The most popular sport in the United States is also its most violent. And the injuries the NFL suffers do not discriminate. They often batter superstars and the aspirations of their fan base.
So imagine the scene Sunday night at Lambeau Field when quarterback Aaron Rodgers, a two-time MVP, a first-ballot Hall of Famer who missed the majority of the 2017 season with a broken collarbone, was carted off the field in the second quarter of Green Bay’s game with the Chicago Bears.
In the next 30 minutes, while anxiety intensified, his left knee was put through myriad tests to determine the extent of the damage The immediate concern, of course, was severe ligament damage that would end his season before it could begin. How important is Rodgers to the Packers? They will pay him $67 million this season.
But once Green Bay’s doctors determined the knee to be stable, they cleared Rodgers to return and, as it turned out, engineer one of the most remarkable comeback victories in the history of one of the league’s most legendary franchises.
The first sign Rodgers was OK came when he jogged onto the field after halftime. He would say later he did so to convince coach Mike McCarthy of his mobility.
“I realized,” Rodgers told the Green Bay Press-Gazette “I probably should jog. I was thinking about walking from the tunnel out all the way to the sideline, but I figured I might as well jog a little bit to let Doc McKenzie know I could do that, because I hadn’t done that yet in the bowels of the stadium.”
Rodgers would finish the game 20-of-36 for 286 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions to lead the Packers to a 24-23 win, most certainly the highlight of Week 1’s action.
Remember, the Packers were down 17-0 with 56 seconds remaining in the first half after Khalil Mack accented his sensational debut with the Bears with a 27-yard touchdown after intercepting backup quarterback DeShone Kizer.
Then Rodgers reappeared.
“When I got the ovation, at that point, I said, ‘We might as well win this thing,” Rodgers said. “This is what we’re paid to do. We’re paid to deal with injuries and play through them, ,,, That’s the measure of a teammate, is what are you willing to put on the line for your team.”
Even though his movement was limited, Rodgers produced a 152.7 quarterback rating (17-of-23, 273 yards) in the second half. The three big plays: Geronimo Allison’s 39-yard touchdown, Davante Adams’ 51-yard reception and Randall Cobb’s 75-yard catch and run for the winning score with 2:13 to play.
“Aaron Rodgers was remarkable. I just can’t tell you how proud I am with him,” McCarthy told ESPN.com.
Here’s what else we learned after the first Sunday of the season:
Le’Veon Bell Put On Notice
Pittsburgh’s marquee halfback continued his contentious holdout as the Steelers tied the Cleveland Browns 21-21. But now the Steelers may have leverage in the negotiations. James Conner rushed for 135 yards, caught five passes for 57 and scored two touchdowns in place of Bell. Of course, he also fumbled in the fourth quarter to set up the Browns’ tying touchdown after they wiped out a 14-point third-quarter deficit. But the guy can play. It was the first opening-day tie in the NFL since 1971.
Tough Day For The Bills
Not even Andy Dalton could help the Buffalo Bills during their 47-3 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, the worst opening-day loss in the 59 years of Buffalo football. You’ll recall it was Dalton’s game-winning touchdown pass in the last season’s finale for the Cincinnati Bengals that propelled the Bills to the postseason. With Nathan Peterman starting at quarterback, the Bills did not have a first down in the first half. When the offense struggled again to begin the second half, Bills coach Sean McDermott inserted rookie Josh Allen, the team’s first-round pick. But by that time, it was far too late.
Jimmy G Loses Duel With Cousins
One of the day’s most interesting games certainly was San Francisco-Minnesota simply because it pitted two saviors against each other, 49ers’ quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins. Garoppolo completed only 15-of-33 for 261 yards with a touchdown, threw three interceptions and three sacks. Cousins was 20-of-36 for 244 yards with two touchdowns no interceptions, a nice first return on Minnesota’s three-year, $84-million investment during the Vikings’ 24-16 win.
Fitzpatrick Takes Charge
Veteran QB Ryan Fitzpatrick had a stellar day in the first of three starts he will make while Tampa’s starter Jameis Winston sits out a league suspension. He threw four touchdown passes, ran for a fifth and completed 21-of-28 for a career-high 417 yards in its 48-40 win over New Orleans. The Bucs tied a franchise record with 31 first-half points and their record for most points in a game, set in its Super Bowl win over the Oakland Raiders in 2003. The Bucs also gained 529 yards as the teams combined to set a league record for most points in a regular season opener. Oh, and Drew Brees was 37-of-45 for 439 yards and three touchdowns for the Saints.