FOXBOROUGH — Congratulations. You’re Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. At least you thought you were.
It’s morning. You wake up in a big house with a big yard enclosed by trees, set next to a golf course. You go to the kitchen and open a cupboard. So many grains. Did you always have so many grains? There’s a sweet-looking brown dog with a white stripe on her chest cocking her head at you, so you take her outside to run around. You can run so fast! A tall, radiant blond woman appears in the door. It’s Gisele Bundchen. You have a famous girlfriend, but that’s not her. Suddenly it hits you: You’re living Tom Brady’s life.
Fun scenario to consider? Maybe not if you’re one of the principals.
“I don’t really try to get into the what-if game,” Rodgers said Wednesday.
Leave that to us, as we lead up to a “Sunday Night Football” game that has been advertised in an NBC promo by the GOAT of GOATs, Michael Jordan, suggesting that Brady and Rodgers play it out “head to head.” Brady is the most accomplished quarterback ever, while Rodgers has a strong case for most talented. The two California kids have been at the top of the NFL for more than a decade, in Brady’s case close to two, each with one team, yet they meet Sunday for just the second time. Wouldn’t it be cool to Freaky Friday them, just to see?
Rodgers has the edge in pretty much every statistical category. He’s first all time in passer rating (103.6); Brady is third (97.6). Rodgers has a lower interception rate (1.5 percent to 1.8 percent for Brady), higher touchdown percentage (6.3 to 5.5), completion percentage (64.9 to 64.0), and yards per attempt (7.9 to 7.5). Brady has 229 career wins (including playoffs), eight Super Bowl starts, and five Super Bowl rings, none of which Rodgers (one Super Bowl start and win) is close to. Brady has the edge in league MVP awards, 3-2.
Both players have drive, fueled in part by slights doled out by colleges that didn’t recruit them or sat them on the bench, or NFL teams that drafted them later than they thought they should have been selected.
“He was obviously drafted late there and he was 100 and what, 75 picks after me in the draft, so his chip might have been a little bit bigger than mine starting out his career,” said Rodgers, who was picked No. 24 overall in 2005. “He’s had a phenomenal career there and I’ve had a phenomenal start here and a great time being a Green Bay Packer. I don’t think about anything different.”
But from the outside, it’s tantalizing to think about the Patriots’ offense with a quarterback like Rodgers: career passer rating of 103.6, an average of 286 rushing yards per 16 games. Rodgers is a better deep-ball thrower and more athletic than any quarterback Bill Belichick has ever coached, and it’s easy to imagine how designing an offense around the 34-year-old would feel like playing a video game. The Patriots have been linked to enough mobile quarterbacks — Tim Tebow, Baker Mayfield, Lamar Jackson — that it seems like the coaches are a little curious about what they could do with that element.
“I’m glad [Brady’s] our quarterback,” Belichick said Wednesday. “He’s a great quarterback. He’s won a lot of games for us and hopefully he’ll win a lot more, and we’ve won a lot of games because of him, but I’ve never played against Tom Brady, so it’s a different context. I’d say playing against Aaron Rodgers is very, very difficult. He’s as good as anybody that I’ve faced and we’ve faced a lot of good ones through the years.”
And for Rodgers, despite a longstanding relationship with the Packers and coach Mike McCarthy, it’s easy to wonder if the infrastructure in New England that helped the team to an 11-5 record in 2008 without Brady would have gotten him to more than one Super Bowl. Green Bay went 2-4-1 after Rodgers got hurt in 2013 and 3-6 after he got hurt last season.
“Let’s put it this way,” said NBC play-by-play broadcaster Al Michaels, “I don’t know exactly what would have happened, but I think as has been the case over the past 10, 12 — and in Brady’s case, 19 years — both teams would have had a tremendous amount of success.”
For Brady, the question brings up whether he could have helped instill the type of culture the Patriots have on another team. One also wonders if he’d have started TB12 in Wisconsin.
“You know, you’ve got to wonder if Tom would have met Gisele and if she would have been willing to live in Green Bay,” joked NBC reporter Michele Tafoya, who will work the sideline on Sunday night.
That is a longer flight to the Met Gala. The UGG sponsorship would still play, though.
Here’s the problem. You know how at the end of every body-switch movie everyone goes back to where they came from with newfound appreciation for the life they’re supposed to be living?
There’s something to that. Counterfactuals are unsatisfying because the answer is unknowable. In this case, the quarterbacks in question have reached such heights that, if anything, all we can say is that it would be hard to make a switch and have things work out better — and that’s in either case.
Who knows how Rodgers would have taken to the tough coaching doled out every day in Foxborough? Who knows if he’d have stayed healthy — how many quarterbacks could have taken the beating Brady did in 2015 and stayed on the field all the way through the AFC Championship game? And maybe Brady would have taken one look at a cheese curd and decided to give baseball another try.
To set the record straight, Brady, who said on WEEI this past week that he’s “inspired” by Rodgers, said Friday he’d rather keep his own arms and legs than trade with the Packers quarterback or anyone else, thanks.
“I’d love to move as best as I possibly can,” Brady said. “But God gave me this body and trying to use it the best I can to help us win.”
He’s done that. So has Rodgers — less so, sure, but so has everybody. To think that there are new heights to be reached by changing the situation is to not appreciate what each quarterback has done in his own situation. So maybe let’s not make this movie. There’s a pretty good football game on tap, anyway.
Nora Princiotti can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @NoraPrinciotti.