Sunday’s NFC Championship game will mark the fourth meeting between quarterbacks Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, and certainly the most notable.
Brady holds the head-to-head edge, 2-1, and Sunday will mark the first time the two have faced each other in the postseason. The winner of the marquee matchup will advance to the Super Bowl, which would be Brady’s record 10th appearance and Rodgers’s second.
In their most recent meeting, in Tampa last October, the Packers jumped out to a 10-0 first-quarter lead before going scoreless for the remainder of the game. The Buccaneers tallied 38 points en route to victory, thanks in large part to cornerback Jamel Dean’s pick-6 and two rushing touchdowns from running back Ronald Jones.
Neither quarterback had a particularly flashy performance, but Brady did find the end zone twice, first to rookie wide receiver Tyler Johnson and later to tight end Rob Gronkowski. Brady completed 17 of his 27 pass attempts (63 percent) for a season-low 166 yards, with no sacks or interceptions.
Tampa Bay’s defense stole the show, as Rodgers struggled mightily after the first quarter and turned in one of his worst performances of the year.
Rodgers completed a season-low 16 passes on 25 attempts (64 percent) for 160 yards, 107 of which came in the first quarter. He also was sacked four times for a loss of 42 yards and threw two interceptions. He finished the game with a passer rating of 35.4, the third-worst of his 16-year career.
Green Bay’s rushing attack also never established a rhythm, with Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams, and AJ Dillon combining for 80 yards.
“We were just able to get after Aaron,” Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians said. “Once we got the running game shut down, it was just a matter of getting after him.”
After the game, Rodgers expressed confidence in his team and called the loss “an anomaly.” He noted that “a kick in the ass” could serve as a good wake-up call.
“I’ve played for so long, you’re going to have a couple of stinkers,” he said. “I think this will be, unfortunately but fortunately, something we can really grow from.”
Brady and Rodgers split their other two matchups, both of which occurred when Brady was with the Patriots.
Their November 2018 game at Gillette Stadium came complete with a minute-long “Sunday Night Football” commercial starring NBA legend Michael Jordan.
“There’s a lot of talk going on these days about who is the greatest ever, about who has the titles, the raw talent, the most clutch moments,” narrated Jordan. “I get it. It’s a tough call. I mean, even the jersey numbers are the same.
“But maybe the best way to settle this debate is to play it out head-to-head. I’ll watch that.”
New England came away with a 31-17 victory.
The quarterbacks posted similar stat lines, with Brady throwing for 294 yards and Rodgers 259. Brady connected on a 55-yard touchdown to Josh Gordon, while Rodgers found both Jimmy Graham and Davante Adams in the end zone. Brady was sacked twice, Rodgers only once. Neither threw an interception.
In November 2014, the Packers won, 26-21, at Lambeau Field. The conditions that day — game-time temperature of 28 degrees and winds at 14 miles per hour — are in line with the forecast for Sunday’s game.
Even though that game was six-plus years ago, the two most-targeted players for each team will be available Sunday. For the Patriots, Gronkowski caught seven passes on 12 targets for 98 yards, while Adams, then a Packers rookie, caught six on 11 targets for 121 yards.
Rodgers completed 24 of his 38 attempts (63.2 percent) for 368 yards and two touchdowns, one to Jordy Nelson and another to tight end Richard Rodgers. Brady completed 22 of his 35 pass attempts (62.9 percent) for 245 yards and two touchdowns, both to wide receiver Brandon LaFell.
Neither threw a pick. Brady was sacked once, Rodgers three times.
Brady has faced the Packers on three other occasions in his career — in October 2002 (28-10 loss), November 2006 (35-0 win), and December 2010 (31-27 win). Brett Favre was the starting quarterback for the first two games (although Rodgers relieved an injured Favre in the 2006 matchup), while Matt Flynn got the start in 2010.
Rodgers has faced the Buccaneers on four other occasions, in September 2008 (30-21 loss), November 2009 (38-28 loss), November 2011 (35-26 win), and December 2014 (20-3 win).
Sunday’s conference championship is scheduled to kick off at 3:05 p.m. at Lambeau Field.
Nicole Yang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.