Rodgers' patience paying off

Packers at Cardinals, Sunday, 4:00 p.m., FOX

If you’re a Packers fan, you know the story by now. In the 2005 NFL Draft, Aaron Rodgers waited for over four hours backstage before being selected by Green Bay with the 24th pick.

It was a tumultuous start to a career that made Rodgers the heir apparent to a living legend. The moniker “Brett Favre’s successor” became inescapable for the next three seasons as Rodgers became the highest paid backup quarterback in the NFL.

In 2007, his third season in the league, Rodgers had his first encounter with the spotlight, when Favre was injured in the first quarter of a week 13 Thursday night game in Dallas.

Playing for the right to stay atop the NFC standings, Rodgers’ play was remarkable. Despite losing to the Cowboys 37-27, the Packers’ second-string quarterback threw for 201 yards and a touchdown, without an interception.

It was the kind of performance that rose more than a few eyebrows within the Packers’ organization. There was no longer any question of whether Rodgers could be a starting quarterback once Favre finally departed.

So what did the Packers do? After coming within seconds of an NFC Championship, which was lost after a costly Favre interception, he finally decided to retire. The Packers forced his hand, though, making him come to a decision much earlier than the typically undecided Favre would have liked.

It was clear that Green Bay was ready to open the Aaron Rodgers chapter of the franchise, and they were going to stop at nothing to make that happen.

In his first season with the keys to the offense all to himself, Rodgers lived up to most expectations. He was sixth in the league in passing efficiency and completed 63.6 percent of his passes. His 28 touchdown passes were fourth most in the NFL.

But that is not why Packers’ brass left the fate of the team in his hands, though. They expected Rodgers to win games, and he did not do a whole lot of that. A year removed from that NFC Championship appearance, the Packers finished 6-10.

Rodgers play in and of itself was better than expected, and quite frankly it was a defense that couldn’t keep teams out of the end zone enough that lost many of those ten games. Still, with success comes the glory, and with failure comes the blame for NFL quarterbacks, and Rodgers was feeling the heat.

In the offseason, management brought in respected defensive coordinator Dom Capers to fix the team’s woes and implore a 3-4 defense.

They also drafted B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews, two of the best defensive players available in the 2009 draft. It was clear that the Packers were committed to bringing the defense up to speed with Rodgers and the offense.

This season started out very ho-hum, going 4-4 in the first eight games. The offense was averaging 26.8 points per game, while the defense was allowing 21.5. The switch to the 3-4 defense was a work in progress, and the adjustment period was long.

The Packers figured it out finally, and proceeded to win seven of their final eight games. During that stretch, Rodgers threw for over 300 yards three times, and the defense allowed only 15.6 points per game.

With the strong finish down the stretch, Rodgers finally vindicated himself and evaded the Wisconsin-sized shadow Brett Favre had cast over his career.

He finished the season with 4,434 yards, 30 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. His numbers were good enough to be the fourth highest rated passes in 2009, and earned him his first Pro Bowl selection.

That’s all well and good, but Brett Favre set a standard on this team that includes more than Pro Bowl berths. Super Bowls are the standard against which all success is measured in Green Bay. It’s been a long five years before Rodgers could even taste the playoffs as a starter.

He’s used to waiting though.


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