3 in the final 40 minutes of play, Rodgers completed the biggest comeback of his career.
"I thought Aaron did a great job staying the course," head coach Mike McCarthy said.
The 18-point deficit that was overcome surpassed Rodgers’ previous bests when he helped Green Bay come back from 14 points down on two occasions: vs. Detroit in December 2012 and at Atlanta in October 2011.
"There wasn’t a lot of panic from myself, but there were some nerves, for sure," Rodgers said. "We weren’t doing anything on offense, and we gave up three touchdowns on defense. So we knew we needed a big play — which we really didn’t get until the interception."
It was with less than two minutes remaining before halftime and the Packers trailing 21-9 that a quarterback hit by Mike Daniels forced a Geno Smith pass high into the air and was intercepted by Tramon Williams at Green Bay’s own 3-yard line.
"I wouldn’t necessarily call it a turning point," Julius Peppers said. "It’s a big play."
However the interception is categorized, it gave the Packers the ball when the Jets could’ve otherwise added to their lead. Over the ensuing 1 minute and 44 seconds, Rodgers led Green Bay 97 yards down the field for its first touchdown of the game.
"That touchdown going into half, I think gave us a lot of confidence that we were going to have a chance to win that game," Rodgers said.
Rodgers is sometimes criticized for his poor record with fourth-quarter comebacks, and despite the 18-point turnaround, this win won’t do anything to improve that. By the time the fourth quarter began, the Packers had already completed their comeback and were up, 31-24.
"Any time you encounter adversity and you conquer it, there’s value that carries forward, no doubt about it," McCarthy said. "This is a game of adversity, it’s a game of momentum swings, it’s a game of big plays. Just pay attention to the big plays, big plays determine the outcomes, change outcomes of football games. We were definitely in a spot and the players stayed the course. I think it says a lot about their grit."
While the defense made a big play with the interception before halftime, the offense delivered its share of big plays, too. The biggest of which was, just after New York had tied it up at 24, the very next play had Rodgers find Jordy Nelson for an 80-yard touchdown.
It wasn’t just the early Jets lead that forced the Packers to throw a lot, as Green Bay’s running game was unable to get going. Eddie Lacy had only 43 yards on 13 carries. McCarthy thought there was "obviously a commitment (from New York) to take Eddie Lacy out of the game."
That is part of the reason for Rodgers attempting 42 passes. Only three times since the Packers won Super Bowl XLV has Rodgers thrown more than 42 times in a game.
"This game was tilted to the passing game, and we got the point production we needed," McCarthy said.
This isn’t a Packers team that should need Rodgers to throw that much very often. Not with Lacy, the NFL’s reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year. But in completing 25 passes for 346 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions (109.8 passer rating), Rodgers set a new personal comeback record and helped ensure Green Bay didn’t begin its season 0-2.
"He’s the best quarterback in the league for a reason," left tackle David Bakhtiari said. "You give that guy some time and he can make anything happen in a game. I firmly believe that."
Follow Paul Imig on Twitter