GREEN BAY – Aaron Rodgers knows he must play better and more consistently for the 2022 Packers to, at some point, truly hit their stride.
And he promised he will.
But there was still something special about watching how he played, and found a way, in Sunday's 27-24 overtime victory over the Patriots at Lambeau Field.
Because that first half was as bad as it gets for the four-time MVP. Off-target short throws, deep balls all over the place, and a baffling pick-six at the end of the first half – just the fourth of his career and second at Lambeau – put the Packers in a booed-off-the-field 10-7 halftime hole with a rookie third-string QB on the other side.
"I felt like before the game – I even said it – I think the only people that can beat us is ourselves," Rodgers said, regretting one of the worst mistakes he's made in quite some time. "So 7-3 there, as ugly as it was, to go into halftime 7-3 is obviously better than throwing a pick-six and being down 10-7."
The Packers' only scoring drive in the first half was all rushing yards, so his halftime stat line read as follows: 4-for-11, 44 yards, one sack, one INT, 11.2 passer rating. Eleven-point-two.
It takes a future Hall of Famer, though, to turn around a performance that appears to be going nowhere but south, and doing so says as much about Rodgers' Canton pedigree as some of his flawless games.
After starting the second half with two more incomplete passes, he gave Allen Lazard a chance on a one-on-one deep ball down the far sideline. Lazard made an impressive diving grab for 32 yards, and suddenly the MVP was back.
Beginning with that pass, Rodgers was 17-of-22 for 207 yards with two TDs the rest of the way. That's a passer rating of 136.0.
He finished off that opening drive of the second half with a bullet to tight end Robert Tonyan through traffic for a 20-yard TD. On the next drive, he hit Lazard on a deep over for 19 yards, leading to a field goal.
He lofted a nifty touch pass on third-and-6 to Randall Cobb for 24 yards to get the next drive going, finishing that one on a perfect back-shoulder connection with rookie Romeo Doubs for a 13-yard TD, the 500th of his career (including postseason).
And his throw on the go route to Doubs for what should've been a 40-yard TD with just over two minutes left in regulation was right on target.
That one didn't count, but when Rodgers got a second chance in overtime, he made two more pinpoint tosses, one to Lazard sitting in the Patriots' zone off RPO action for 22 yards, and then to Cobb for 11 yards on a play-action crosser on third-and-1.
That's a lot of detail to say, ultimately, he snapped out of whatever rut he was in and got back to being Aaron Rodgers.
Maybe the rough first half contained some carryover from the frustrating second half in Tampa last week, as he struggled against the stout Bucs' defense and then had to deal with Bill Belichick's multiple looks.
He had reached four straight quarters of sub-standard play, capped by the ignominious pick-six, and confessed to having "a little conversation" with himself at halftime, assisted by good friend and left tackle David Bakhtiari.
Little was an intentionally chosen description on his part, because apparently the chat didn't last long.
See scenes from the Sunday afternoon matchup between the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots at Lambeau Field on Oct. 2, 2022.
"I've been a great player for a long time," he said. "Not a whole lot I need to tell myself. Just play better."
He did, in typical Rodgers fashion. The turnaround doesn't erase that ugly first half, just as the dynamite start against the Buccaneers last week doesn't make the sputtering second half go away.
Rodgers has owned all of it, all along, and he knows the last two weeks, the Packers' defense has picked up him and the offense when down and given the team chances to win games that more often than not will get away.
The main story is, despite a boatload of uneven football, the Packers are 3-1.
The side story is whether Sunday's turnaround by Rodgers might be just the start of another MVP-type run.
Two years ago, he had a terrible game at Tampa in mid-October (which included a pick-six) and then posted a passer rating lower than 100 only once the rest of the way.
Last year, he missed a game with COVID, wasn't overly sharp his first game back dealing with a toe injury, and then lit it up with 20 TD passes and no interceptions over the final seven regular-season games.
This year, he's got offensive linemen and a tight end coming back from ACL injuries, and rookie receivers who are learning on the fly. But that needle he threaded to Tonyan? The back-shoulder to Doubs for No. 500?
Those just might've been key moments as 2022 moves forward, and as Rodgers does the same.
"This way of winning, I don't think, is sustainable, because it puts too much pressure on our defense and obviously I've got to play better and will play better," Rodgers said.
"But the second half is our kind of football."