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Senior NFL Columnist

Rodgers silences critics with six-TD night as Packers knock off Texans

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HOUSTON -- The right arm helped him tie his blue shoes. It helped put stuff in his travel bag. It slid easily inside his checkered blue shirt, and fit nicely into his sharp-looking blue blazer. It even helped support his bag as he carried it to the team bus.

So what the heck is so special about this right arm, more so than yours and mine?

It's the right arm of one Aaron Rodgers, and Sunday night it taught us just how valuable that arm is on a football field, even as some foolishly started to doubt it. Before performing its locker-room duties, the right arm of the Green Bay Packers quarterback carved up Houston Texans to shreds as Rodgers tied a franchise-record with six touchdown passes in a 42-24 victory that knocked Houston from the ranks of the undefeated.

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Not too bad for a guy who came in fighting off critics with a stiff right arm.

Rodgers came into Sunday's game with 10 touchdown passes and four interceptions, but his yards-per-attempt number was way down and he was taking too many shots, leading to questions about whether he had become jumpy in the pocket.

That's what happens when you're at the top. They try and knock you off anyway they can.

Stats or no stats, anybody questioning this guy was nuts. It was all going to straighten out eventually. He's too damn good.

"Of course I heard it," Rodgers said of the criticism. "It wasn't like I paid a lot of attention to it. Whether it's good stuff or bad stuff people like to tell me what's being said. I'm not somebody who puts a whole lot of worth into those comments. I feel like I am somebody who has always played with a chip on my shoulder. It helps me when people give me a reason to have that chip."

That's what competitors like him do. They don't fire back. They let their play do most of the talking. Then they stand in front of the carnage with a snarky grin as if to send a message.

The message he sent from this one: All the doubters can all stick it where the sun doesn't shine.

It was a clinic on passing, the kind of thing we expect to see from Rodgers, especially after he earned MVP honors last season. It was precision. It was accuracy. It was, in a word, beautiful.

Rodgers finished with 338 yards and a passer rating of 133.8 to go with is six touchdown passes, which, by the way, tied one Matt Flynn, who set it last year when he played for Rodgers in the season finale.

Rodgers said the last time he threw six touchdown passes in a game was at Butte Community College in 2002. This time, he did it against the fourth-ranked passing defense in the NFL and the third best overall.

"This guy can throw it around, light it up," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "He put on a show tonight."

Rodgers threw three touchdown passes to Jordy Nelson, two to James Jones and one to Tom Crabtree, eating alive the Texans' man-press coverage. That was the book on defending the Packers coming into this one: press their receivers and make them win.

They hadn't been doing so, which is why Rodgers wasn't putting up the gaudy numbers. That led to him holding it some, and led to his being sacked 21 times. That, in turn, led to the questions about him.

Rodgers' teammates noticed a difference in him this week. He seemed angry, ready to shut everybody up.

"He was extremely focused," Jones said. "You could see it in his eyes. It was him telling us he was going to be the lead dog and for us to follow."

Center Jeff Saturday spent 12 seasons with the Colts snapping to Peyton Manning, who just happens to be another great quarterback known for special moments. So when Saturday talks about great quarterback play, he knows it as well as anybody. Their hands both start all the touchdown throws under his ample ass.

"You could just tell he was on it," Saturday said of Rodgers. "He moved from pressure. He made great throws. He was spot on with everything he did. He was in a zone. When guys get like that, you know it's going to be a big night."

At 2-3, Green Bay couldn't afford a loss in this one. It's too early to say that their season would have been over, but in trouble would have applied. Now at 3-3, they head to a three-game slate (at St. Louis, home against Jacksonville and Arizona) that could get them on a roll.

"This is how we expect to play on offense," Jones said.

Rodgers stared down the critics and seemed to bask in doing so late Sunday night as he met the media. He did limp to and from the podium, but it didn't seem to be anything serious.

The pain had to be eased by his putting the Packers back where they were expected to be, which is a contender.

For now, the chatter will stop. Rodgers is the man again.

"It's almost better when people are doubting us," Rodgers said. "We band together. People tried to pull us apart and we stuck together."

As he walked off the podium, you have expected something else from that magical right arm: A one-fingered peace sign to anybody foolish enough to doubt him.


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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