Aaron Rodgers is great.
He has everything you would ever want in an NFL quarterback. He has a strong arm. He is smart. He is cool under pressure. He is even more athletic than maybe most fans realise.
But he also has a special trait that separates him from other quarterbacks, even the ones with all the necessary physical traits — Rodgers has an incredible sense of time.
Rodgers once explained how he has trained his mind so well to handle all of the details before and during a play that he is able to keep his thoughts from getting in the way, those same thoughts that often lead to panic in other quarterbacks.
“All of that stuff happens so quickly,” Rodgers said. “But when you have seen it and experienced it, you are able to not let your thoughts overtake your ability to react to what you are seeing.”
We saw this in two plays during the Packers’ win over the Cowboys in the divisional round of the playoffs.
The first play is the now-legendary sideline pass in the closing seconds that Rodgers drew up in the huddle, leading to the game-winning field goal.
While most focus on the incredible throw and even more incredible catch by Jared Cook, those two details never happen if Rodgers isn’t able to somehow keep incredibly calm in a situation that would leave most mortal people curled up in the fetal position, or in the case of most NFL quarterbacks, rushing a bad throw.
After Rodgers threw an incomplete pass, the Packers were facing a third down and 20. They needed about 15 yards for a realistic shot at a Hail Mary or about 30 yards to have any hope at a game-winning field goal.
More importantly, Rodgers only had 12 seconds left on the clock. Think about how little 12 seconds is. At times it may seem like an eternity while watching sports, but not when you are in the moment and it is certainly not a time to lollygag around.
But this is Aaron Rodgers. He knows exactly how long 12 seconds is and he never panics.
With 12 seconds left, he takes the snap and calmly rolls out to the left where he has a lot of space and left guard Lane Taylor (65) to buy him some time.
Now here is where most quarterbacks would start to rush and panic. As the quarterback is scanning downfield to look for receivers, he doesn’t have time to look at a clock. He must either trust his instincts or possibly rush a throw rather than risk using up too much time.
In fact, there is a spot, after about four seconds, when it looks like Rodgers is going to throw the ball. Most quarterbacks would have thrown the ball then. Rodgers doesn’t. Instead he continues to roll towards the sideline knowing he still has eight seconds to work with.
Of course, we all know how this one ends. Rodgers hit Cook for a 36-yard gain, setting up the game-winning field goal.
The second play came earlier in the game. The Packers were leading 7-3 at the time and had the ball first-and-goal at the three-yard line.
On this play, Rodgers breaks the huddle with about 20 seconds to go on the play clock and the players start to get set at about 15 seconds. Everything seems normal.
But here is where Rodgers trusts his instincts and the clock in his head takes over.
With seven seconds to go on the play clock, Rodgers sees something he doesn’t like. So Rodgers has Ty Montgomery move from the backfield to the slot position on the right side. Montgomery doesn’t even start to shift until there are five seconds left on the play clock.
At a point when most quarterbacks would start to rush a little, Rodgers is calm enough to know that five seconds is enough time for a player to shift and still get the play off in time.
As Montgomery is getting into position, the Fox cameras shift back to a close-up of Rodgers.
The play clock is now down to three seconds. This is where we usually start to see a quarterback lift his leg up and down several times or start clapping frantically trying to get the ball.
But not Rodgers. With three seconds to go on the clock, Rodgers is still scanning the defence. He is as calm as a toad in the sun.
It is also quite common to see a situation like this end with a quarterback calling a timeout because it just got too dang close.
But again, not Rodgers. With two seconds to go, he takes a calm step towards the line, and with one second left on the play clock he nonchalantly lifts his leg to signal his center and the ball is snapped without a flag.
In this case, the play ended in an incompletion as Rodgers tried to hit Cook in the flat on a quick out. But that was only because the officials missed a blatant holding call.
They did score a touchdown on the next play to take a 14-3 lead.
When talking about Rodgers, it is usually not long before somebody brings up just how calm and cool he always looks. Well, that trait is not a show and we see its benefits most when the clock nears zero.
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