GREEN BAY – Coach Mike McCarthy called it “probably his finest hour as a Green Bay Packer.” Aaron Rodgers couldn’t disagree.
While the Packers quarterback has won bigger games – namely, Super Bowl XLV and the playoff games that got the Packers there – Rodgers acknowledged Tuesday during his weekly radio show on 540 ESPN and ESPNWisconsin.com that the Packers’ 33-28 victory over the Chicago Bears last Sunday was probably his greatest regular-season moment of his career: A fourth-quarter, last-minute comeback against the team’s oldest rival in a win-or-go-home de facto playoff game on the road in inclement winter weather.
And the touchdown pass that won the game – a 48-yard strike to Randall Cobb with 38 seconds left to play on a fourth-and-8 with a seven-man all-out blitz coming and Bears defensive end Julius Peppers coming at him – is one he’ll never forget.
“It was amazing,” Rodgers said Tuesday.
On the previous play, Rodgers actually had wide receiver James Jones open but threw instead to Jordy Nelson. The pass was behind Nelson and left the Packers to face their third fourth-down of the drive.
“I was watching the last drive back,” Rodgers recalled, prepping to launch into a thorough review of the final sequence. “On the previous play, when I throw it to Jordy, [the Bears defense] blew the coverage and James is wide open down the sideline.”
On the next play, the Bears changed their defense at the line of scrimmage but they had communication problems.
“The defense was trying to check into something quickly, because we stayed at the line of scrimmage. So the D was trying to check quickly, and they checked to an empty pressure,” Rodgers said.
“Not everybody was on the same page, which ultimately helped us out. Once I caught the snap, I was looking to throw it hot, throw it quickly to Jordy. But he had Major Wright bearing down on him really hard. (Wright) actually knocks him down, which I think is illegal contact, but knocks him down.
“And the beauty of it is, sometimes in those plays, there’s just extraordinary things that happen. And in that situation, so many things had to go right.”
The first thing that went right was fullback John Kuhn making a protection adjustment – although not everyone got it, including Rodgers – and then diving across the formation to get enough of Peppers to knock him off course and give Rodgers enough time to escape to his left.
“I wasn’t aware of the adjustment John made; neither was (left tackle) David Bakhtiari,” Rodgers said. “(Bakhtiari) squeezed (down) to the left, John does his job and tracks across, but he’s thinking he’s going to be blocking [blitzing cornerback Isaiah Frey] in the B gap. [Frey] is obviously blocked by Bakhtiari, So John comes across and cuts Julius.
“All I’m thinking as he’s in my face is, ‘I’ve got to hold it as long as I can and then get it up somewhere because it’s fourth-and-8.’ And after I see this flash out of the corner of my eye, I’m able to just move to my left slightly.”
As Rodgers was doing that, Cobb altered his route after seeing Bears safety Chris Conte sitting on his hook route at the first-down marker. He signals to Rodgers that he’s going deep and he’s off to the races.
“Randall, who had kind of a stop route beyond the first-down marker, sees that it goes to empty [blitz], there’s no safety in the middle of the field, and just puts his hand up and is running down the seam,” Rodgers said. “Once I get outside to the left, I know Jordy’s out of it. I don’t want to throw it back across the middle. I don’t know that he’s knocked down. I kind of peeked outside slightly, because I saw Randall put his hand up. I peek outside and [Bears cornerback Zack] Bowman was tight on James Jones and I was able at the last second put a little extra into it to make sure that it wasn’t severely underthrown.”
Cobb is wide open by this time, and while Cobb is thinking to himself that he can’t drop the pass, Rodgers doesn’t realize that he’s most likely thrown the most clutch touchdown of his career to vault his up-and-down team into the playoffs in his first game in almost two months.
“When the ball was in the air – guys have been talking about how it was slow motion and all that – all I was thinking about was, ‘All right. We’re in field-goal range.’ That’s kind of how my thought-process was,” Rodgers said. “The ball’s in the air, I’m thinking, ‘OK, field-goal range, let’s go spike this.’ And then I see him catch it and go in the end zone and just … one of the most amazing feelings ever. Just … blacked out. It was amazing.”
While Rodgers joked that he doesn’t remember his reaction to the touchdown – he ran downfield in unbridled joy, not that differently than his predecessor, Brett Favre, did in Super Bowl XXXI after his touchdown pass to Andre Rison early in the game – he certainly had plenty of perspective after thinking about what the Packers accomplished with the victory after the way their season had gone.
“All I could think about was, ‘Man, we’re going to the playoffs if we can just hang on for another 38 seconds here,’” Rodgers said. “I mean, what a year. We’ve been through so much together, there’s been a lot of things that have happened – both for us and against us – and now, we’re in the tournament. And that’s what we talk about – just get in, and anything can happen.
“Over the last 10 years, there’s been a number of wild-card teams, low seeds, make runs. You’ve got to get hot at the right time, you’ve got to be healthy at the right time. We talk about it at the beginning of the season. It’s all about how you’re playing at the end of the year and what’s the health of your football team?
“It’s all right in front of us. From this point forward, it’s all about execution and how good we can be.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.