He just keeps doing it. As we are finding out this season, there is simply nothing quite like a vintage Aaron Rodgers performance in prime time. After an instant classic against the Bears in Week 1, Rodgers just put together a masterful final few minutes on Monday to lift the Packers over the 49ers, 33-30.
Rodgers’s performance was so good that it’s worth examining all 11 of his plays (minus one spike to stop the clock) from Green Bay’s final two drives. In fact, let’s rank ’em:
11. Incomplete Pass Intended for Davante Adams
Rodgers threw four incompletions in his final two drives, but this one stands out because it happened with just six seconds left on the clock. Lined up with a first-and-goal at the 49ers’ 9-yard line, Rodgers snapped the ball and took a lightning-quick shot at the end zone … but to what end? The game was tied, and if the Packers wanted to burn a few last seconds before attempting the field goal to make sure they wouldn’t leave any time on the clock, Rodgers would have been safer just pounding the ball into the turf. While Rodgers’s pass sailed safely out of the reach of any player, there was no real benefit by taking a shot at all. That makes it Rodgers’s “worst” play of the comeback.
10, 9, and 8. Incomplete Passes to Adams, Adams Again, and Lance Kendricks
All of these passes failed to hit their marks, so they didn’t help the Packers win. But they also all took place on first or second down, so they didn’t doom Green Bay, either—and they stopped the clock. Let’s call them washes.
7. Complete to Jimmy Graham for 4 Yards
A 4-yard pass would often be a negative play in these situations because 4 yards isn’t usually worth the precious time that it takes to get those yards. But this play happened right before the two-minute warning, so there’s really no harm, no foul. Plus it got Green Bay into third-and-6, which somehow was one of their most manageable third downs of the night:
The Packers came into this game averaging 8.9 yards to go on third down, the longest mark in the NFL. They faced an average of 10.2 yards to go on 3rd down tonight. They get the win, but outside of the last couple minutes it was ugly, ugly, ugly.— Riley McAtee (@Riley_McAtee) October 16, 2018
6. Complete to Adams for 38 Yards
It says a lot about how stunning Rodgers was down the stretch that this was only his sixth-best play. This was Rodgers’s first pass of Green Bay’s final two drives, and he floated it perfectly to Adams, moving the ball quickly into the red zone with under three minutes left on the clock. Right when the Packers needed to hurry things up, Rodgers began his comeback with a firework.
5. Scramble for 21 Yards
This play would be impressive even if Rodgers were fully healthy—20-plus-yard scrambles are rare for quarterbacks. Rodgers is known as a pretty mobile passer, and this was only the 11th rush of 20 or more yards in his career. But of course Rodgers isn’t healthy—he’s been hampered by his Week 1 knee injury and the brace he’s had to wear in every game since. Also, Rodgers had been sacked on the previous play (one that didn’t end up counting as Richard Sherman got flagged for questionable illegal contact downfield), and he came up wincing in pain.
Who cares that the Niners inexplicably left a 20-yard hole in the middle of the field? For Rodgers to run like that with a hunk of metal hanging off his leg is impressive in any scenario.
4. Complete to Adams for 8 Yards
3. Complete to Equanimeous St. Brown for 19 Yards
2. Complete to Adams for 19 Yards
Is there such a thing as a 20-second drill? Rodgers was so clinical on his final few throws of the game it was like he could have plucked a football out of a game of Operation. He turned off his targeting computer and stuck a missile in the Death Star’s exhaust port … three times in a row.
Rodgers moved the ball 46 yards in 13 seconds on three throws. Most teams with the ball on their own 45 and just 19 seconds remaining in a tied game would hope to just get their kicker in field goal range. Rodgers gave Mason Crosby a chip shot from 27 yards out. While Crosby had been a perfect 3-for-3 on field goals in the game up to that point, he’d struggled in recent weeks. Rather than pin the game on the chance that an up-and-down kicker could make a long kick, Rodgers put Crosby in the best possible position to win.
1. Complete to Adams for a 16-Yard Touchdown
This play isn’t just the best throw of the night because it’s a touchdown, it’s ranked at the top because it is the perfect embodiment of what Rodgers does best.
Aaron Rodgers has 12 TD and 0 INT in the 4th quarter since 2017, the best TD-INT ratio in the NFL— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) October 16, 2018
Davante Adams has 7 receiving TD in the 4th quarter since 2017, the most in the NFL
The veins run as cold as the frozen tundra in Green Bay...#Packers #MNF
Let’s get another look at that throw:
It’s not possible to place a ball any better than this. High, to the outside, where only Adams can get it—all the usual clichés that apply when throwing to the end zone. This tied the game, but that touchdown and the drive that led up to it made it feel like the Packers already had the lead. Rodgers was finally in a rhythm, and this was the prelude to him making all those sideline throws above that ultimately led to the game-winning field goal. It was only a matter of time—and Rodgers had left plenty on the clock.
That’s two prime-time games for Rodgers this season and two legacy-building performances. His next prime-time game is in three weeks, on November 4 against the Patriots in Foxborough. Whatever Rodgers and Tom Brady choose to unleash against each other in that contest may just break the football-viewing public.