"Can Do" Attitude: Aaron Rodgers Thrives With More Responsibility

Peter BukowskiSenior Analyst IDecember 25, 2009

PITTSBURGH - DECEMBER 20:  Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers scrambles away from the defense of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the game on December 20, 2009 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

The slobbering over Aaron Rodgers has almost so incessant and pervasive in the sports media, you'd think it was Tony Kornheiser watching Brett Favre. Except of course Aaron isn't "Just having fun out there." The key difference between No. 4 and No. 12: Rodgers hasn't built up nearly two decades worth of media love to earn get out of jail free cards for stupid interceptions, forced throws, and selfish actions.

No, Rodgers is proving himself on the football field, showing why he deserves to counted as an elite-level quarterback and perennial MVP contender.

He is running around, but not like a chicken with his head cut off like Favre used to, hoping he could make something out of nothing. Rodgers has the most rushing yards of any quarterback in the league and that includes Vince Young, Donovan McNabb, Tony Romo, Ben Roethlisberger, and quarterbacks whose mobility tend to get more publicity.

In fact, Rodgers has just 34 fewer rushing yards than Reggie Bush, while even sporting a higher yard per carry average than the former USC phenom (who, to be fair has been an unmitigated disaster the past two seasons).

Every week, you hear defensive coordinators saying they want to keep him in the pocket because when he rolls, he is incredibly dangerous. That's because few quarterbacks in the league possess the kind of accuracy Aaron has, particularly moving to his right.

But give him time in the pocket, and he will eat you alive.

These are things we knew about Aaron Rodgers. We'd seen glimpses in the game against the Cowboys when he was filling in for Favre two years ago. We saw it last year when he had one of the greatest seasons in history for a first-year starter.

What we didn't see was the comfort in the offense, the leadership in the huddle, or the ability to finish games.

I will be the first to say that the late game issues from last year do not fall solely on the right shoulder of Rodgers. The defense failed to come up with stops on a consistent basis and that really obfuscated the fact that Rodgers was solid late in games.

But good or bad, the quarterback gets more blame than he deserves for losing often more credit than he deserves for winning. If Aaron Rodgers wants to be known for his winning and not his gaudy stats, he needs to start doing more of the former.   

Poor play-calling has handcuffed Rodgers for almost two seasons now, but what we saw in Pittsburgh should give you hope.

Head Coach Mike McCarthy took the reigns off, letting Rodgers do more than just tweak plays. Making adjustments, reading defenses, and getting out of bad plays into good ones is what players like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning elite-level quarterbacks.

It's what separates young quarterbacks from experienced ones.

Rodgers responded with one his best games in a Packer uniform throwing for 383 yards, three scores and rushing for another. Had the Packer receivers been able to catch the ball, it would have been an even more impressive showing (and the Packers likely would have won the game).

Down 10, the Packers scored 22 points in the fourth, only to have the defense snatch a loss from the jaws of victory. Rodgers engineered key drives when the team had to have them, against a team who had to have the game.

The Packers succumbed to the same bugaboo from last year, unable to get a crucial stop. That is ultimately what will determine when this defense can truly count itself among the elite.

But you can't blame Aaron Rodgers for that.

He was out of rhythm in the first half, receivers were dropping the ball, and the running game was ineffective. He could have folded or he could have pressed. But he did neither, preferring to stay the course and continue to pump the ball on a rope to his receivers assuming at some point they'd make a play.

Eventually guys like Jermichael Finley stepped up. The offense made enough plays to win the game.

You score 36 on the road in December, you expect to win.

It's tough to score moral victories when you give away a game that'd have all but assured your entrance to the playoffs, against the defending champs. Aaron Rodgers would never accept a moral victory, and that competitiveness and fire are part of what make him great.

The more he's asked to do, the more he's showing he can do.

Against a pulverizing pass-rush, in a harsh environment, playing a team fighting for it's lives, Aaron Rodgers came up with the plays he needed to have. I mentioned last week "competitive greatness is being at your best when your best is needed." Aaron Rodgers is slowly showing he can be great.