ARLINGTON, Texas (CBS 5 / AP) — Absolutely no need to bring up Ol’ What’s His Name ever again. Aaron Rodgers,the Chico native who became a football standout at Cal, is a Super Bowl championship quarterback in his own right.
And he’s the game’s MVP, too. That’s an honor Brett Favre, his Green Bay Packers predecessor, never earned.
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With precise passes and cool under pressure, Rodgers completed 24 of 39 passes for 304 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions Sunday night to lead the Packers to a 31-25 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers for Green Bay’s first NFL title since Favre’s in the January 1997 Super Bowl.
Rodgers is 27 years old, just as Favre was then. And after biding his time as a backup until the Packers split with Favre, Rodgers has quickly established himself as one of the game’s best. This was his third full season as a starting QB, and he was particularly good throughout the playoffs, leading the No. 6 seed Packers to three NFC road victories before winning the championship Sunday.
“I’ve never felt like there’s been a monkey on my back. The organization stood behind me, believed in me,” said Rodgers, general manager Ted Thompson’s first-round draft choice six years ago from Cal. “I told Ted back in 2005 he wouldn’t be sorry with this pick. I told him in ’08 that I was going to repay their trust and get us this opportunity.”
Sure did, then made the most of it by throwing two TD passes to Greg Jennings and one to Jordy Nelson.
Don’t forget, Rodgers’ strong performance came against Pittsburgh’s defense, the one that limited opponents to a league-low 14.5 points per game this season, and the one that features NFL Defensive Player of the Year Troy Polamalu and linebacker James Harrison.
“He is the reason they won,” Steelers defensive lineman Brett Keisel said.
Added Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin: “He showed his mettle and continued to stand in there and throw the football accurately.”
That’s not all Rodgers did. He changed plays at the last moment, reading the defense before the snap and adjusting. He overcame a poor start, a couple of key drops and a third-quarter lapse. And he did it all without the benefit of any help from a Packers running game that was limited to 50 yards.
“We put everything on his shoulders,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “He did a lot at the line of scrimmage for us against a great defense.”
Rodgers was hardly perfect all game. But perhaps he could be forgiven if he was experiencing some jitters: After all, the guy only played in one playoff game in his career before this season.
“We kind of struggled at times on offense,” Rodgers said.
That’s true. He began the game by overthrowing receivers and generally being off-kilter, completing only one of his first five passes. But he knows a thing or two about slow starts.
Just look at Rodgers’ career arc. Despite record-setting years during high school in Chico, Calif., the skinny Rodgers – he was 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds back then – was not seriously recruited by major college football programs. That was OK, though. Never let it bother him.
Rodgers went to a community college. Then he starred for two seasons at California. Finally, he was on everyone’s radar, although he wound up sliding to when Green Bay picked 24th overall in 2005.
How good does that choice look now?
Against Pittsburgh, Green Bay’s second drive began with Rodgers overthrowing Jennings. And then? Rodgers couldn’t miss. He went 5 for 5 for 63 yards, finishing the possession with a 29-yard toss to Nelson.
“It was actually a screen play, but he (changed) to a go route,” said Nelson, who set a team record for yards receiving in a Super Bowl with 140. “That’s what we hit.”
And when they did, Rodgers simply raised both arms in the familiar “Touchdown!” signal, then briefly embraced guard Daryn Colledge. Rodgers is a generally laid-back guy, and he does not engage in any of that wild running around and helmet-slapping Favre was so famous for when he was the player Cheeseheads loved the most.
Late Sunday, it was clear who’s got their hearts now: Packers fans filled Cowboys Stadium with choruses of “Aa-ron Rodg-ers!” and “M-V-P!”
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, with his two previous Super Bowl championships, was supposed to be the one who would relish the grand stage. But while he was throwing two first-half picks, it was Rodgers who shined.
“I didn’t expect anything less from A-Rod,” Packers defensive tackle B.J. Raji said.
Rodgers zipped a 21-yard pass down the middle to Jennings to put the Packers ahead 21-3. At that point, Rodgers was 11 for 16 for 137 yards and two TDs – making him 10 for 11 in the stretch that followed his rough start.
Early in the second half, though, Rodgers threw five consecutive incompletions. Drives were stalling. But Rodgers led a 55-yard touchdown drive after Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall fumbled.
On third-and-10, Rodgers connected with Nelson on a 38-yard catch-and-run, with the receiver eluding would-be tacklers. That set up Green Bay at Pittsburgh’s 3, and on first down, Rodgers showed good judgment, holding onto the ball when he appeared to be looking to throw a jump-pass. Instead of forcing matters, Rodgers took the sack.
On second-and-goal from the 8, Rodgers spun a spiral to Jennings in the far corner of the end zone to put the Packers ahead 28-17. After Pittsburgh pulled within three points, Rodgers led Green Bay right back down the field for a field goal. On one vital third down, he hit Jennings for 31 yards down the seam.
“Outstanding throw,” Jennings said.
Rodgers’ work was done.
After the Packers stopped the Steelers’ last drive, all he had to was walk on the field and kneel down to run out the clock. A short while later, Rodgers was clutching the Vince Lombardi Trophy, having joined Favre and Bart Starr as QBs who brought Super Bowl championships to the place they like to call Titletown USA.
(© 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)