Aaron Rodgers is the best thing to come out of Chico since Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. He also comes in a green label, it being the color of the shirt he wears as a professional football quarterback for the Green Bay Packers. On Sunday, Rodgers wore the visitors’ white, even if he left the San Francisco 49ers pale in the face and green with envy.
San Francisco, of course, could have had Rodgers on its side, but the 49ers’ brass passed on him in the 2005 NFL draft. In later years, they settled on Colin Kaepernick, out of Turlock, as their quarterback of what is now the present.
In Sunday’s tale of two quarterbacks at Levi’s Stadium, it wasn’t exactly the worst of times for San Francisco’s choice, certainly nothing like the disaster Kap experienced last week against Arizona when the Cardinals early in the game intercepted him twice, returning both picks for touchdowns. He just didn’t stand a chance against a guy who along with Tom Brady is one of the two best quarterbacks in the league.
As is the case in all football games, Rodgers and Green Bay won this one on points, 17-3. The Packers scored a couple knockdowns along the way, but the touchdown they scored the first time they got the ball was the only one they needed, and the game was just 5 minutes, 58 seconds old. They parried the 49ers for the next 54:02, doing enough along the way to stay in control and win by unanimous decision on the scorecards of the announced crowd of 70,799 at Levi’s Stadium. The defeated 49ers stayed on their feet to the end but could never land the shots that would have really made a game of it.
Rodgers, however, was magnificent on the occasions of making the plays that decided the game. The numbers on the star from Cal did not flash the brilliance of the previous week’s when he threw for 333 yards and five touchdowns against the Kansas City Chiefs. In moving the Packers to 4-0, Rodgers completed 22 of 32 passes for 224 yards and one touchdown. He also ran it three times for 33 yards, a fair comparison to the leggy Kaepernick’s 57 yards on 10 carries. Rodgers had no interceptions, same as in every game he has played this year. With the 49ers guarding him deep, Rodgers threw short, and he gave the ball to his running backs, and he very much enjoyed watching the Green Bay defense mess with the 49ers.
“It was a grind out there,” Rodgers said afterward. “We got the good first drive and we kind of stalled for a little while. The defense played incredible. I thought we ran the ball pretty well. They played a lot of two-shell, which made us run the ball and we were effective running but we’ve got to do a little bit better job throwing and catching it. It’s a good win for us. It’s tough to win on the road.
At Sunday’s dawn, the statistics on the two quarterbacks suggested a mismatch. Rodgers sported the top passing rating in the league, Kaepernick followed at No. 30 in a circuit with just that many teams. Aaron’s 10 touchdown passes also registered best in the NFL, a number that got fatter with Sunday’s TD pass to his tight end, Richard Rodgers. Colin’s two touchdown passes on the year had him tied for 28th. Rodgers had not yet thrown an interception, and still had not at game’s end. Kaepernick’s four interceptions coming in was one of the worst figures in the league. Now he’s got five.
Numbers aside, the major difference between Rodgers and Kaepernick on Sunday was that one of them displayed the spectacular when the moment called for it.
For Rodgers, the most meaningful of those occurrences probably came on the Packers’ first possession, when Green Bay had the ball at the 49er 8-yard line, which is when he put his feet to work so that his arm could finish the job. Spinning out of the pocket to his left, he stepped back into it up the middle, only to find more red jerseys coming. He evacuated the area one more time, stepping to his left, and he found his tight end of the same last name open in the back of the end zone.
Rodgers’ feet added maybe five seconds to the play. In the life of a defensive back, each one of them seems like a dog year.
Last year against New England, Rodgers recalled a play that lasted even longer. “This one was a little less tiring, but it was a good result” he said. “I was glad Richie was able to stay in bounds. He’s had a couple of those now this year.
Rodgers’ second massive play came on the Packers’ first possession of the second half, when he hit wide receiver James Jones for 38 yards to the 49ers’ 8-yard line. The quarterback delivered the ball under pressure while moving backwards, throwing the ball across the field for a flight of maybe 50 yards to where it fell into the hands of the receiver on the far sideline. Rodgers’ buddy, John Kuhn, cracked it in from the 1 for the score.
Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy said nobody around the team is surprised by anything Rodgers does anymore, whether it’s in practice or in a game, and whether it’s with his feet or his arm.
“I mean, he can make any throw,” McCarthy said, as well as make things happen with his running ability.
Somebody asked Rodgers afterward about this Northern California stop on his fall NFL tour. He played high school and junior college ball in Chico and college ball in Berkeley.
“I’m a proud resident of the state of Wisconsin,” Rodgers said. “I have a driver’s license there and I’m registered to vote there.”
It was the answer cheeseheads wanted to hear, even if it did disappoint the craft brew crowd.