FRISCO, Texas -- Future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers -- a four-time NFL MVP and Super Bowl XLV MVP -- joining the New York Jets via trade after 18 season with the Green Bay Packers was far and away the biggest storyline of the 2023 NFL offseason. There wasn't a week where Rodgers' potential retirement, potential trade destination, his arrival to the Jets, or his practices and preseason action with Gang Green wasn't breathlessly covered. That's why felt like such a sucker punch: the Jets and the NFL world at large were robbed of seeing paired with one of 2022's top-five defenses.
Just like the rest of the world, Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy, the coach most responsible for Rodgers' development and who won a Super Bowl with him during his tenure as the head coach of the Green Bay Packers from 2006-2018, felt his heart drop seeing Rodgers go down on "Monday Night Football" as the two were set to square off in Week 2 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
"I was watching the game, like everybody else," McCarthy said Wednesday. I feel like everybody, you're hoping it wasn't serious. It kind of reminded me of a game we played in 2018 against the Bears."
The Bears acquired All-Pro linebacker Khalil Mack from the Raiders eight days before Week 1 at Lambeau Field in 2018 against the Packers, and he looked like an all-time great in that game, registering a sack, a pick-six, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. One of his quarterback pressures came as Rodgers crumpled to the ground with 9:21 left in the first half, down 10-0 following a knee injury that caused the Packers' leader to be carted off the field. By the time Rodgers returned in the second half, Green Bay trailed 20-0.
After his first drive back ended with a 42-yard Mason Crosby field goal, Rodgers finished the game with three consecutive touchdown passes: a 39-yard bomb to Geronimo Allison, a 12-yard toss to Davante Adams and the game-winning, 75-yard catch-and-run touchdown on third-and-10 to Cobb with 2:13 to go.
"He went in [to the locker room] and they told him on the headset that he would be done for the year, with a fracture in his knee joint," McCarthy said. "But he came out after halftime and threw three touchdowns, won the game and played for the rest of the year. So that's why I was hoping it was gonna happen. I feel terrible for him."
Even though McCarthy has been the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys since 2020, he'll always have a soft spot for Rodgers after he combined with him for a Super Bowl title and many epic, miraculous victories.
"Yeah, I definitely reached out to him," McCarthy said. "I go back to last year, it was great to see him personally. I had a chance to spend some time with him…It's great to compete with the people you care about. He and I have been through a lot together. So, I have tremendous love for him. This is tough. I know he was very excited about this chapter of his life. I was looking forward to seeing him this weekend. But yeah, it's a good time in this game, and it just puts... you see how precious these opportunities are. Every game is such a special opportunity to compete in this league. I think we're all feeling for him personally right now."
Rodgers has an 8-2 lifetime record against the Dallas Cowboys, including a 3-0 mark on the road against the Silver and Blue. That's something only he and Tom Brady can claim, a road record of 3-0 or better against the Cowboys. However, almost every Packers and Cowboys battle with Rodgers involved felt like a rivalry thanks to the many close finishes over the years. That's why the Dallas players will miss seeing him on Sunday.
"Aaron brings a different edge to the game, and I'm sure they're going to miss that for sure," Cowboys right tackle Terence Steele said after practice Wednesday. "It's the NFL man, things happen like that and we just got to keep playing. It's Rodgers, so I'm sure it affects the game a little, but they're still an NFL team. I'm still going to come out and play as hard as I can."
The defensive players, the ones who actually line up across from him on the field, will miss the in-game banter Rodgers happily exchanged with his competition. Rodgers put that on display in the Jets' preseason finale against the Giants when a "Hard Knocks" clip showed the quarterback saying "I don't even know who you are" to defensive lineman Jihad Ward.
I love playing against Aaron," Cowboys defensive tackle and 11-year NFL veteran Johnathan Hankins said after practice Wednesday. "He's a big, I want to say shit-talker, but he knows how to play the game and respect the other guys. It sucks he won't be there, but hey, we still have to go out there and do our job no matter who is out there."
Rodgers' torn Achilles injury reminded everyone about the ugly part of the NFL: no player ever stays fully healthy in professional football.
"That's one thing that's guaranteed in this sport, you know you're going to get injured," Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Pollard said Wednesday after practice. "So, I mean, it's a part of football."
Now, the Cowboys' focus shifts to preparing forNFL Draft, leading Gang Green's offense. His career, in three seasons has been a stark contrast to Rodgers' body of work. The four-time NFL MVP's career passer rating of 103.6 is the second-highest in NFL history. Wilson has the unique distinction of being the only quarterback since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 to finish last in the NFL in passer rating in consecutive seasons (69.7 in 2021 and 72.8 in 2022)., the quarterback the Jets selected second overall in the 2021
"I think everyone [with the Dallas Cowboys] was excited for the challenge [of facing Aaron Rodgers]," McCarthy said. "That's only natural when playing against a great player. At the end of the day, we need to get to 2-0. That's the focus with our group."