Brady had held the coveted title of NFL's best player, with the celebrity quarterback's impeccable 2010 MVP season and top overall ranking by his peers in a league-wide vote this past summer supporting that notion, but Aaron Rodgers placed himself as the possible heir to the throne with a remarkable playoff run that triggered the Green Bay Packers' march to a world championship this past winter.
The transition of power is now complete, as Rodgers has put together quite possibly the most clinically-precise performance the league has ever seen in directing the powerhouse Packers to their best seven-game start to a season since the franchise's dynasty days of the early 1960's.
Even in a year of unprecedented offensive achievements, the eye-popping numbers that Rodgers has produced over the past two months have managed to stand out. The reigning Super Bowl MVP became the only quarterback since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger to begin a campaign with seven straight outings with a passer rating of 110 or better, joining Hall of Famer Steve Young as the only players to reach that superlative number in a single year. His current 125.7 rating would surpass Peyton Manning's 121.7 in 2004 as the best in NFL history, while his sizzling 71.5 percent completion percentage would top contemporary Drew Brees' league standard (70.6 percent in 2009) in that category as well.
Counting last year's postseason, Rodgers has eclipsed the prestigious 110 mark 15 times in his last 18 starts.
"He is a great player," Packers head coach Mike McCarthy simply stated following his team's hard-fought 33-27 win over a determined Minnesota squad on Sunday. "He is a special player, and that is about as consistent as I can continue to be about the way he is playing and just the way he handles our operation."
Rodgers' greatness was on display once again in Sunday's matchup with the Vikings, with the Green Bay sharp-shooter firing on a pinpoint 24-of-30 throws for 335 yards and three touchdowns, two of which came during a pivotal 20-0 third-quarter surge that erased a 17-13 halftime deficit. He completed his first 13 attempts of the afternoon.
"You never really have to get away from pre-planning categories that you really want to go into the game aggressive, or multiple, or flexible, and that is a great comfort to have as a coach with Aaron Rodgers running this offense," said McCarthy.
While Rodgers continues to raise the bar with his ultra-efficient play, his team's accomplishments are quickly becoming the stuff of legend as well -- no small feat for a franchise that's steeped in past moments of glory. Sunday's win was the Packers' 13th in a row including last season's playoffs, bettering a 12-game run spanning the club's back-to-back NFL championships in 1961 and '62 for the longest unbeaten streak in team annals.
Green Bay's current reign of dominance has now started to spark debate regarding another standard of excellence, namely the 16-0 regular season produced by Brady's 2007 Patriots.
Though that watch may be way premature with the calendar not even to Halloween, there's little debate where the Packers presently stand in the NFL's pecking order. And McCarthy's charges have history on their side as well, as the six previous Green Bay teams to begin 6-0 all won league championships -- though all of those came prior to the Super Bowl era.
Now that's a scary proposition.
GRADING THE FILL-INS
Rodgers' dissection of the Vikings was just one of several prolific efforts in a day where individual acts well overshadowed the quality of the games. Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray did something Emmitt Smith and Tony Dorsett never managed during their illustrious careers when the rookie ripped off an astounding 253 yards against the abysmal St. Louis Rams. Ben Roethlisberger shredded an awful Arizona defense for 361 yards and three touchdowns to continue the Steelers' resurgence following a somewhat slow start. And Sean Payton's injury-induced move to the press box clearly didn't have any adverse effects on the New Orleans offense. With a five-touchdown outburst by Brees leading the way, the Saints matched the highest single-game point total since the 1970 merger in a 62-7 obliteration of woebegone Indianapolis (a loss that should put beleaguered Colts coach Jim Caldwell on further notice, because that team was a walking definition of the word quit).
Still, this was the week of the replacement quarterback, with six teams making changes at the pivotal position because of either injury or effectiveness. Here's a brief capsule and evaluation of how those substitutes fared in their first starts of 2011:
Tim Tebow, Broncos: The captivating former Heisman Trophy recipient's legend continued to grow in Denver's improbable comeback against hapless Miami, with Tebow tossing two touchdown passes in the final 2:44 of regulation and running in a two-point conversion attempt during an 18-point swing that lifted the Broncos to an overtime victory. The young quarterback didn't do it alone, however, with Denver successfully recovering an onside kick in advance of the game-tying drive and the go-ahead points set up by linebacker D.J. Williams' sack and fumble recovery, and Tebow struggled to move the offense for most of the game while hitting on just 13-of-27 attempts for 161 yards. Encouraging, but there's still work to be done. GRADE: C+
Christian Ponder, Vikings: The rookie completed only 13-of-32 passes and was intercepted twice by Charles Woodson in his NFL starting debut, but did throw for a pair of scores and brought some spark to an offense that was noticeably absent under predecessor Donovan McNabb. There seems to be some promise here. GRADE: B-
John Beck, Redskins: The Mike Shanahan favorite had an inconsistent first start since 2007, but his 22-of-37, 279-yard, two-touchdown (one passing, one rushing) and two-turnover (one interception, one fumble) effort in Washington's 33-20 loss at Carolina was still miles ahead of Rex Grossman's wretched outing from a week ago. A decent performance, but nothing to suggest the Redskins won't be looking for a long-term solution next season. GRADE: C+
A.J. Feeley, Rams: The seldom-used veteran was about as good as expected in a spot start for the injured Sam Bradford, making good on 20-of-33 passes for 196 yards and an interception in the reeling Rams' blowout loss in Dallas. Feeley wasn't horrible, but the journeyman showed why he's barely attempted a regular- season pass in four years prior to Sunday's game. GRADE: D+
Kyle Boller/Carson Palmer, Raiders: Combined to throw a whopping six interceptions and completed 15-of-35 attempts for 177 yards in the Silver and Black's ugly 28-0 loss to Kansas City. Jason Campbell's free-agent stock just shot up significantly. GRADE: F
Charlie Whitehurst, Seahawks: A team praying for Tarvaris Jackson's healthy return is a rare sight indeed, but that's indeed the case for the Seahawks after Whitehurst was beyond brutal in the worst game of the 2011 NFL season to date, a completely uneventful 6-3 Seattle loss at Cleveland. The uninspiring backup finished an atrocious 12-of-30 for 97 yards with an interception and a lost fumble, with the Seahawks mustering a mere 137 yards and nine first downs as a team. GRADE: F