First, let’s get this out of the way: Brett Favre never did anything in a playoff game along the lines of what Aaron Rodgers did last night. Not even close.
From a passer rating standpoint, Favre’s best playoff game in a Packers uniform was the team’s divisional playoff win over Seattle in 2007, when he posted a 137.6 rating. That’s a hair better than Rodgers’ 136.8 rating in the Packers’ 48-21 win over the Falcons, but Favre was 18-for-23 for 173 yards in that game. Frankly, he didn’t have to do much; Ryan Grant ran for 201 yards. Contrast that with Rodgers’ masterpiece last night: 31-for-36, 366 yards, three touchdowns and a rushing score, all with a virtually non-existent running game. The two aren’t in the same league.
But the most important takeaway from last night is this: With the win, the Packers are one step away from the Super Bowl, and two away from winning it. And Rodgers, in just his third year as a starter, is 120 minutes of football from completely separating his legacy from Favre’s.
As much as Packers fans have thrown their support behind Favre’s successor, the separation was never going to be fully complete until Rodgers enjoyed playoff success. And heading into this postseason tournament, the perception of Rodgers — fueled largely by a flippant national media — was that he had been a failure, as though throwing for 423 yards and losing his only playoff game because of a defense that gave up 45 points constituted failure.
The performance Rodgers turned in last night, though, was nothing short of a masterpiece, a singularly virtuosic display of brilliance that ranks among the best performances by a quarterback in NFL postseason history. With the weight of the Packers’ offense almost solely on his shoulders, Rodgers was flawless in a way Favre had almost never been. He didn’t force passes. He extended plays with his feet in an even more lethal way that Favre could do in his prime. He converted third downs, and he looked in complete control of the offense, calling a handful of shrewd audibles at the line of scrimmage.
It was, as much as anything he’s done in his three years as Favre’s successor, a statement he is capable of writing his own story in Green Bay. That story will always begin with Favre, but how it ends is an entirely different story.
Let’s dream for a second: Assume the Packers beat the Bears next week, and go on to win the Super Bowl. That would mean Rodgers would have a Super Bowl title at the same age as Favre, with three less years of experience as a starter. He already has more seasons with a 100+ passer rating than Favre had in his entire career, and he’d be coming back with a loaded roster refreshed with the return of multiple impact players.
Think about that for a second. There’s never been a succession quite like this in NFL history. The closest thing is Steve Young and Joe Montana in San Francisco, and Young had already proven he could play when Montana first got injured and then was dispatched to Kansas City. And that says nothing about the Favre-return sideshow that could have shaken Rodgers from Day One.
All this for a quarterback who was, as recently as last Sunday, still dealing with a purported monkey on his back. Rodgers still isn’t winning — or even being seriously considered — for MVP awards, and he missed the Pro Bowl this year despite leading the NFC in passer rating. Those things will come in time, though, especially if Rodgers can take the final two steps away from Favre in the next three weeks.
Now, all this is premature, of course; the Packers will get all they can handle next week from the Bears, a team Rodgers has never quite solved. And if they win, they’ll face a buzz-saw defense in the Jets or Steelers in the Super Bowl.
But even if the Packers don’t win next week, Rodgers has at least shown he has the mettle to lift his game to a championship level when it matters most. For my money, he’s without doubt the best quarterback still playing. And if he can keep it up for two more weeks, he will have completed the most shocking exorcism of the ghost of a legend in NFL history.