Getting inside Aaron Rodgers’ amazing mind on the final drive

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GREEN BAY – A lot of descriptions come to mind.

Surgical. Masterful. A work of art.

“That was a clinic,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said of Monday night’s game-winning drive to cap a 33-30 victory over the 49ers at Lambeau Field. “Just top-notch stuff.”

Those work, too.

But to listen to Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers describe his thought process on several plays from Monday night’s clincher illustrates just how much command the two-time MVP has in the highest of pressure situations. His mind is simply amazing.

The 10-play drive, including Mason Crosby’s walk-off field goal, covered 81 yards, and started from his own 10 with 1:07 left and the score tied.

Rodgers began with a handoff to Ty Montgomery, who bounced it outside for 14 yards. All game, the 49ers had snuffed out a lot of Rodgers’ play-action bootlegs by overplaying him, so as a surprise he handed the ball off rather than fake to another boot, and Montgomery found some room around the edge.

“To be honest, with no timeouts, if the run to start the drive doesn’t get out of bounds, we’re probably playing that a little differently,” Rodgers said. “We went to an oldie but a goodie. Dave Bakhtiari suggested that first play. I have to give him credit or else he’ll tell me about it tomorrow.”

The play was reminiscent of one in last year’s game-winning two-minute TD drive at Dallas in Week 5, when midway through the possession Rodgers caught the Cowboys thinking pass and handed off to Aaron Jones, who burst around the outside for 15 yards and got out of bounds.

An oldie-but-goodie indeed, after which came an old nemesis – Richard Sherman. Three snaps later, it appeared the drive was over when Rodgers was sacked on third-and-long, but Sherman was flagged for illegal contact in the middle of the field, disrupting Davante Adams’ route.

“I was going to come to Davante,” Rodgers said. “He was the hot hand. He rolls out of bed he’s the hot hand.”

Following the fortunate call, which was no given in a down-to-the-wire situation, Rodgers played it absolutely perfectly. From his own 24, he pump-faked and scrambled up the middle for 21 yards, spiking the ball to stop the clock with 19 seconds left.

Rodgers said he noticed the 49ers taking away the deep over route to Adams – the one he hit his favorite target on twice on the game-tying touchdown drive – and that commitment left the middle of the field open once all the routes had developed.

“They played inside leverage with a safety back, so on a four-man rush, nobody’s got me,” Rodgers said. “It was an extended play … I took a decent shot there, luckily held onto the ball, spiked it and got a couple more good plays.”

A quick out to Adams picked up eight more yards and stopped the clock again. Then came the two key throws.

Without a pass thrown his way all night, rookie receiver Equanimeous St. Brown correctly read that a back-shoulder toss was coming, and he made the proper adjustment to snag it along the sideline for 19 yards.

“The thing I’m most proud of is when he turned his head,” Rodgers said of the rookie sixth-round pick from Notre Dame. “It’s something we’ve talked about at various times, but the awareness it’s two-shell (coverage), he’s kind of in that hole-shot area. He turned his head at the perfect time. The ball was slightly behind him, he made the catch, stayed up and got out of bounds.”

Rodgers followed by firing to the other side, again for Adams, for another 19-yard gain. He saw Adams get such a clean release off the line of scrimmage it was a relatively easy pitch-and-catch. The same two-deep coverage that was taking away the deep cross or “over” route Rodgers referred to before made the sidelines available early in the play, and his last three completions all worked the boundary, covering 46 yards in just 13 seconds.

“Their answer (to Adams’ game-tying TD) was to go to two high safeties,” Rodgers said. “When they’re playing two-high man, the leverage for the (corners) is usually inside. They don’t want to give up the middle (when) two safeties are running with width. I knew we could get the ball up and down quickly outside.”

He makes it sound so easy, but the precision of the operation shouldn’t be overlooked. Standing on his own 45-yard line with 19 seconds left and no timeouts, he got off four plays – the three completions for 46 yards, and an intentional overthrow to take the clock down to three seconds to assure the walk-off situation.

A walk-off kick actually six yards shorter than an extra point, too.

Pick a description, any description. He’s the master, and he did it again.

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