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'Winning is a cure-all': Aaron Rodgers' atypical season still enough for Packers

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Orlovsky, Ninkovich predict Packers win over Seahawks (1:42)

Despite the Seahawks being a resilient road team this season, Dan Orlovsky and Rob Ninkovich believe Aaron Rodgers will be the difference for the Packers against the Seahawks. (1:42)

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Davante Adams didn't need to hear the rest of the question.

If all else fails, is there any doubt that Aaron ...

At that point, the Green Bay Packers receiver knew it was headed toward whether quarterback Aaron Rodgers could still carry this team.

"That he can do that?" Adams said. "There's no question whatsoever. I know what he's capable of. We're all human. There's not always going to be great plays every single play, but when it comes down to situations like this -- playoff moments with a Super Bowl on the line -- that's my guy and I'm definitely not going to think that he can't take care of that."

That the question has been tossed around this week, as the 13-3 Packers prepared for an NFC divisional playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks at Lambeau Field (6:40 p.m. ET Sunday, Fox), reflects just how different this season has been for the two-time NFL MVP.

'Tell us what's wrong with Aaron Rodgers'

Matt Hasselbeck knew early on what kind of year it was going to be for Rodgers.

It was the Week 4 game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Rodgers and the Packers won their first three games, none of them pretty. Rodgers had one touchdown pass in the opener against the Chicago Bears on a night when in reality, the defense did all the work. He threw two touchdowns in Week 2 against the Minnesota Vikings when they jumped to a 21-0 lead and then did next to nothing the rest of the way. He threw one in Week 3 against the Denver Broncos. His high yardage game was 235.

So here was Rodgers, four games into new coach Matt LaFleur's offense, and he finally got rolling on Sept. 27 against the Eagles. Davante Adams had a monster game (10 catches, 180 yards) until he left with a fourth-quarter turf toe injury with Rodgers having a 422-yard game. But on the way to 4-0, the Packers stumbled twice deep in the red zone and came away with nothing in the 34-27 loss.

"The play that stands out to me was the goal-line stand against the Eagles where it's kind of an RPO situation or a zone-read," said Hasselbeck, the former NFL quarterback and current ESPN analyst. "Basically, if you just had anybody do what the offense is supposed to do they would've probably scored a touchdown."

The play Hasselbeck was referring to came on third-and-goal from the 1-yard line with 9:12 left. With the offensive line run blocking like it should on a run-pass option play, Rodgers faked the handoff to Aaron Jones, booted to his left where neither slot receiver Allen Lazard nor tight end Jimmy Graham split out wide was open, forcing a throwaway. A handoff to Jones likely would have been the right move.

View that as a criticism of Rodgers if you must, but that wasn't Hasselbeck's point.

"There were times this year when I'd look at the stats -- and a lot of people just work off the stats -- and they were like, 'Tell us what's wrong with Aaron Rodgers,'" Hasselbeck said. "Early on, things were just a little off. Every play call was down to one second [on the play clock], and there was some playground ball."

The numbers weren't pretty for Rodgers and questions remain about whether he's capable of getting hot for a long postseason run.

Consider:

  • Rodgers posted a 50.4 Total QBR in the regular season, the lowest single-season mark of his career.

  • He had 10 games with a Total QBR under 50, second most among starting quarterbacks this season (behind only Mitchell Trubisky with 11).

  • He held the ball for an average of 2.88 seconds, the sixth-highest in the NFL this season, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.

Yet, Rodgers says he doesn't care.

Not with a 13-3 record, the No. 2 seed in the NFC and his best chance in years to go to a second Super Bowl -- something he admitted this week he thinks about every day.

"I love winning and whatever it takes for us to win, that's the most important thing," Rodgers said this week.

In some ways, it resembles the early 2000s when Brett Favre went through a stretch where he didn't have to throw it all the time. Take 2003, when Ahman Green rushed for a franchise-record 1,883 yards and scored 20 touchdowns. Donald Driver led that team with 52 catches and Javon Walker had a team-high 716 receiving yards.

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1:58

Stephen A.: Rodgers faces the most pressure in the divisional round

Stephen A. Smith makes the case that Aaron Rodgers is the quarterback facing the most pressure in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs.

"I'm the age now I believe that Brett was when I was drafted and obviously closer to the finish than the beginning," Rodgers said. "The most important thing is winning and I know how difficult a couple of those years were when we weren't winning and how the last couple years were here.

"Winning is a cure-all, and if you truly care about the squad and embrace your role, then you feel like you're part of something special and I feel that I have been this year. It's been a lot of fun."

More Aaron Jones

The 2019 Packers were less about Rodgers and more about Aaron Jones, who totaled 1,558 yards from scrimmage and came up one score short of Green's record 20 touchdowns.

"They're really well-balanced on offense, more balanced than they've been because of Aaron Jones," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said this week on a conference call with reporters who cover the Packers.

"He's made such an impact, he's been such a special player in the run game, it's just balanced them out. Aaron Rodgers hasn't had to rely so much on making all the special plays and scrambling around to create the explosions. They're getting that just by handing the ball off. I think that's what every quarterback needs and he certainly has benefited from it."

Which goes back to Hasselbeck's point on the third-and-1 play: Rodgers should no longer feel as if he has to do everything.

"That can feel a little bit confining and suffocating at first," Hasselbeck said. "It's like, 'Why can't I just do this or that?' I think even though people might point to the things that you and I are talking about, I still think it works, and I still think it's winning football and I still think it's going to improve.

"I've seen Aaron this year be really successful at some of this hard-action stuff where it looks like it's a naked boot and he pulls up and is throwing it deep or the guy on the right is running all the way left. Not that he can't do it, he certainly can, it's just new."

Perhaps, most importantly, LaFleur's offense makes things easier for everyone else, especially the line.

It's probably no coincidence the Packers led the NFL in pass-block win rate (71.5 percent), according to ESPN Stats & Information. It's allowed Rodgers to hold the ball longer, although that might not always be a good thing. Part of that could be attributed to the lack of options outside of Davante Adams. Rodgers, never one to force the ball, threw 49.6% of his passes to open receivers (defined by Next Gen as 3-or-more yards of separation), which was the third-highest rate in the league.

Some believe the Packers need more from Rodgers in the playoffs if they're going to make a Super Bowl run. Some of Rodgers' best games came in the 2010 playoffs -- the divisional-round win at Atlanta and the Super Bowl against the Steelers among them.

That kind of performance might not be necessary -- or the right way to look at this version of the Packers -- to make it to Super Bowl LIV in Miami.

"I've heard Mike Shanahan say with this system, 'Just run the offense. Don't worry about conversions. Worry about completions and the offense will get third-down conversions,'" Hasselbeck said. "The other thing is we're not going to design plays to go to one person, the ball will find the best person."