“Don’t leave Aaron Rodgers any time on the clock!” is not exactly a novel football observation. The same thing gets shouted about Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, and basically any quarterback who has led a game-winning drive or two late in the fourth quarter. It’s a thing that guys who are in more than four fantasy football leagues like to say to each other so as to demonstrate their expertise. But also: it’s true. You really cannot be leaving any damn time on the clock for Aaron Rodgers.
Rodgers proved this again last night in the Packers’ 30-28 victory over the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers, having just taken a one-point lead with 37 seconds remaining in the game, kicked the ball off to a Packers team that had zero timeouts remaining. Rodgers and the Packers started their drive at their own 25, and immediately did this:
After spiking the ball and then throwing an incompletion, Rodgers found Davante Adams once again for a 17-yard gain, which set up Mason Crosby for a 51-yard field goal to win the game.
Many of those amateur football-knowers that I mentioned at the top of this post are probably eager this morning to talk about all the things that 49ers and head coach Kyle Shanahan should have done in order to prevent Rodgers from leading a game-winning drive to end the game, but what exactly is anyone supposed to do to stop Rodgers from being himself? Thirty-seven seconds and no timeouts is not a scenario in which any quarterback is supposed to find success without something unexpected happening, but there was nothing fluky or spontaneous about the plays Rodgers made to move the Packers 42 yards down the field in a few seconds. If Rodgers had gained 15 of those yards on a desperate scramble that found an open patch of field, or gotten lucky with a heaved jump ball that his receiver came down with, then the 49ers might have some have some do-overs to wish for. But all Rodgers did was make two spectacular throws, and in football there’s not really a lot you can do to stop a guy who is capable of putting the ball exactly where he wants it to go. When Rodgers is making throws like the one he made to Adams to start that final drive, it’s hard to convince yourself in the moment that he’s not the best quarterback in the world.
It was Kyle Juszczyk who scored the go-ahead touchdown for the 49ers, catching a check-down pass on a first-and-10 from the Packers’ 12-yard line and then barreling his way past the first-down marker and into the end zone. After the game, reporters asked Juszczyk if he regretted scoring in that moment instead of fighting off every instinct in his body in order to down the ball just short of the goal line. “Uh, no, I didn’t really have a lot of time to think about it,” Juszczyk said. “It wasn’t really something that was on my mind during the play as well, I mean we were down six, we needed a touchdown, so I was trying to score.”
“What’d they have, like 30, 25 seconds or something at the end of the game?” Juszczyk said. “Hats off to them. They hit a couple of big plays, and that’s all you need sometimes.”
Credit to Juszczyk for not allowing himself to be driven crazy by the fact that Rodgers is just really good at playing quarterback. Sometimes you just get beat by one of the best to ever to do it, and all you can do is take your hat off and move on.