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Rodgers wins MVP award in a landslide, becoming fifth Packer to receive honor

By Tyler Dunne, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – 

INDIANAPOLIS — The not-so-subtle dig sifted through his acceptance speech with tight-spiral precision. In front of about 2,500 people at the Murat Theatre, Aaron Rodgers smirked and “thanked” the San Francisco 49ers for drafting him.

No, that career-defining chip on Rodgers’ shoulder isn’t going anywhere.

“This is special, this is important to me,” Rodgers said Saturday night. “It’s a staple of consistency. It means you played consistently well. And it took a lot of preparation and hard work to be nominated, and to be recognized is a special thing for me.”

He’d rather be elsewhere. Like, say, a couple miles away preparing for Super Bowl XLVI at the downtown Marriott.

But this isn’t a bad consolation prize.

The Green Bay Packers quarterback was named the National Football League’s most valuable player Saturday, earning 48 first-place votes. New Orleans’ Drew Brees received two. New England’s Tom Brady was shut out.

Rodgers became the fifth Packers player to win the MVP honor, joining Paul Hornung (1961), Jim Taylor (1962), Bart Starr (1966) and three-time winner Brett Favre (1995, 1996, 1997).

The drama was somewhat deflated. The Packers’ Super Bowl title defense ended in the divisional playoffs against the New York Giants. After winning the MVP award, Rodgers admitted he’s still thinking about “missed opportunities” in that game.

Still, the loss doesn’t cloud a regular-season’s worth of near-flawless play. Rodgers threw for 4,643 yards and 45 touchdowns with only six interceptions. His sizzling 122.5 passer rating was an NFL record.

He had heated competition, too. Brees set fire to Dan Marino’s NFL passing mark in a memorable pedal-to-the-metal, yearlong clinic. Brady? On Super Bowl Sunday, he may immortalize himself as the greatest quarterback ever.

It all makes Rodgers’ season that much more impressive. With Green Bay’s defense allowing the most passing yards in NFL history, its quarterback was forced to be perfect. And most of the time, he nearly was. Green Bay won 19 straight games spanning the 2010 and 2011 seasons and finished 15-1 in the 2011 regular season.

“He had a phenomenal season,” Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings said. “Just his performance and the way he was able to carry the team. His touchdown-to-interception ratio was off the charts. Everything he did this year was just phenomenal.”

Historically, Rodgers’ season may rank as the best ever. In 2007, Brady threw 50 touchdown passes to just eight interceptions. Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning, the league’s only four-time MVP winner, threw 49 touchdown passes in 2004. But Rodgers’ final passer rating may trump both seasons.

Even Brees concedes Rodgers did something rare this season. Each Monday, he marveled at the highlights.

“One of the greatest of any player to play the position,” Brees said. “It was fun to watch. Obviously we all battle it out on Sunday, and then one of the more fun things is to come in on Monday morning and watch those guys and the games they’ve played. There are little subtle things you can pick up. Certainly you just watch it as a fan and say, ‘That’s pretty impressive.’”

This uncanny, gaffe-free accuracy is what impresses the greats. Hall of Famer Steve Young, another quarterback forced to wait behind a legend, said Rodgers can throw for 350 yards and “no one even notices it.” Troy Aikman lauded Rodgers as the “whole package.”

And Kurt Warner saw Rodgers’ rapid growth up close. The two staged a 2009 wild-card video-game bonanza. Rodgers was just as talented then, Warner pointed out. But in overtime of that 51-45 Arizona Cardinals win, Rodgers missed an open Jennings deep downfield and then fumbled the game away.

Those mistakes are virtually nonexistent now.

“He’s been great since the first time he stepped on the field, but I think the one thing is he’s more and more consistent,” Warner said. “You add that to his talent and you see what you get.”

So the records fell throughout Green Bay’s season. Surrounded by a deep, dangerous receiving corps, Rodgers set the team’s passing mark and gave Marino’s record a scare himself.

When the Packers’ previous record-holder, Lynn Dickey, threw for 4,458 yards in 1983, he also dealt with a leaky defense. Room for error was microscopic. Dickey’s 32 touchdowns were offset by 29 interceptions.

Rodgers’ interception total was a fifth of that.

This burden is “kind of stressful,” Dickey admitted. But as the Packers chased perfection, Rodgers was never baited into errant, forced throws.

“For the most part, it was almost perfect,” Dickey said. “It was about as perfect as you could get, especially on a team that didn’t run the ball that well and with a defense that had a really tough year. In the history of the league, it was right up there.”

Brees and Brady may equal Rodgers as passers, but as Dickey pointed out, Rodgers differentiates himself as a runner. He’s no hermit in the pocket. When teams sat back with multiple defensive backs, Rodgers tucked and ran for 257 yards and three touchdowns. Only Kansas City and the New York Giants picked the lock.

Maybe this is the new standard for the quarterback position. Brady “can’t move” like Rodgers, Dickey said. And Brees is a pinch more mobile “but nothing like Aaron Rodgers.”

“Rarely do you find a guy who is very accurate, with a strong arm and he’s real smart and he can run,” Dickey said. “He’s got all the pieces you’d ever want.

“It’s just hard to imagine that the Packers won’t be knocking on the door because of Aaron Rodgers alone. Every year he’s playing — I’ll guarantee it — the Packers will be knocking on the door.”

Green Bay’s hopes of repeating as Super Bowl champion came to a screeching, miserable halt in the 37-20 loss to the Giants on Jan. 15 at Lambeau Field. But Saturday night put a seven-year career into further context.

This all started in the NFL draft’s green room in 2005. Rodgers’ hometown team chose quarterback Alex Smith over Rodgers and he waited more than four embarrassing hours to be picked by the Packers at No. 24.

Then came the three-year wait behind Favre — and arguably the messiest divorce in sports history.

“The biggest goal was to close the gap between the game where you played really well and the game you made too many mistakes,” Rodgers said. “This year was a pretty good example of that.”

Rodgers has one ring, one MVP award and several seasons ahead. Despite the friendly dig at the 49ers, he wasn’t in champagne mode afterward.

Next up, winning more Super Bowl titles.

“It might not be 45 and 6 every year,” Rodgers said of his touchdown and interception totals. “I’m blessed with the way it worked out and hopefully we can win a couple more championships. That’s more important.”

“This is special, this is important to me. It’s a staple of consistency. It means you played consistently well.”

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