The green-and-gold genius: Aaron Rodgers' 12 best throws of his career
The 2018 NFL season is officially underway after Philadelphia's Thursday night victory against Atlanta, but Green Bay will have to wait a little longer before the Packers kick off the season on Sunday night against Chicago.
The Packers-Bears game will be a welcome matchup at Lambeau Field for the green and gold faithful, but it also signals a new leaf for a team that had its playoff hopes snatched away last fall when Minnesota's Anthony Barr broke Aaron Rodgers' collarbone. Entering the Vikings game, Green Bay was 4-1 and averaging over 27 points per game. From there, the Brett Hundley-led Packers went just 3-8, and although Rodgers made one last gasp return in Week 15 in an attempt to save the season, he was clearly rusty and the season was essentially over.
But in 2018, things have started uncharacteristically anew for the Packers, as an organization that prides itself on consistency made significant offseason changes to the front office and the coaching staff.
On the field, Hundley is out despite the number of years Mike McCarthy invested in him and former second round pick DeShone Kizer is in. Free agent Jimmy Graham inked a three-year deal as the most recent – and potentially most effective – fix to the Packers' recent revolving door at tight end. The Packers drafted two more corners and a linebacker in the first three rounds to solve the recurring defensive woes. Plenty of old reliables have moved on (most notably wide out Jordy Nelson), but the fresh faces should bring enough vigor to shake up what had become a stale core.
Mix in a healthy Rodgers, who is the most notable addition in the NFL, and Green Bay should surge back into contention. Yet, the Packers are still flying under the radar in the NFC North as the Vikings and Bears grab offseason headlines.
Don't expect it to stay that way for very long: It's simply been awhile since the football universe let out a collective gasp following a Rodgers missile.
Just in case the rest of the league needed a reminder, we've compiled a list of Rodgers' 12 best throws. Only one of Rodgers' tosses against the Bears landed on this list of best throws (though this one surely would have without the holding call), but that could certainly change this Sunday. Rodgers is 15-4 against Chicago during his career with 42 touchdowns to nine interceptions.
12. Touchdown throw to Randall Cobb vs. Chicago (December 2015)
Game situation is part of what makes a memorable throw, so even though Cobb worked his way wide open down the field, a fourth-and-eight while trailing on the road to the rival Bears in the final 45 seconds certainly elevates this play on Rodgers' list. Most quarterbacks wouldn't even take this down field shot; after all, the Packers still had one timeout and only needed a field goal to win. A more conservative play might have been the prudent choice, but with a player like Rodgers, prudence is rightfully tossed out the window.
11. Hail Mary to Randall Cobb vs. New York (January 2017)
That a touchdown bomb before the half is this far down the list of Rodgers' top throws says almost everything there is to say about his premier quarterbacking skills. He has become the master of the Hail Mary, and if he is across his own 40 with any amount of time left on the clock, the defense should be worried. This throw only slots in at no. 11 because Rodgers did not have to deal with much pressure in the pocket and because Randall Cobb got away with maybe the biggest push-off in football history. Still, completing a pass from your own 48-yard line to the back of the end zone during a Green Bay winter deserves recognition, no matter the situation.
10. Evades pressure and finds Randall Cobb vs. San Francisco (January 2014)
Rodgers sometimes holds onto the ball too long, but you can't blame him when he often makes such spectacular plays like these. On fourth-and-two in the 2013 NFC Wild Card game against the Niners, Rodgers not only freed himself from the grips of several sack attempts while holding onto the football, he also found Cobb streaking up the field for a 26-yard gain. Rodgers never gets enough credit for his elusiveness, which allows him to extend plays and pick apart defenses that become more vulnerable with each passing second.
9. Touchdown while getting sacked vs. Jacksonville (September 2016)
We've marveled time and time again at Rodgers' strength, and we will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Against Jacksonville, he put that strength on full display, gunning a perfect strike to the well-covered Adams while a blitzing defender clung to his jersey and yanked him to the turf.
8. Touchdown toss threw defender's hands vs. Dallas (January 2017)
Dallas' Sean Lee is one of the great linebackers of the 21st century, while Richard Rodgers is just another man in the long line of Green Bay tight ends in recent years. But the skill level of the other 21 players on the field hardly matters as long as Rodgers is operating as the puppet master from the pocket. After Rodgers' patent-pending hard count drew a Cowboys defender across the line of scrimmage, he quickly lobbed the ball towards Rodgers who was headed up the seam for the end zone. Rodgers did earn a step on Lee down the field to open up the throw, but no. 12 still did most of the work, and feathered the ball between Lee's extended, desperate arms.
