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Aaron Rodgers Returns to MVP Form as Packers Re-Emerge as Super Bowl Contenders

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystSeptember 21, 2021

Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers throws during the second half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions Monday, Sept. 20, 2021, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer)
Mike Roemer/Associated Press

Aaron Rodgers' eventual return to MVP form was never in doubt. 

OK, maybe some morbid curiosity of watching an all-time great's eventual decline after a drama-filled offseason became more than a passing thought after the Green Bay Packers fell flat on their collective faces during a Week 1 loss to the New Orleans Saints

Rodgers put everything into perspective after one of the worst games of the quarterback's career

"If we're starting to freak out after one week," Rodgers told reporters Thursday, "we're in big trouble."

The first half of Monday's contest against the Detroit Lions must have had Packers faithful feeling awfully antsy. Green Bay's rival held a 17-14 lead going into the break only to see Rodgers and Co. roar back with the force of a jet airplane taking off from the tarmac on their way to a 35-17 victory at Lambeau Field. 

The issue with the Week 1 loss stemmed from how poorly the Packers played. An unexpected loss is one thing. A trouncing at the hands of a team in transitionwhich happened to lay an egg the following weekend—caused a ruckus outside the organization. 

Did Rodgers even want to play anymore? Did the quarterback have one foot already out of the door? Would the Packers take a significant step back this fall after two straight NFC Championship appearances? 

To be fair, Rodgers' performance caused the dismay. After missing all of the organized team activities and mandatory minicamps and not playing in the preseason, the 37-year-old signal-caller appeared almost disinterested. In fact, Rodgers ranked dead last with a 53.6 completion percentage after the one-game sample size. His passes lacked the crispness and placement that have become synonymous with his career. 

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Insert the Michael Jordan meme: "And I took that personally."

A different version of Rodgers showed up for Monday Night Football. The return of the professional football's premier sniper came to play. Two throws signified Rodgers' ring rust had been shaken off and he's back to optimal efficiency. 

On 3rd-and-12 during the Packers' first drive of the second half, Rodgers whipped a picture-perfect 50-yard bomb to wide receiver Davante Adams. 

NFL @NFL

3rd and long... @AaronRodgers12 goes UP TOP to @tae15adams! 📺: #DETvsGB on ESPN 📱: https://t.co/XNWDngej3E https://t.co/rQ9TjogNvm

While those types of passes are often referred to as drops in the bucket, this particular throw could have been dropped into a Dixie cup. Don't overlook the fact Rodgers didn't even have his feet properly set. 

"What makes him different than anybody else would probably be he's kinda like the Steph Curry of quarterbacks," Adams explained last week, per CBS Sports' Jordan Dajani. "He has like the 'one-timeness,' as I like to call it, where you get one opportunity to make that throw work. It's not a 'plant your feet perfectly and throw,' it's a weird spot and you gotta make it happen." 

Two plays later, the quarterback threaded another unbelievable pass to tight end Robert Tonyan for a 22-yard score. 

Rodgers' touch on the earlier deep pass was beautiful. His laser-like precision on the touchdown toss is the type of throw very few professional quarterbacks would even attempt, much less complete. 

NFL @NFL

That ball was HUMMING. @RobTonJr hauls in a laser from @AaronRodgers12! #GoPackGo 📺: #DETvsGB on ESPN 📱: https://t.co/XNWDngej3E https://t.co/WAEnzVTeXq

No window existed. Rodgers saw the trailing linebacker's back turned to him with the safety playing half a field behind the route. The quarterback could have taken the wide-open underneath pass. Instead, Rodgers made the perfect throw.

The nine-time Pro Bowl selection completed 22-of-27 passes for 255 yards and four touchdowns. In doing so, Rodgers passed John Elway for 10th all-time in passing yardage. In fact, the Packers quarterback didn't throw an incomplete pass on second or third down until the 3:21 mark of the fourth quarter. He was particularly effective in the short passing game. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Rodgers finished 14-of-15 passing with three touchdowns when he released the ball in under 2.5 seconds. 

As Pro Football Focus' Steve Palazzolo noted, the three-time MVP experienced four games with a grade of 50 or lower since the start of the 2016 campaign. He responded with a four-touchdown performance the following week every single time

The performance wasn't perfect, as Rodgers himself stated. 

"I missed Marquez (Valdes-Scantling) a couple times when I had him," the quarterback told reporters

Even the best will miss a few and make some mistakes. Football isn't a game of perfection. Winning is built around making the necessary plays to place the entire team in the best possible position. 

The Packers entered this season as supposed Super Bowl contenders. Those aspirations reawakened after stumbling out of the gate. 

"I think we tried to show that we cared a little bit more tonight," Rodgers said

Matt Ludtke/Associated Press

Certain issues are still present. The defense can't generate much—really any—pass rush without Za'Darius Smith on the field. Smith, who is currently dealing with an ailing back, should return in a few weeks after a stint on short-term injured reserve, though. Without a consistent pass rush, the defensive backs not named Jaire Alexander can and will be exposed when asked to cover for extended periods. 

A couple of silver linings seem to be emerging, too. Rodgers connected with Randall Cobb three times for 26 yards to expand the veteran's usage after only one catch in Week 1. Eventually, All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari will return to the lineup after recovering from last season's torn ACL. 

At 1-1, Green Bay is clearly the favorite in the NFC North since the Chicago Bears' quarterback situation remains muddled. As long as Monday's performance from Rodgers continues in the coming weeks, the Packers should be able to keep up or outdistance any other team in the conference. After all, Matt LaFleur's squad led the NFL in scoring last season. 

A particularly poor performance brings out the naysayers, especially those who sided with the Packers organization instead of its quarterback. 

"People like to say a lot of b------t, and it's nice to come back in here after a game like that," Rodgers told reporters after Monday's game. 

He added, "It's nice to have a performance like this and get the trolls off our back for a week."

Maybe when Rodgers says relax, everyone should listen. 

Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.

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