The Dallas Cowboys saw what a $140 million quarterback looks like Sunday.
And it wasn’t the guy who passed for 463 yards and is seeking those franchise quarterback dollars in his next contract in 2020.
It was the other quarterback who threw for 238 yards without any touchdowns.
The “other” quarterback was Aaron Rodgers, who put on a quarterbacking clinic in a stunning 34-24 upset victory over Dak Prescott and the Cowboys.
That’s because there’s more to playing quarterback than just throwing the football. It’s managing the game, keeping your team out of trouble and finding a way to win when you have no business winning – and the Packers on paper had no business winning this game.
Not without Davante Adams, their Pro Bowl wide receiver who was a game-day inactive because of a toe injury. Not without speedy Jamaal Williams, who has been sharing the carries in the backfield with Aaron Jones this season. He also was among the inactives with a concussion.
The Cowboys made sure the one healthy starting wideout on the Packers wasn’t going to beat them. They blanketed Marquez Valdes-Scantling in coverage so much so that Rodgers completed only one pass to him all game. Yet the Packers were still able to build a 14-0 first quarter lead, a 17-0 halftime lead and get up 24-0 in the third quarter before the Cowboys – and Prescott – finally decided to make a game of it.
And Prescott was throwing to past Pro Bowlers Amari Cooper, Randall Cobb and Jason Witten. Rodgers was throwing to guys who needed introductions in the huddle.
Rodgers threw only one pass to wide receiver Jake Kumerow in the opening month of the season. He threw two to him Sunday. He threw only four passes to fullback Danny Vitale in September. He threw another pass to him against the Cowboys. He hadn’t thrown a single pass to Tra Carson all season. That’s because the Packers signed Carson off the practice roster on Saturday -- and Rodgers threw him four passes the very next day.
Complicating matters for Rodgers, he lost his starting center Corey Linsley in the opening minutes of the second quarter. Like Rodgers, he’s the only player on offense who touches the ball every play. But Lucas Patrick stepped in and didn’t make any glaring mistakes with his snaps.
Rodgers also didn’t make any mistakes. And that was the key to the game. He was under duress much of the afternoon but when he found himself in the grasp, he got rid of the football. He threw both a left-handed and an underhand shovel pass to Carson. He threw a two-handed shovel pass to avoid a sack that was initially ruled a fumble but, upon replay review, his arm was moving forward and the call was overturned. Incomplete forward pass.
On another play, as he was being tackled, he threaded a needle over a defender on a sideline pass to tight end Robert Tonyan for a 23-yard gain, the key play in Green Bay’s second touchdown drive in the first quarter. It was only the sixth pass Rodgers had thrown to Tonyan all season.
Rodgers didn’t commit any turnovers. No fumbles, no interceptions. Prescott threw three interceptions and had a fourth nullified by penalty. Playing on the road against the NFL’s seventh-ranked defense and a team that considers itself Super Bowl worthy, Rodgers knew he couldn’t make mistakes for the Packers to survive.
“I definitely understood my role on a day like today,” he said. “A day like today was not the greatest statistical game for myself – but I felt like I played my best game of the season. Moving around and seeing things… I knew I would have to make a few off-schedule plays (outside of the pocket).
"I’ve accomplished a lot statistically in this league. I just want to win now.”
Rodgers completed 22-of-34 passes. Three of his incompletions were throwaways under pressure and two other passes were dropped. He was sacked twice, both in the fourth quarter, and the second sack falls into a strategical category of managing the game.
With four minutes left and with a two-score (10-point) lead, Rodgers called a third-down pass from his own 45 but was in no hurry to throw. He escaped pressure on his right and rolled back to his left before linebacker Jaylon Smith finally tracked him down for an 11-yard sack. Rodgers could have throw the ball away to avoid the sack. But that would have stopped the clock. By holding onto it and conceding the sack, he forced the Cowboys to use their second timeout of the half.
Dallas would eventually run out of timeouts in the final two minutes while still two scores down.
Again, it was a quarterbacking clinic in how to win a football game. And Rodgers is a master of it. To beat Green Bay you’re going to have to beat the Packers. Rodgers is not going to do it for you.
“The quarterback’s No. 1 responsibility is taking care of the football and he owns that," Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. "He's one of the best if not the best at that. He’s just a great quarterback and we’re very luck to have him on our team.”
And Rodgers isn’t even a $140 million dollar quarterback. He’s on the books for $134 million. That's a steal at any price for a true franchise quarterback.