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Rodgers' Focus Where It Needs To Be


This isn't an easy situation for quarterback Aaron Rodgers, going head-to-head with the iconic Hall of Fame quarterback he replaced, Brett Favre. It's rather unprecedented in NFL history, really.

But if last year was any indication as to how Rodgers will handle the emotions, the attention, the pressure, and everything else that goes along with Monday night's Packers-Vikings showdown at the Metrodome, the fifth-year signal caller will be just fine, and he won't get caught up in all the hype and outside storylines that are inevitably attached.

"The best Aaron Rodgers stat of '08 was zero - zero times where he said the wrong thing," said ESPN play-by-play announcer Mike Tirico in a national conference call involving the entire Monday Night Football booth earlier this week.

"He never stepped into the trap, he never made a mistake. He handled what could have been a zoo and a fiasco, not just externally, but internally within the locker room where you knew there were some guys who wanted Brett to come back ... everything I saw he handled this thing with aplomb."

Rodgers is trying to do the same again this week. He was very low-key in his comments with a hoard of reporters around his locker on Thursday, not getting drawn into the 'Favre vs. Rodgers' matchup or into a discussion of whether he has anything to prove playing against his former teammate.

"I think it's probably good for the league and our fans, but that's nothing I even think about," Rodgers said. "I think guys in this locker room are focused on playing the Vikings. It's a tough opponent. We've been making sure to put in the time and the preparations. It's a long week, so you have a lot of time to watch film, and study your opponent, study your own game plan, so that's what I've been doing."

His teammates are doing the same, though they acknowledge the game must mean more to Rodgers than any other game or division rivalry, even if he doesn't say so publicly.

Receiver Greg Jennings said he'd probably "look at him kind of strange" if he didn't want to win this game a little more than others. It's human nature, and it's the competitive nature of a player like Rodgers. Or Favre for that matter.

Favre was equally low-key in a conference call with Wisconsin media on Wednesday, saying his decision to play for the Vikings "was never about revenge," so by extension this game isn't either. But that doesn't mean he doesn't want to win it really, really badly.

From the Packers' perspective, Jennings said he wants his quarterback to know that he doesn't have to go win the game by himself. For one, he can't in a game like this. And for another, he wouldn't expect Rodgers to take that approach anyway.

"He's going to use everything he has around him, and he's done that well," Jennings said. "If we can keep him up and clean and we can catch the ball and do our job, we have faith he's going to do his job. He has not shown us anything otherwise.

"He has 44 other guys that are going to bat with him, so hopefully he doesn't feel the pressure weighing down on his own shoulders. We have shoulders, we can carry some of that weight too, and that's exactly what we're going to do. We're going to let him know that we're with him. We know this is a very important game, and from that little quarterback bout, it's magnified because of the situation. Everybody knows it. But we would love to get a win, regardless of that situation."

This one game won't define a season or career for Rodgers, but Monday night's contest does present a scenario in which his career as it is perceived to this point could go one of two ways.

While Favre's Super Bowl ring and numerous all-time records are secure, and this game, in the larger picture, will become a late-career footnote, Rodgers will be starting just his 20th professional game, and to this point he hasn't played in one any bigger.

ESPN's MNF analysts all touched on the possibilities that could play out on Monday night. Tirico noted that for all the attention on Favre going into this game, the story coming out could be Rodgers. That could be good or bad, said former quarterback Ron Jaworski, one of Tirico's broadcast partners.

"He is the forgotten guy in this situation, but he also knows if he plays poorly, everyone in the world is going to know it," Jaworski said. "This game is probably as big for him as it is for Brett Favre playing against the Green Bay Packers. I think Aaron Rodgers has to play well to solidify his spot in Packer lore even early in his career."

{sportsad300}Fellow analyst and former NFL head coach Jon Gruden took it the other direction.

"This is student against pupil on a national stage," said Gruden, a former Packers assistant coach during Favre's early years. "...and this is a great opportunity for him to upstage one of the all-time greats."

But that's exactly the line of thinking Rodgers must, and will, avoid. For him, there's nothing productive that can come from getting wrapped up in all that.

It's more important, from a personal perspective, to focus on where he is now compared to his first NFL start last September - also on Monday Night Football against the Vikings - and keep going from there.

"I've played 16 games, now 19, and the experience from those 19 games has helped," Rodgers said. "I've learned a lot. ... Last year was my first year starting so I learned a lot on the fly, started to figure things out a little bit. I'm just continually trying to be critical of myself every time I watch film and just look for ways to improve."

There's probably no better way to handle everything swirling around him this week. But then again, he's done it before, last year when the whole Favre saga was uncontrollably linked to him.

He emerged from that victorious in his first truly "big" game. This one's just a little bigger.

"Hopefully he doesn't feel like there's any more pressure," Jennings said. "Now mind you, there are going to be people who pay more attention to the performance of the quarterback positions, but in hindsight, he has to go out and be himself. He can't be outside of who he is. He has to just play within what he's capable of doing, play within himself, play within the scheme of things, and we'll get it done.

"He's handled it well from Day 1. He's handled it better than any of us would have handled it since Day 1. He's real prepped for this moment."

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