ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Absolutely no need to bring up Ol’ What’s His Name ever again. Aaron Rodgers is a Super Bowl championship quarterback in his own right.
And the game’s MVP, too, an honor Brett favre, his Green Bay Packers predecessor, never earned.
With precise passes and cool under pressure, Rodgers completed 24 of 39 passes for 304 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions Sunday night to lead the Packers to a 31-25 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers for Green Bay’s first NFL title since Favre’s in the January 1997 Super Bowl.
Rodgers is 27 years old, just as Favre was then. And after biding his time as a backup until the Packers split with Favre, Rodgers has quickly taken over. This was his third full season as a starting QB, and he was particularly good throughout the playoffs, leading the No. 6 seed Packers to a championship.
“Got to give credit to our defense. This is a great group of men that we put together here, a lot of character, been through a lot together,” said Rodgers, who threw two TD passes to Greg Jennings and one to Jordy Nelson. “It’s just great to be able to share it with them.”
Don’t forget, Rodgers’ strong performance came against Pittsburgh’s vaunted defense, the one featuring NFL Defensive Player of the Year Troy Polamalu and linebacker James Harrison. The Steelers limited opponents to an NFL-low 14.5 points per game this season, but the Packers topped that by the second quarter.
Rodgers was hardly perfect all game. But perhaps he could be forgiven if he was experiencing some jitters at the start. After all, the guy only played in one playoff game in his career before this season. A Super Bowl debut certainly must jangle the nerves, especially for a quarterback.
And so Rodgers began the game by overthrowing receivers and generally being off-kilter, completing only one of his first five passes. Then he righted himself and showed precisely why the Packers drafted Rodgers in the first round in 2005 and set upon on a course to let Favre leave so they could count on the kid.
Green Bay’s second drive began with Rodgers overthrowing Jennings. And then? Rodgers couldn’t miss. He went 5 for 5 for 63 yards the rest of that possession, finishing it with a 29-yard touchdown toss to Nelson with a little more than 3½ minutes left in the first quarter.
Rodgers simply raised both arms in the familiar “Touchdown!” signal used by the officials, then briefly embraced guard Daryn Colledge. Rodgers is a generally laid-back guy, and he does not engage in any of that wild running around and helmet-slapping Favre was so famous for when he starred at Lambeau Field.
Rodgers’ perfect pass to Nelson made it 7-0. Then, suddenly, the Packers were ahead 14-0 all of 24 seconds later, when Nick Collins returned an interception of Ben Roethlisberger 37 yards for a TD.
Roethlisberger, with his two previous Super Bowl championships, was supposed to be the one who wouldn’t be bothered by the grand stage. But while he was throwing two first-half picks, it was Rodgers who shined.
He changed plays at the line of scrimmage, reading the defense and adjusting. And he did it all without the benefit of any help from a Packers running game that was limited to 50 yards.
Rodgers zipped a 21-yard pass down the middle to Jennings, just past leaping safety Ryan Clark, to put the Packers ahead 21-3 with 2½ minutes left in the first half. At that point, Rodgers was 11 for 16 for 137 yards and two TDs — making him 10 for 11 in the stretch that followed his rough start.
In second half, Rodgers went through another rough stretch, throwing five consecutive incompletions and leaving the field quickly over and over as the Steelers kept forcing the Packers to punt
But Rodgers was back in top form when he needed to be in the fourth quarter, leading a 55-yard touchdown drive after Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall fumbled and Desmond Bishop recovered.
On a key third-and-10, Rodgers connected with Nelson on a 38-yard catch-and-run, with the receiver cutting across the field, eluding would-be tacklers left and right. That set up Green Bay at Pittsburgh’s 3, and on first down, Rodgers showed good judgment, holding onto the ball as he leaped and appeared to be looking to throw a jump-pass. Instead of forcing matters, Rodgers clutched the ball carefully and took the sack.
On second-and-goal from the 8, Rodgers spun a spiral to a wide-open Jennings in the far corner of the end zone to put the Packers ahead 28-17 with about 12 minutes left in the fourth quarter. When he led Green Bay to its final points, a field goal right before the 2-minute warning, Rodgers’ work was done.
After the Packers stopped the Steelers’ last drive, all he had to was walk on the field and kneel down to run out the clock. A short while later, Rodgers was clutching the Vince Lombardi Trophy, having joined Favre and Bart Starr as QBs who brought Super Bowl championships to the place they like to call Titletown USA.