Aaron Rodgers had never lost hope, but when the Packers were 4-6, he was concerned some of his teammates might have gotten discouraged to the point of not feeling like there was still a chance at a playoff run. So the quarterback, always cool under pressure during games, delivered a jolt of confidence off the field by expressing his belief in the Packers.
He said the Packers needed to run the table, and they did just that, winning their final six games to capture the NFC North and host Sunday’s wild-card game against the Giants.
“It was more a feeling,” Rodgers said Wednesday on a conference call. “It was more of a feeling that we could get things going if we just got that first one, and knowing maybe that we needed just a little jolt of confidence in that moment that maybe if the guys knew that I believed it was possible, then they might start believing as well. We all stuck together and there wasn’t any splintering in the locker room or in the media or unnamed sources or any of that garbage. We just stuck together and won a big game against Philly at Philly and started that run, took care of our games at home and won a big game in the division on the road.”
The Packers are coming off a season-ending win in Detroit that clinched the division, and they go into the postseason as one of the hottest teams — if not THE hottest team — in the NFL.
Rodgers knows he needs to keep up his torrid streak — he has 18 touchdowns and zero interceptions in his last seven games — to beat the Giants, who boast one of the league’s top defenses.
“I think Landon [Collins] is playing at a Pro Bowl, All Pro type level. He has had a great season,” Rodgers said. “We played him earlier in the year, and as a young player, you just continue to get better as the experience mounts for you, so he has been playing really well. Janoris [Jenkins] has had a great season for them. Having [Dominique] Rodgers-Cromartie with the big effort he had the last time we played them, both he and Eli [Apple] were banged up and both tried to gut it out. I think Eli ended up coming out, but Dominique was definitely dealing with an injury and playing through it, so those guys being healthy obviously helps their secondary even more and they are big time playmakers and cover guys, so I think that is the biggest thing that you have to be aware of.”
Rodgers is also familiar with Giants coach Ben McAdoo, a former Packers assistant before becoming the Giants’ offensive coordinator in 2014.
“Ben has not been here in a few years,” Rodgers said. “Things change. Every single year you are adjusting, you are adapting, trying to evolve as a player and obviously your offense evolves along with it based on your personnel. Obviously, you have to be aware of self-scout, regardless of who the opponent is. But Ben was a great coach here and I got to work with him a couple years directly and had a lot of fun with him and we will definitely make sure that our self-scout is in order.”
Rodgers remains in touch with McAdoo, and got a kick out of seeing a young fan at Sunday’s Giants-Redskins game dress up like McAdoo and have a giant play-chart, similar to the one McAdoo uses on the sidelines.
“I love Ben, man,” Rodgers said. “I enjoyed working with him. He is a fun guy to be around, and one of my favorite things is when you watch him on the TV copy and they show the kids in the crowd. Last week, especially, when they showed the kid wearing the Ben outfit with the mustache. I absolutely loved that. Ben is a character, man.”
Rodgers and the Packers lost to the Giants in the divisional round of the 2011 playoffs, as the Giants went on to win the Super Bowl that year. Rodgers said that game won’t be in the back of his mind.
“No, that was a number of years ago,” he said. “I think that was five years ago now. We aren’t playing the 2011 Giants. We are playing the 2016 Giants, so that is what we are focused on.”