GREEN BAY — Maybe this will be the final time Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady meet on a football field, maybe it won’t. Perhaps it’ll be their first of two matchups this season.
My gut tells me this is it, so I’m going to try to enjoy the heck out of the game between the Green Bay Packers (1-1) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-0) on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. I’d encourage you to do the same.
It’s possible to cheer for Rodgers and the Packers while also appreciating the greatness of Brady. It’s also possible to dislike Rodgers and/or Brady as people and still respect their work on the field.
This will be the fifth meeting between future Hall of Famers who will leave the game as two of the all-time great quarterbacks. Who’s better? Depends on how you define success.
If I’m picking a quarterback to win in the postseason, it’s Brady. He’s got seven Super Bowl titles and is a five-time Super Bowl MVP. Having Bill Belichick as a coach didn’t hurt, but Brady went out and won another ring after leaving New England while the Patriots are barely above .500 since he left town.
What’s almost impressive to me as how much Brady has won is how long he’s lasted. He’s 45 and in his 23rd season in the NFL. Think about that: He’s been an NFL quarterback nearly half of his life.
Asked what impresses him most about Brady’s longevity, Rodgers said this on Wednesday:
“The consistency where you’re still playing at a high level and there’s not the drop off,” he said. “Every great player fears turning into a real below average player on the way out. I don’t think anybody wants to really hang on. Maybe some guys just want to get another year, or they’re maybe on a team where they can do a lot less. But when you’ve achieved at a high level for a long time, you try and stay there for as long as you can.”
Rodgers can’t match Brady’s postseason success, but neither can anybody else at that position. There were two seasons in which it appeared Rodgers and Brady were on a collision course to meet in the Super Bowl, but the Packers were dispatched in their playoff opener after going 15-1 during the 2011 regular season and blew a 16-0 lead in a 2014 NFC Championship loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
As it stands, Rodgers has only one Super Bowl on his resume. He does have one more NFL MVP award than Brady and has been the more efficient regular-season player of the two, with Rodgers’ quarterback rating (104.4) significantly better than Brady’s (97.5).
A touchdown pass to Allen Lazard in the second quarter of the Packers’ 27-10 victory over the Chicago Bears last Sunday was the 451st of his career. He needs six more interceptions to reach 100 for his career.
“Going to work with A-Rod every day is definitely one of those humbling experiences. I say it all the time, he’s the most talented quarterback to ever play the game,” Packers running back AJ Dillon said. “Call him the ‘GOAT’ or whatever you want but the stuff he does every day in practice is crazy. I’m just happy we have our ‘12’ behind us and I’m going to do everything I can to make sure we end up with that win.”
Rodgers will turn 39 later this season and, no, he reiterated Wednesday, he’s not going to pull a Brady and play until he’s 45.
“I won’t be, I’ll be doing something else,” Rodgers said. “I have a lot of other interests outside the game. Game’s been really, really good to me. I feel I’ve given my all to the game. At some point, it’ll be time to do something else, and I strongly believe that’ll be before 45.”
Brady retired during the offseason before changing his mind, but an 11-day leave of absence during training camp to deal with what Tampa Bay coach Todd Bowles said was “personal things” may have been a hint that this really will be his final season.
And who knows with Rodgers, who was reflective after the win over the Bears and seems to be more and more comfortable with the idea of walking away from the game. Whether that’s after this season … or the 2023 season … or the 2024 season … is something that even he may not have figured out yet.
Is Rodgers feeling nostalgic heading into this meeting with Brady, who is 3-1 in head-to-head matchups between the two and helped guide the Bucs to a 26-21 win at Lambeau Field in the 2020 NFC title game?
“Not really,” Rodgers said. “I have a lot of respect for the history of the game and my part in it, and the game will keep going long after Tommy and I are done playing.”
If this game on Sunday is the appetizer to the main course of a second playoff matchup in three seasons, great. But too much can happen between now and January, which is why I’m treating it like the last bite and savoring it.