Wed, 30 Nov 2022

QB Aaron Rodgers remains upbeat in search of “snowball effect” for stretch runMike Spofford

GREEN BAY - The similarities aren't lost on anybody, particularly quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

The Packers have six games left, they're headed to Philadelphia to play a night game, they might have to win every game from here on out in order to make the playoffs ...

It's a setting and circumstance reminiscent of 2016 and the "run the table" stretch drive, except for a couple of major differences.

"That Philly team, I believe, was 5-5 not, what are they, 9-1?" Rodgers asked, mostly rhetorically. "So a little bit stiffer challenge in 2022 than 2016."

A lot stiffer to be honest. Back then the Packers were facing a team on the fringe of the playoff race, just like them. This time they're visiting the team with the best record in the NFL.

The other difference? Rodgers wasn't playing with a broken thumb on his throwing hand six years ago, but he is now, after revealing that to reporters after Wednesday's practice.

The injury dates back to the Hail Mary attempt at the end of the loss to the Giants in London, which began Green Bay's rough stretch of six defeats in seven games to drop to 4-7. Rodgers said the thumb doesn't, and won't, need surgery.

He also believes it hasn't affected his accuracy, saying the thumb hurt worse in the Dallas game when he played very efficiently than in last Thursday's Tennessee game when he missed multiple throws to open receivers.

Whatever the case, he insisted from the get-go on continuing to play no matter what the x-ray said, and the weekend off over the mini-bye has helped it feel its best since before the injury.

In his mind, the thumb hasn't mattered, just as it also doesn't matter how many of his teammates believe him when he says the team is capable of going on a run and winning out.

It just has to start somewhere. The victory over Dallas was a false start, but he believes any win could become a real beginning.

"I think when you win, it creates momentum," he said. "When I said it in 2016, how many people actually believed then? Probably not many. But then we got the first one. Then we came home and got the second one (against Houston). We beat Seattle, got the third one, and I think there was a lot of momentum that started in the locker room and guys started realizing this was a possibility.

"It's like a snowball effect rolling downhill, so we've got to pack that snowball this week and get it to the top of the hill and let it start rolling downhill."

He recalled how the tide initially turned in Philly in '16, with the Packers scoring touchdowns on their first two drives, a fast start that energized the visiting sideline at Lincoln Financial Field. Green Bay led wire to wire in a 27-13 triumph.

"So that's what we need first," he said. "We need an energy shift, and then a belief to kick in, and then for us to play four quarters and finish the game out.

"Get one in the bag and then get the next five."

It's an exceedingly upbeat mindset given where the Packers are and what they've been through, which includes 16 players still listed on the injury report to the Eagles' one.

But what other line of thinking is there? Head Coach Matt LaFleur is taking the same optimistic tack.

"I know a lot of things haven't gone our way up to this point," he said, "but I still have a ton of faith and belief in that locker room."

Make no mistake, optimism hasn't subsumed realism, though. LaFleur continues to harp on correcting mistakes, and nobody is denying how good the Eagles are. Dual-threat QB Jalen Hurts has the fourth-highest passer rating in the league (106.5), and Philly's defense has racked up 33 sacks and 13 interceptions.

Mindset aside, Rodgers also sees signs the Packers might come around, with rookie receiver Christian Watson catching five TD passes the last two games and the offense's two best linemen in a better place. He pointed out that left guard Elgton Jenkins has played well of late, and the extra time off over the weekend did left tackle David Bakhtiari some good.

Ultimately, the team's roughest patch under LaFleur, a lengthy injury list and a broken thumb haven't sapped Rodgers' spirit. If that weren't already clear by his outlook, he emphasized how much he still enjoys the challenge, no matter how big.

"I am having fun. I love these guys," he said. "It's tough. Obviously, you'd love to be sitting here with a better record but I still love this game, love the guys, love the stuff we get to do outside the facility.

"Yeah, as a competitor, you're frustrated but this is life in the NFL. There's a lot of ups and downs. Can't just be happy when it's going great and you're soaring high and (ticked) off when it's going low. As a competitor, you want to win but you've got to enjoy this thing or else it's time to move on."

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