7. Touchdown throw on the run to James Jones vs. Minnesota (November 2015)
This just might be the most run-of-the-mill throw on the list, but I'm not sure if anyone else in the NFL could do it. Rodgers dipped from the pocket when no one breaks free after a couple seconds and then casually pitched the ball toward the back pylon while on the move with a trio of Vikings defenders bearing down. Of course, James Jones slipped underneath the ball for the score, just as Rodgers planned when he threw it to the spot no one else could reach. This touchdown isn't flashy, but that might make it even more impressive.
6. Sideline fade over the defender to Greg Jennings vs. Arizona (January 2010)
Now I'm positive no one else could make this play. In his first career playoff game, with the clock ticking down on what could be the Packers' last drive of the night, Rodgers unleashed one of the most spectacular passes of his career. He rolled out of the pocket (shocking, I know) where he was greeted by a defender twisting around the offensive line, forcing him to throw the ball while jumping and fading backwards. He somehow got enough mustard on the pass to float it over the outstretched arms of the defender and safely to Greg Jennings, who was hanging nearly parallel with the field by the time he dragged his second toe.
5. Touchdown into Davante Adams' pocket vs. Philadelphia (November 2016)
Rodgers' TD toss to Adams in Philadelphia is another quietly phenomenal play. Unlike almost every other play on this list, Rodgers stayed inside the pocket and made this play on schedule. He tossed the ball towards the left sideline without stepping into the throw, but still put the ball in a spot where Adams didn't have any other choice but to catch it. Throwing a pass with that kind of accuracy is one thing; doing it with defenders circling you and a cornerback draped all over the receiver makes it even more remarkable.
4. Miracle in Motown vs. Detroit (December 2015)
This play is quintessential Rodgers on the move. He is virtually impossible to tackle inside the pocket, and he is an expert at running defenders towards his own blockers to free himself into open space. Rodgers moved to his right and found an opening, which gave him time to unwind for a near 70-yard throw. From there, tight end Richard Rodgers glided underneath the ball and managed to outmuscle several bodies for the touchdown.
On second look, it becomes clear that there are alarmingly few Lions defenders actually attached to Richard Rodgers as he goes for the grab; in fact, the tight end appears to steal the ball from two of his green and gold teammates in mid-air. Regardless of Detroit's defensive issues, Rodgers' ridiculous arm strength combined with the rarity of completed Hail Mary's (at least at the time) puts this play high on his career highlight reel.
3. Long throw to James Jones vs. 49ers (October 2015)
Oh my. This is an absolutely startling throw. Rodgers looked to his left for most of the play, but with the 49ers' pushing the Green Bay offensive line backwards, Rodgers had to take his eyes off his receivers to avoid the pressure. By the time he actually threw the ball, Rodgers was nearly 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage and leaning off his back foot. He did have Jones in one-on-one coverage down the field, but he had to throw the ball towards the sideline to avoid the safety in the middle of the field. Somehow, he accomplishes all that and whizzes the ball past the earhole of the defender, Kenneth Acker, who was turned around in coverage. Acker's frustration after the play is just the cherry on top of another incredible toss by the future Hall of Famer.
2. Clutch throw to Jared Cook vs. Dallas (January 2017)
Rodgers is arguably the best quarterback in football, and he has nearly unprecedented arm talent, but he doesn't always emphasize the fundamentals in the pocket. This third-and-20 play is a prime example, as Rodgers left the pocket early, and rather than setting his feet after evading pressure, he continued to drift into trouble. But being the off-balance wizard that he is, Rodgers still whipped the ball up the sideline, past the outstretched arms of the defender, and into the only spot where Jared Cook could both catch the ball and keep his toes in the field of play. Throw in the ticking clock, the down and distance, and the magnitude of the moment, and this throw easily soared up the Rodgers' top-12 list as soon as Mason Crosby clinched the contest with the 51-yard field goal.
1. Hail Mary at the buzzer vs. Arizona (January 2016)
As nearly every great Rodgers throw begins, no. 12 rolled to his left to escape pressure. Only this time – well, by now, it's happened several times – the Packers quarterback unleashed a bomb from the other side of the midfield while linebacker Markus Golden attempted to detach Rodgers' right limb from his body. Somehow, Rodgers managed to balloon his Hail Mary toss into the end zone, where Jeff Janis came streaking out of nowhere to out-leap two Cards' defenders, fight off an attempted punch on the football, and send the playoff game into overtime. Arizona may have ultimately won the game, but Rodgers' incredible throw will still go down in postseason lore – and will certainly allow for all the free drinks Janis can handle in Green Bay.
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