GREEN BAY – Aaron Rodgers’ memory is awfully sharp when it comes to dissecting plays from the previous week, or even earlier in the season. But as it turns out, the Green Bay Packers quarterback has pretty good recall of plays that occurred five years ago, too.
Speaking Tuesday on his weekly radio show on 540 ESPN and ESPNWisconsin.com, Rodgers recalled a number of plays from his 2007 performance against the Dallas Cowboys at old Texas Stadium, when he came in in relief of an injured Brett Favre and almost rallied the Packers to victory before falling in a 37-27 defeat.
“I had sweet hair, I remember,” Rodgers joked of the Nov. 29, 2007 game. “At one point, the hair was in my face and I had a hard time seeing. I had to readjust the skullcap I was wearing.”
(You can watch the highlights of that game, and enjoy the commentary of Bryant Gumbel and Cris Collinsworth, from the NFL Network broadcast on NFL.com.)
Rodgers remembered more than just his mullet of course. Long before he was a Super Bowl MVP or NFL MVP, he was a first-round draft pick backing up the legendary Favre and biding his time.
For those who don’t recall, before that Thursday night game, Rodgers had seen the field during an NFL regular-season game just six times. On four of those occasions, it was simply fourth-quarter mop-up duty: A blowout victory over New Orleans and a blowout loss at Baltimore in 2005, an already-been-decided loss at Philadelphia in 2006 and a shutout of Minnesota earlier in 2007.
A fifth appearance was purely ceremonial - the final series of the 2005 season finale against Seattle, when he jogged in to replace Favre so Favre, preparing for his usual offseason retirement contemplation, could get a standing ovation.
The only instance when Rodgers actually entered a game that wasn't just about over was in 2006 against New England. That day, Rodgers came in shortly before halftime, after Patriots linebackers Tully Banta-Cain and Tedy Bruschi sacked Favre, who suffered nerve damage in his right elbow that left his throwing arm and hand numb.
The Packers trailed 21-0 at the time. Rodgers finished the first half, then played the entire second half on a broken foot suffered early in the third quarter. He landed on season-ending injured reserve two days later. The Packers lost 35-0, with Rodgers completing just 4 of 12 passes for 32 yards.
But against the Cowboys, Favre suffered a similar right elbow injury and a separated left shoulder on a hit by blitzing cornerback Nathan Jones with 10 minutes, 11 seconds left in the second quarter. The resulting pass was intercepted by Terence Newman, eventually leading to a Cowboys touchdown to make it 27-10.
Rodgers entered and after going nowhere on his first series, he led the Packers on a touchdown drive to pull them within 27-17 just before halftime. The drive took off when Rodgers hit Greg Jennings on a second-and-11 pass that Jennings turned into a 43-yard gain.
Then, on the opening drive of the third quarter, the Packers faced a third-and-11 at their own 30 when Rodgers hit Donald Driver for a 17-yard pickup – a completion that ignited his second touchdown drive and a play Rodgers recalled vividly Tuesday.
“We ran empty spray right-scat two-arrow-zebra cross-y-post. It’s a great play,” Rodgers said. “The protection was inside and they actually brought Roy Williams who was playing the dime off the slot, and thankfully he ran into one of the defensive lineman on his side, either Anthony Spencer or Jay Ratliff. I rose up to throw it hot right away to the zebra, but I was able to reload and actually hit Donald.”
With 14:08 left in the game, the Packers got the ball back at their own 20-yard line, with a chance to tie with a field goal or take the lead with another touchdown.
After Rodgers made a protection adjustment on the first play to allow for a 15-yard completion to Greg Jennings, the Packers faced a third-and-5 from their 40. But left tackle Chad Clifton was late off the ball, allowing DeMarcus Ware to sack Rodgers and end the threat. The Cowboys scored a touchdown on the ensuing series, and that was that. Rodgers later directed a field-goal drive, but it wasn't enough. He finished the night having completing 18 of 26 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown (with no interceptions) for a 104.8 passer rating, and he also ran five times for 30 yards, including three first downs.
"I was a little nervous the first play (after Favre was hurt). But I felt good out there," Rodgers said in the days that followed that game. "But at the same time, knowing we had a chance to win ... We had the ball on the 20-yard line with about 50 yards to get into field goal range, down by three, and we couldn't get the job done. That's disappointing."
The Packers, of course, were far from disappointed in him. A first-year offensive coordinator by the name of Joe Philbin, who’s now the head coach of the Miami Dolphins, certainly came away impressed.
"You know, I say to (head coach) Mike (McCarthy) and (quarterbacks coach) Tom (Clements) all the time, 'Look, I don't profess to be a quarterbacks coach because I just got named offensive coordinator," Philbin, who’d coached tight ends and the offensive line before his promotion to coordinator, said a few days after the game.
"But I did go to Fenway Park and watch Roger Clemens pitch. I was at the Orange Bowl when Carson Palmer played (for Southern Cal). And I was at (Iowa's) Kinnick Stadium when Ben Roethlisberger played (for Miami of Ohio). You can see if a guy can throw a ball. I'm not that dumb.' And this guy can throw the ball. He throws the ball well. He's got a great future."
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