Packers Prove How Badly They Need MVP-Caliber Season from Aaron Rodgers Again

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystSeptember 11, 2016

JACKSONVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 11:  Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers calls a play during a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field on September 11, 2016 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

In Sunday's season-opening win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers looked more like the NFL MVP version of himself from two years ago than last season's subpar (by his standards) "Rodgers Lite."

That's a good thing for the Packers and their playoff aspirations. In nearly falling to the Jaguars, a flawed Packers team demonstrated they're going to need another huge season from Rodgers to make any noise in January.

At first glance, Rodgers' numbers in the 27-23 victory over Jacksonville don't merit discussion of individual accolades and shiny trophies. He completed 20 of 34 pass attempts for 199 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His counterpart on the Jaguars, Blake Bortles, completed a higher percentage of his passes and threw for 320 yards.

But where Bortles may have won the quantity battle, it was all about quality for Rodgers.

After the Packers' surprising release of Josh Sitton just before the season, Rodgers is playing behind a line that may be worse than last year's—a unit that surrendered 47 sacks. That didn't stop him from extending plays with his legs all afternoon:

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

Aaron Rodgers avoiding defenders today like https://t.co/eSSja4RbHM

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We'll call that an, um, dramatic re-creation.

Rodgers' day of making something from nothing was never more evident than on his second touchdown pass. It was a ridiculous play where the only thing better than Davante Adams' catch was Rodgers delivering a perfect throw despite the fact that the Jaguars had him dead to rights...


NFL Network @nflnetwork

Aaron Rodgers is unstoppable. It's that simple. #GBvsJAX https://t.co/KI1rGSLUvG

We'll be seeing that play on the highlight shows, perhaps.

That wasn't Rodgers' first score of the day, which was a six-yard scamper in the first quarter. Or his second, a six-yard pass to favorite target Jordy Nelson, who had six grabs for 32 yards and that score in his first regular-season action since 2014.

For those who aren't inclined to do math, that means Rodgers was responsible for all three Packers touchdowns on a day where the team rushed for only 95 yards—79 if you subtract Rodgers' 16 yards on four scrambles.

Simply put, No. 12 put the Green Bay offense on his back and carried the Packers to victory on the road against an improved young Jaguars team.

If Sunday's squeaker was any indication, it's something that will be happening with regularity in 2016.

After watching guard Lane Taylor struggle at times and the Green Bay line as a whole regularly lose the battle in the trenches, general manager Ted Thompson's gambit with Sitton looks more ill-advised than ever. This isn't to say that Taylor didn't have his moments, such as on Rodgers' rushing score:

Aaron Nagler @AaronNagler

Nice work by Lane Taylor on Rodgers' TD https://t.co/XU5fzAuXLT

But no quarterback in the NFC was on his back more times a season ago than Rodgers, and the O-line isn't any better in 2016.

The defense, meanwhile, looked an awful lot like the Green Bay defense usually does: prone to both making timely big plays and giving up yardage in chunks. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers' crew notched three sacks and made stops when they had to. But they also gave up 348 yards of total offense and allowed the Jags to convert three of four fourth downs.

The Packers are a very good team. Easily the best in the NFC North. But this Green Bay team is very similar to the Packers teams of 2014 and 2015. They have the same strengths and the same weaknesses.

JACKSONVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 11:  Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers rolls out during the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field on September 11, 2016 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Two years ago, with Nelson healthy and Rodgers regularly making dazzling plays en route to being named league MVP, that was enough for the Packers to come within a hair of a Super Bowl berth. The collapse during the second half of that year's NFC Championship Game against Seattle was hardly Rodgers' doing.

Last year, with Nelson out and Rodgers struggling, the Minnesota Vikings won the NFC North and the Pack were one win and done in the postseason.

Before the game, Rodgers told ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky he looked forward to getting his favorite weapon in the passing game back, but it was important not to get too carried away with what to expect from the duo in Week 1.

"We've got a thousand reps together," Rodgers said. "[But] we haven't had Jordy in a team period yet, so we're just going to keep expectations at a reasonable level."

"Reasonable expectations" is a relative term in the NFL. For the Cleveland Browns, it's winning more than three games. For the Packers, it's a trip to Houston in February.

Sunday's victory didn't change that, nor did it reveal anything we didn't already know. We knew that having Nelson back would help the Green Bay offense. We knew that a slimmer Eddie Lacy would, too.

And most importantly, we knew that the Packers will go only as far in 2016 as their all-world quarterback takes them.

That's just how things work in Mr. Rodgers' neighborhood.

Gary Davenport is an NFL analyst at Bleacher Report and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter @IDPSharks.

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