Last week’s Sunday night matchup between the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers showcased two generation-defining quarterbacks: Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, and Canton, Ohio is their next stop.
It was the matchup football fans had been waiting for all season, and with the current state of the New York Jets and New York football Giants, all the New York media was talking about in the week leading up to the matchup.
When we think of the 21st century in terms of sports there are usually one or two athletes that come to the forefront in their respective fields. In basketball we have Lebron James, in boxing we have Floyd Mayweather and in soccer we have Messi and Ronaldo. In the case of football, however, it just isn’t that easy. With the likes of Peyton Manning, Ray Lewis, Adrian Peterson, Charles Woodson, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, there are a plethora of superstars that have had significant impacts on the recent history of the National Football League.
What separates Brady and Rodgers from the rest of the pack is their unparalleled ability to make those around them significantly better, their ability to utilize and understand their strengths and their unprecedented clutch genes.
Throughout his career, Brady has thrown touchdown passes to an NFL record 71 different receivers including lineman Nate Solder, defensive player Mike Vrabel as well as many other rejects such as Michael Floyd, Kenbrell Thompkins, Tom Ashworth and Cordarelle Patterson who were either deemed not good enough by the teams who got rid of them, or went on to do nothing with their NFL careers following their stint with the Patriots. Either way, Brady consistently proves that he can turn other teams trash, into viable, effective weapons.
Much like Brady, Rodgers too has the ability to elevate the performance of those around him. With his unique ability to move around the pocket Rodgers can buy time for his receivers to beat the coverage. It doesn’t matter who is playing defense when Rodgers is on the field. No defender can possibly stay with their man for the amount of time Rodgers keeps plays alive. As a result, no-name starting receivers like Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown can be effective for the Packers.
In terms of athletic ability, Brady and Rodgers could not be more opposite. Rodgers is one of most elusive quarterbacks in the league, while Brady more closely resembles a moving tree trunk. Rodgers has the god given arm strength of a power lifter where as Brady is a master at reading defenses and runs a more West Coast style offense using short horizontal passing routes to set up the big plays down field. Although dichotomous, each quarterback is able to be effective using only their strengths in an effort to be the most effective player they can be.
The most defining character of these quarterbacks is their ability to perform under pressure or “clutchness.”
During week 17 of the 2014 NFL season, the Bears and Packers squared off in what was the NFC North championship game. Down 28-27 with 46 seconds left, the Packers were faced with a fourth down and eight from the Bears 48. Rodgers sent a 50-yard rocket down the field to wide receiver Randall Cobb for the game, and division-winning touchdown. That play would be the first of many last second, Hail Mary victories for the legendary Packers quarterback.
He would go on to do it again a year later in the 2015 Divisional Round matchup with the Arizona Cardinals in what was, at the time, the greatest quarterback performance I had experienced.
With 55 seconds to play it was fourth and 20 for Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers from their own four-yard line, down seven. Rodgers rolled left, and sent a 61-yard laser down the field to wide receiver Jeff Janis. With five seconds left to play on that same drive, the Packers had the ball on the Cardinals 41 yard line. Once again, the right-handed Rodgers rolled left, and tossed a perfect 50+-yard throw across his body to Janis for the touchdown as time expired, the best throw I have seen to this day.
Although the Packers would go on to fall to the Cardinals in overtime, it was this game that cemented Rodgers as one of the most cold-blooded quarterbacks to ever play the game.
The only quarterback to outdo Rodgers in terms of come-from-behind victories, is Brady.
For Brady, there are too many comebacks to count. From digging his team out of a 24-0 halftime deficit to beat Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos to his many Super Bowl comebacks, Brady stands above all. The most impressive feat of Brady’s career, however, was his victory over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI.
Down 28-3 with just under 23 minutes to play, the Brady bunch stormed back to tie the game, converting two crucial two-point conversions along the way. Nothing seemed to faze Brady. He seemingly forgot about the score, and focused on putting quality drives together. And when it mattered the most in overtime, Brady was picture perfect going 75 yards in just eight plays capped off by James White’s two-yard touchdown to give Brady his fifth Super Bowl.
Although, Brady and Rodgers differ in many of their athletic abilities/approach to the position, they share many of same intangible traits that are necessary for success at the quarterback position.
Yes, this past week’s matchup between these two quarterbacks was certainly not one for the books. However, given the sole reason that this was only the second time these two icons have squared off, it has certainly solidified its place in the NFL history books. That alone says all you need to know about these revered, Canton-bound quarterbacks.