Judgments One: Welcome to Mr. Rodgers’ MVP neighborhood


Aaron Rodgers photo courtesy of the Green Bay Packers

Last week’s Talk of Fame Network poll asked our readers which NFL player is the favorite to win this year’s league MVP, and the vote wasn’t close. They made it Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Well, now they’re not alone. The Chicago Bears just joined the chorus.

Because if there were a measure of Rodgers’ value to the Packers, it was Sunday night’s 24-23 come-from-behind defeat of the Bears — with the quarterback playing on one leg to rally Green Bay from a 20-0 second-half deficit to pull off the unlikeliest of victories.

NBC broadcasters Cris Collinsworth and Al Michaels termed it “heroic” … and “special” … and “stunning.” And it was all of those things … and more … with Rodgers demonstrating that as long as he’s playing — even if it’s on one leg — the AFC North goes through Green Bay.

“There are stars,” Collinsworth said, “and then there are superstars.”

Guess which one is Rodgers.

Our readers did. Now, so have the Bears. And, just a hunch, but in a week, Minnesota will join them.

Because as severe as Rodgers’ knee injury appeared Sunday — with the quarterback exiting the field on a cart — it didn’t prevent him from carrying the Packers on his back in the second half, just as he’s done so many times before. And, apparently, it won’t prevent him from suiting up for Minnesota next weekend, either.

“I’m playing next week,” he said with certainty.

Of course he is. He’s Aaron Rodgers … and he just became the frontrunner for this year’s MVP.

FLAG FOOTBALL IS BACK … UNFORTUNATELY

The NFL calls it a point of emphasis, but it’s not. It’s a point of concern.

I’m talking about the NFL’s continued protection of quarterbacks, with this year’s “point of emphasis” on anyone who lands on the quarterback when taking him to the ground. It’s a foul, and it’s a 15-yard penalty, but it’s more than that.

It’s a game changer.

You leave your feet to block a pass and land on the quarterback, you’re toast. You hit the quarterback as he throws, causing an incompletion or turnover, you’re toast. You hit him just after he throws, taking him to the ground you’re …

I think you get the picture.

When Cincinnati’s Carlos Dunlap hit Andrew Luck in the third period of Sunday’s game, he forced a fumble that was returned by the Bengals to the Indy 4 … where they seemed locked and loaded for a go-ahead touchdown. Except they weren’t. Dunlap fell on Luck after he lost the ball, causing officials to flag him for roughing the quarterback.

We saw far too many of those calls this weekend — heck, we saw far too many calls, period (an average of 16.14 per game, including 26 in the Kickoff Opener) — with pass rushers throwing their hands in the air in disbelief.

I’m with them. That’s not the game they were taught. That’s not the game they’re used to playing. But it’s the game they play now, and I wish it weren’t.

FIRST-AND-25

  1. No surprise a Bengals’ defender was the first to be ejected for targeting a hit to the head, but, no, it wasn’t Vontaze Burfict … and only because he’s suspended. It was safety Shawn Williams, and no surprise there, either. He led the league a year ago with 16 personal fouls.

2. Not sure who has worse hands: Bears’ cornerback Kyle Fuller or the Venus de Milo. If Fuller makes that fourth-quarter interception just moments before Randall Cobb’s game-winning touchdown catch, we’re talking about Chicago as a legit division threat.

3.  I see where Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel won’t run for re-election. So maybe Jon Gruden should. After what he did for the Bears with linebacker Khalil Mack, he’d win in a landslide.

4. Buffalo coach Sean McDermott says it’s too early to name a Week Two starter at quarterback. He’s wrong. It’s anyone but Nate Peterman. Period.

5. I was told Denver will surprise people. I don’t believe it. Not unless Von Miller can play quarterback, too.

6. Please stand by. The Tennessee-Miami game will end in 10 minutes.

7. Tom Brady throws for three touchdowns, but he wasn’t the story for the Patriots. His offensive line was. It kept Jadeveon Clowney and J.J. Watt off Brady the entire afternoon.

8. The Chargers may be the preseason pick to win the AFC West, but first they must prove they can beat Kansas City. They’ve lost their last nine to the Chiefs. Bottom line: The division is the Chiefs to lose. Again.

9. Yes, that was a remarkable … and historic … performance by Adrian Peterson. But don’t get used to it, Washington. The guy’s 33 and will wear down as the season wears on. Hey, it happens.

10. Be careful what you wish for. New head coaches were 0-5 Sunday afternoon.

11. The Cowboys will regret letting Dan Bailey go. In fact, they should already be there.

12. So he lost. Make Andrew Luck the early frontrunner for Comeback of the Year, with Ryan Tannehill a safe distance in the rear-view mirror.

