By Lenn Robbins
If this is the last time, let it snow. Not flurries. Not a couple of inches of accumulation. But a good, hearty Wisconsin snowstorm complete with blustery winds that changes direction with every possession.
Yes, let these two masters of offenses and elements – Tom Brady who played through his share of nor’easters in Foxboro, and Aaron Rodgers who has battled through the winters in on the southern end of Lake Michigan – have one last showdown under the most brutal of conditions.
Vince Lombardi must have heard our wishes because weather conditions for today’s 3:05 p.m. NFC Championship Game kickoff in Green Bay is predicted to be 29 degrees with a wind chill of about 12. And yes, snow is in the forecast for what may be the last meeting between the 43-year-old Brady and the 37-year-old Rodgers who are meeting for the time in the playoffs.
It’s virtually impossible to depict how magnificent these two quarterbacks have been. Rodgers has posted eight 4,000-yard passing seasons while throwing less than 10 picks. Brady has done it six times. No other quarterback in NFL history has done it more than twice.
Rodgers has one Super Bowl ring and won MVP honors in Super Bowl XLV. He’s been named league MVP three times and will likely garner a fourth after throwing 48 touchdown passes and only five interceptions this season.
“He basically does everything well, so he’s got great command and experience,” Brady told reporters this week. “And (his) leadership — players are playing hard. He’s got a great style of play.”
As does Brady. He has Six Super Bowls rings, four Super Bowl MVP trophies, three NFL MVP honors. He’s seeking to become just the second quarterback (Peyton Manning – Colts, Broncos] to win Super Bowls with two teams. He’s 2-1 against Rodgers.
“I remember when I heard the news about him coming to the NFC, I thought this was a real possibility,” Rodgers said this week. “And I’m excited about the opportunity to play against him one more time.”
It’s not Brady who Rodgers has to worry about as much as it’s the Bucs defense. Tampa Bay led the league in rushing defense (80.6 yards per game) and sacked the quarterback 48 times.
In the Bucs 38-10 win over the Packers on Oct. 18, Rodgers suffered through a 15-of-35 passing day for 160 yards and two interceptions, almost half of his season total. Rodgers was only sacked 21 times this season but five came in that game.
“I think we needed kind of a kick in the ass a little bit,” Rodgers said. “There’s a little bit of a wakeup to stop feeling ourselves so much and get back to the things that got us to this position. I think this would be, unfortunately but fortunately, something we can really grow from.”
Brady’s Achilles heel has always been when the pocket breaks down. He also was sacked just 21 times but 11 of those sacks and nine of his 12 interceptions came in the five games the Bucs lost and defenses knew he had to throw. The Pack had 41 sacks this season.
“That’s the biggest thing with Brady,” defensive lineman Kenny Clark said. “The things that beat him this season or just in his career period in big games got pressure on him. That’s a huge thing that we’ve got to do, is get pressure on Tom Brady. He’s seen it all, done it all, been in every situation. So we’ve got to just cause havoc inside and outside, and get him off his spot. If you get a chance to hit him, hit him.”
Not only is this possibly the last matchup between Brady and Rodgers, it might be the last matchup of “old-school” quarterbacks who win from within the pocket. Rodgers (3,271 yards rushing) is the better scrambler than Brady (1,045) but neither are in the mold of younger, new-era quarterbacks such as Deshaun Watson (1,677 yards rushing), Josh Allen (1,562), Patrick Mahomes (808) and Lamar Jackson (2,906).
We should savor this game – two of the best to the play game in an open-air stadium. After that 38-10 loss, Rodgers told Brady, “We’ll see you down the line.”
That day is today. Two of the best, going down the line of careers that are closer to the end of a glorious road.