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Rodgers takes game, reputation to next level at XLV


DALLAS -- Mister Rodgers has a new neighborhood.

Zip code: Greatness.

No more living in the shadow of the older kid from down the block, the one all the girls used to like.

Aaron Rodgers is the man now.

On the game's biggest stage, in the grandest stadium of them all, Rodgers put to rest any silly talk that he could never replace Brett Favre as quarterback of the Green Bay Packers.

He one-upped him, in fact. Rodgers cut up the Pittsburgh Steelers' top-ranked scoring defense to lead the Packers to a 31-25 victory over the Steelers Sunday night in Super Bowl XLV. In winning the MVP, Rodgers did something Favre never did.

Asked about doing that, Rodgers shrugged off the idea he bettered Favre.

"Is that a question?" he said. Rodgers quickly moved on to the next question.

Translation: This wasn't the time to go there.

Not for him, but it is for us.

Since taking over as the Packers quarterback in 2008, in a move that jettisoned Favre to the Jets, Rodgers has lived with the questions about whether he could do what the beloved one did for the Packers, which was win a Super Bowl.

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In winning this one, he not only showed he could do it but he showed he could do it as well as Favre ever could.

Rodgers was 24-of-39 for 304 yards and the three touchdowns. His passer rating was a sizzling 111.5. All those numbers would have been even better were it not for five drops by his receivers, four in the second half.

"I never felt like I had a monkey on my back," Rodgers said.

If he did, he didn't just throw it to the ground. He slammed it down, beat it up and damn near killed the thing.

Rodgers' postseason has been sensational. He ended the postseason with 1,094 passing yards and nine touchdown passes, joining Kurt Warner (Arizona, 2008) as the only quarterbacks with 1,000-plus yards passing and nine touchdown passes. Rodgers is also now the all-time leader in passer rating in the postseason with a 112.6 rating, surpassing Bart Starr, another Green Bay quarterback great.

"With Aaron Rodgers, we put the game on his shoulders," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.

It was the only way they could win. With the Steelers having the league's top-ranked run defense, you don't just line up and run it into their defensive midsection. You take Rodgers and let him loose.

Green Bay threw it 39 times and ran it just 13. McCarthy did say there were more runs called at the line of scrimmage, but Rodgers checked out of those plays when the defense looked favorable to the throw.

"We knew they would throw the football quite a bit and they did," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "He didn't fold under the pressure."

Game pressure? That's nothing compared to the pressure this guy has felt for the past four years.

Some would have wilted under it. He seems to thrive in it.

"It's so hard to think, 'Hey, I'll be in the Super Bowl,'" Rodgers said. "Obviously as a kid you're thinking that it would be so cool to play in that game. To be in it and win it is just unbelievable."

The last Packers drive of the night was his magic moment. When Pittsburgh cut the Green Bay lead to three at 28-25 and seemed to have all the momentum, it was Rodgers' game to win or lose.

Go three-and-out, and the Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger, Mr. Comeback, have a real chance.

All Rodgers did was drive the Packers from his 25 to the Steelers' 8 to set up a field goal to make it a six-point spread. He used up 5:27 on the drive, and all but two plays were pass plays.

The biggest play of the night for him was on third-and-10 at the 25. He stared down pressure and fired a rocket just past Ike Taylor's hands for a huge first down.

"Huge," Jennings said. "Outstanding throw by Aaron."

He made a lot of them. All three of his touchdown passes were perfect throws that only his players could catch. They missed fingertips of defenders on two of them.

Rodgers was doing it without starting receiver Donald Driver most of the night. He went out in the first quarter with an ankle injury. That led to Jordy Nelson having a big game with nine catches for 140 yards and a 29-yard touchdown catch.

"It was a fun night," Rodgers said.

On the podium after the game, wearing a black Super Bowl Champion hat and white t-shirt with the same script on the front of it, it was impossible for Rodgers to hide his glee. The grin told it all. He couldn't stop smiling.

Would you? After replacing a football legend, one who never warmed to you or welcomed you in any way, and then you had to convince a fan base that you were the right guy, I doubt he stops smiling by May.

"This is the passing of the torch from one quarterback to the next," McCarthy said.

The guy who has it now will hold it for a while. He's just now coming into his prime. There's no reason to think he might not become the best Packers quarterback of them all.

It's too early for that right now. And Mr. Starr and Mr. Favre are still above him on the pecking order.

But Mr. Rodgers moved into their neighborhood Sunday night.

Wonder how it feels to live in Greatness, U.S.A.?

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.

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