13. It’s not the Giants or Cowboys that could squeeze Philadelphia in the NFC East. It’s Washington. Reason: The Redskins have a quarterback who knows how to win, and you can look it up. Alex Smith is 89-62-1, including 70-31 the last eight seasons, and hasn’t had a losing year since 2010.

14. Fitzpatrick … rhymes with Montana.

15. So now you know: Dez and Zeke can’t carry the Cowboys’ offense. One TD, no play over 20 yards and 2-for-11 on third downs. And then there’s this: That was the seventh time in Prescott’s last nine starts that he failed to throw for 200 yards. No wonder offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and owner Jerry Jones declined to comment afterward.

16. Imagine if Philip Rivers had wide receivers who could catch.

17. Early heads up for 2019: I don’t care whom New Orleans opens with … take the opponent. The Saints lost their last five season openers.

18. Saquon Barkley is what he’s been, and that’s good for Giants’ fans. But Eli Manning is what he’s been, too, and that’s not. That fourth-quarter interception return that beat Big Blue is all-too-familiar.

19. Steelers 1, Le’Veon Bell 0. Bell surrendered $850,000 by not playing. James Conner made $34,000 by taking his place.

20. Why in the world does anyone kick to Tyreek Hill?

21. Hill has nine touchdowns of 50 or more yards since Week 15 of 2016. Nobody else has more than four. Just sayin’.

22. Remember when Cleveland’s Jarvis Landry said “you’ll be lucky if we don’t score 40 on you?” Guess Pittsburgh got lucky.

23. It’s not Jimmy Garoppolo’s first-ever loss or those three interceptions that should worry the 49ers. It’s what Minnesota defensive end Danielle Hunter said afterward: “As the game goes on, you have to bring the pressure on him. You see that he’s starting to get scared.”

24. When is a loss more than a loss? When it’s the Titans’ opener with Miami. Tennessee subtracted tackle Taylor Lewan (concussion), quarterback Marcus Mariota (elbow) and tight end Delanie Walker (lower leg) to injuries — with Walker possibly gone for the year. Good luck with that, guys.

25. “This one game doesn’t define our season,” Arizona head coach Steve Wilks said after that lackluster loss to Washington. Geez, I hope not. Otherwise, just call in tennis ump Carlos Ramos to forfeit future games.

FIVE OVERREACTIONS FOR OVERREACTION MONDAY

1. It’s not too soon to start writing obits for the Bills.

2. Ereck Flowers can’t play right or left tackle.

3. For the moment … T.J. Watt is more effective than J.J. Watt. I said: For the moment.

4. Andrew Luck’s shoulder won’t be the concern in Indianapolis. Everything else will be.

5. The Browns break their losing streak in Week Three. Opponent: The Jets.

GOLD JACKET QUOTE OF THE DAY

NEW ORLEANS COACH SEAN PAYTON on what went wrong with the Saints’ defense: “Take your pick.”

SUNDAY’S BIGGEST WINNER

BALTIMORE QB JOE FLACCO. He’s supposed to be a lame-duck quarterback … the veteran who keeps his position warm only until first-round draft choice and former Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson catches up to the pro game. Except … well, except Flacco must have missed that memo. Because the guy was stellar in preseason play and seldom looked better than Sunday when he threw for three touchdowns, no interceptions, led the Ravens to a 47-3 beatdown of Buffalo and put up a passer rating of 121.7 – his best since Oct. 12, 2014 (149.7).  And remember: That was in the rain. OK, so it was Buffalo, and the Bills looked lousy. But Flacco has weapons galore around him for the first time since I can’t remember, and you saw the results. This is a story worth unfolding, and here’s why: The last time I remember Flacco playing with pressure like this was when he passed the chance prior to the 2012 season to sign a contract extension and gambled on his lame-duck year. Result: He led the Ravens to their second Super Bowl win, was the game’s MVP and gained a whopping pay raise — signing what was then the largest contract in NFL history.

SUNDAY’S BIGGEST LOSER

BROWNS’ FANS. Just when it looked as if it was free Bud Lights all around … just when it appeared the Browns would unlock those fridges in and around their stadium … just when it seemed as they’d win their first game in 18 tries … this happens: They tie a game, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory when a last-minute game-winning field goal gets blocked in OT.  But let’s face it: It never should have come down to a field goal. Pittsburgh committed six turnovers on the road … and still didn’t lose. Unbelievable? Nope. It’s Cleveland.

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