GREEN BAY, Wisc. — Before Aaron Rodgers could step to the podium to talk about the Packers’ 27-24, overtime win over the Patriots on Sunday, he had to meet with a couple of admirers.
He sat by himself in the locker room, autographing his green game jersey and inscribing a lengthy message for Patriots linebacker Matthew Judon, who had a sack, a QB hit, and was a general menace all night long.
Just a few minutes prior, Rodgers had a lengthy postgame embrace with Bill Belichick — a hug, a talk, and another hug. It was actually their second meeting of the day.
“Cooler than that is before the game he came over and we shared some words,” Rodgers said after the win. “He came over, we were in throwing lines, and we had a nice embrace and shared some words back and forth.
“The truth is always the easiest to say, so the things I said about Bill last week I meant. The way that he coaches and the success that he’s had, he’s a phenomenal leader and always has his guys ready to play. That was some of the sentiments that I’m sure that I echoed.”
Sunday’s game will likely be remembered across New England as the game that Belichick almost knocked off the Packers with his third-string quarterback. The Patriots went toe-to-toe with Rodgers for 70 full minutes, and Belichick nearly pulled off the upset with fourth-round rookie QB Bailey Zappe coming off the bench for Brian Hoyer. The Packers improved to 3-1, while the Patriots dropped to 1-3.
“This is a game we had to win,” Rodgers said. “You can’t be 2-2, losing to a third-string quarterback and not playing great in all three phases. So we had to have this one.”
But as time fades, this game may be remembered as just the third and final time that two legends, Belichick and Rodgers, squared off on the same field. Rodgers won the first matchup at Lambeau Field in 2014. Belichick won at Gillette Stadium in 2018. Rodgers, 38 and nearing the end of his career, won the rubber match.
Barring an unlikely Super Bowl, Sunday was it for two of the pre-eminent figures of this generation of the NFL.
“Yeah, it likely is the last time,” Rodgers said. “So a lot of respect for Bill. Nice to beat him. That brings us to 2-1 . . . He’s a legend and deserves all the credit that he gets.”
Though they barely have faced each other, Belichick has gushed about Rodgers whenever given the chance. He did again Sunday after Rodgers led the Packers to victory with 20 points after halftime. Rodgers may be Belichick’s favorite quarterback of all time, or at minimum tied with Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.
“He is a great, great player and he made some great plays,” Belichick said of Rodgers. “That was the difference in the game.”
If this was the final chess match between Belichick and Rodgers, both participants delivered. Rodgers said they played cat-and-mouse games all night — the Patriots showing a coverage, Rodgers checking into a play, the Patriots switching their defense, and Rodgers adjusting again.
Rodgers said that generally speaking, the Patriots’ defense packed the middle of the field, daring him to beat them with fade passes down the sideline and forcing Rodgers and his receivers to be absolutely perfect with their accuracy and timing.
Rodgers only threw for 251 yards and two touchdowns, as Belichick left him cursing at teammates and throwing helpless incompletions. But Rodgers hit just enough perfect throws — like a 32-yarder down the right sideline to a diving Allen Lazard — to come through with the win.
“In the end, Rodgers was just too good,” Belichick said. “He made some throws that only Rodgers can make. We had pretty good coverage on some of those and he was just too smart, too good, too accurate. In the end, he got us.”
Rodgers won the fight, but Belichick definitely took several rounds. Rodgers had, statistically speaking, the worst first half of his career as the Patriots took a surprising 10-7 lead. Rodgers completed just 4-of-11 passes for 44 yards and a pick-6 for an 11.2 passer rating, his lowest in 239 career games (including playoffs). Rodgers’ pick-6, thrown to Patriots rookie Jack Jones, was just Rodgers’ second in over 3,800 pass attempts at Lambeau Field, and just the fourth of his career overall.
“I almost missed the throw so badly he overran it,” Rodgers quipped.
But Rodgers figured Belichick out enough. Rodgers threw for 207 yards after halftime, compiled a 124.8 rating, and hit Robert Tonyan and Romeo Doubs for touchdown passes — the 499th and 500th of his career, including playoffs.
“I usually don’t have two terrible halves, so I kind of returned to the form I expect for myself and we started moving the football,” Rodgers said. “I’ve been a great player for a long time, so not a whole lot I need to tell myself. Just play better.”
Though he escaped with a win, Rodgers left Sunday impressed with the Patriots — and grateful that he won’t have to face Belichick anymore.
“This is a New England team that is not as bad as their record,” Rodgers said. “They are obviously incredibly well-coached. I’ll always give Bill credit. He’s a hell of a coach.”
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Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com.