This is the tale of two quarterbacks. And in the case of Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning, it’s a tale of greatness. Just when their teammates needed them, just when it appeared as if a season was slipping away, Manning and Rodgers responded with two of the most remarkable performances in NFL history.
Sure, it was only Week 6 of the 2012 season, but if Rodgers’ Green Bay Packers and Manning’s Denver Broncos had lost this past week, both teams would have been 2-4 and probably would have had to go 8-2 or maybe 7-3 down the stretch to make the playoffs. That’s a tough assignment.
And while both Manning and Rodgers probably have the brass to handle tough assignments, you don’t want to be faced with trouble if you can avoid it.
Now, let’s not to hand anyone a line of malarkey. It’s not as if anyone had any doubt that these two guys were among the greatest in the game. In fact, there might be some who would suggest that Manning and Rodgers simply did what they were paid to do this past weekend and in a pragmatic sort of way that would be absolutely true. When you pay big money to veteran quarterbacks who have won in the past, you expect them to do the things that earned them the big coin.
But there are times when their brilliance transcends all expectations.
Let’s start with Rodgers. He put on such a dynamic performance on Sunday night that if he can do it three or more times this season, the Green Bay Packers might have enough in the tank to win another Super Bowl.
Rodgers numbers on Sunday night were eye-popping. He completed 24-of-37 passes for 338 yards and set a career high and tied a franchise record with six touchdown passes. Ironically, he tied Matt Flynn’s single-game record for TD passes (set when Flynn played fort the resting Rodgers last season), but more importantly, he led the Packers to a 42-24 shellacking of the previously undefeated Houston Texans.
“This was an important game for us,” Rodgers said in the news conference after the game. “We had a couple of games not go our way, games we should have won and 2-4 would have been very difficult.”
No one will argue that the Packers were underachievers over the first five weeks of the season. Green Bay was 2-3 heading into Sunday’s game in Houston and while the 14-12 loss they suffered in Seattle had as much to do with the incompetence of the replacement officials as it did with the play of the Seahawks, they were still below .500 and trailed the Bears and Vikings in the NFC North.
Rodgers, however, had certainly not been as bad as the team’s record. He’d completed 129 of 188 pass attempts for 1,299 yards. He was tops among NFL starters at 68.6 per cent and in the Top 10 in most other categories.
However, the Packers defense had been mediocre (a 30-22 loss to San Francisco and 30-27 loss to Indianapolis) and the team’s critics were all over them. Nobody in green could avoid it.
But on Monday night, Rodgers had an answer for those critics. When asked by NBC’s Michelle Tafoya, “What do you think you told the critics tonight?” Rodgers answered with a twinkle in his eye (check it out below):
“This is just a team that has a lot of pride in our locker room,” Rodgers said during the news conference. “I said it this week, there’s not any quit in that locker room. It’s almost better when people are doubting us a little bit, I think. We kind of band together. People tried to pull us apart this week and we stuck together and found our motivation.”
Rodgers threw three of his TD passes to his favorite target, Jordy Nelson, and it sure doesn’t hurt when you have a sure-handed tight end/H-back to go to on a regular basis.James Jones caught two touchdown passes while young Tom Crabtree had the other one, a 48-yarder, that simply suggested that Rodgers was making use of every receiver he had.
“He did a great job distributing the ball,” said Packers head coach Mike McCarthy. “It’s one of the things that make him great. He finds his second and third receivers. He can stand in the pocket and find the open man. He’s a very gifted quarterback, but you all know that.”
Indeed we do.
“As a quarterback, it’s interesting to see the kind of dances that go on around you,” Rodgers said, “and it’s not often that you get a chance to dance back to them.”
After Rodgers ripped it up on Sunday, then there was Manning. And ol’ Peyton, he of the four neck surgeries, put on a performance for the ages on Monday.
Manning’s Denver Broncos were trailing 24-0 at halftime to the San Diego Chargers. It was the largest halftime deficit in Peyton Manning’s career. But the veteran Broncos quarterback threw three touchdown passes in the second half and his defense scored two more as Denver improved to 3-3 and San Diego fell to 3-3.
Manning, who went 13-for-14 for 167 yards in the second half and finished 24-for-30 for 309 yards, three TDs and one interception. Meanwhile, San Diego’s Philip Rivers threw up four interceptions, the last one was returned by Chris Harris for a touchdown.
“It sure was special considering what was on the line,” said Manning, a Super Bowl winner and four-time NFL MVP who’s in his first season with the Broncos. “We were 2-3 heading in. We needed the win. We couldn’t afford to fall to 2-4 and let San Diego get to 4-2. Yeah, this was a big win.
“We came out in the second half, everybody was accountable and professional. We had 30 minutes and I thought it was important to get off to a good start with that first drive. Hitting DT (Demaryius Thomas) for the touchdown really set the tempo for the second half.”
It tied for the fourth-largest regular-season comeback and largest road comeback in NFL history and it was turned in by a future Hall of Famer who just happened to have been 1-5 in his last six games against San Diego (all with Indianapolis). The big comeback also gave Manning 47 comeback wins for his career, tying him with Dan Marino for the most come-from-behind wins in league history.
“This was as good a second half of football as I’ve been involved in,” said Broncos head coach John Fox. “Peyton performed very well and has performed well in the last four games. He’s going to keep getting better and better.”
So’s Aaron Rodgers. And that has to scare the rest of the NFL to death.