GREEN BAY, Wis. — After slogging through two straight seasons without the playoffs, Aaron Rodgers has meaningful games to play in December.
And just two days past his 36th birthday and late in his 15th NFL season, that’s more than enough to drive the Green Bay Packers’ two-time NFL MVP quarterback.
“Yeah, that and seeing the 18th hole coming up, realizing I can’t play forever and the opportunities don’t come along all the time,” Rodgers said Wednesday.
Rodgers, who turned 36 on Monday, has said repeatedly that he plans to play into his 40s, but in continuing his golf-as-a-metaphor-for-his career analogy, all he would say he is he’s “making the turn, I think.”
However, the invigoration Rodgers feels came well before the Packers’ 9-3 start heading into Sunday’s game against the Washington Redskins.
“I can feel the energy of this team early in April and May,” Rodgers continued “And it was a different feel and that’s what spurred me in the summertime to forgo some of the traveling I would usually do and make sure I was dialed in once training camp came around, because I felt like we could do something special this year.”
Under first-year coach Matt LaFleur, the Packers have a one-game lead in the NFC North over the Minnesota Vikings but still have to go to Minneapolis in Week 16 on Monday Night Football. A win there would give the Packers the season sweep over the Vikings and the head-to-head tiebreaker. At this point, the Packers would be the No. 3 seed in the NFC, which wouldn’t grant them a first-round playoff bye, but at least they would host a wild-card game. The Saints and Seahawks, both at 10-2, currently have the inside track on the top two seeds in the NFC.
With four weeks left in the regular season, those at the top can’t help but start thinking about playoff positioning. Over the last six seasons, every Super Bowl participant has been either a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in its conference, which meant having a first-round bye. That’s the longest streak since playoff seeding began, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
“I think the NFC is as deep as I’ve seen it in a long time, especially with the number of teams that have eight or more wins,” Rodgers said. I think home-field advantage will definitely help. You’ve seen some of the bigger games this year from some of the top seeds, home-field advantage has meant something in those games. So we’d love to be one of those top-two seeds and have to have a team come to us after a week break, but we have a long way to go until we get there. we have to get this one this week and then get to 10 and start talking about some of those things.”
However, in Rodgers’ only Super Bowl season (2010), the Packers were a wild-card team and won all three playoff games on the road. In perhaps his best performance that postseason, he led the Packers to a rout of the Falcons in the climate-controlled Georgia Dome.
“Obviously, big picture, we’d love to have as many games here in January as we can,” Packers receiver Davante Adams said. “Put ourselves in position by making sure we go out and win those games leading up to it.”
Rodgers showed on Sunday against the New York Giants at a snow-covered field at MetLife Stadium that he can still handle the cold, too.
“I’ve always enjoyed the no-wind, indoor conditions, and I think the stats probably bear that out pretty good,” Rodgers said. “But the older I get, the more I appreciate the speed levels kind of equaling out to my own sometimes in the cold weather and the snow. Like I said after the game [Sunday], I was a little worried that the sleet was going to make it a little more difficult to throw the ball, but those nice, big flakes made throwing the football not an issue.
“The cold is a factor. It’s not like we’re a bunch of Wisconsin folks who were born and raised here, but I think you just learn to deal with the elements a little bit better when you’re spending eight months a year here. When I go back to California, I laugh at all the Californians wearing long sleeves and coats in 60-degree weather. I’m thinking, ‘Man, this is short weather, short sleeves. Get the speedo out or something.’ “