If Aaron Rodgers Was Done For The Year, Then So Were The Packers
With one tackle, the future of the Green Bay Packers' season hung in the balance.
On the first drive of their Monday Night Football game against the Chicago Bears, their franchise quarterback was drilled by Shay McClellin and was done for the game - one that the Packers eventually lost 27-20.
The whole state of Wisconsin held its breath.
Initial reports were not good, with most fans deeply concerned Rodgers may have suffered a season-ending injury.
Following a scan, it was revealed the quarterback had suffered a small fracture in his collarbone, ruling him out for up to three weeks.
And with that, everyone associated with the organisation could breathe a collective sigh of relief was visible for all to see.
If the 29-year-old was done for the year, then so were the Packers' chances of winning a Super Bowl.
This is a good team, but it is not one that could have withstood the blow of missing one of the players in the NFL. They could have got away with missing James Jones, maybe even Clay Matthews - but to lose their signal-caller for the most critical stage of the season would have been a hammer blow.
This team will only go as far as Rodgers takes them. They made a huge call when they decided to draft the California product when he began to fall in the 2005 Draft. The Packers eventually took him with the 24th pick - making him the heir apparent to Packers legend Brett Favre.
It certainly wasn't a great start to his career, as the friction between him and the hall-of-fame bound quarterback was evident - but general manager Ted Thompson knew that he had something special and when he decided to give Rodgers the keys to the kingdom, he was more than ready.
While most players would have deemed the challenge of following such a legendary figure too grave, Rodgers took it all in his stride - quickly emerging as one of the premiere players in the league and demonstrating the sort of ability that had Packers fans forgetting all about their iconic number four.
Rodgers has been a revelation since he took over under center, throwing for 23,879 yards so far, with a 65.8% completion percentage. He has won the NFL's Most Valuable Player award and is a three-time Pro Bowl selection.
More importantly, he has a Super Bowl win to his name.
He knows how to win - and experience like this ia a rare commodity in the NFL. They may have only won the Lombardi trophy in 2011, but three years is a long time in football and there are plenty of teams that have now surpassed the Packers in terms of ability. This is why their quarterback is so important in any success that they may have, particularly this season.
At 29, he is entering the prime of his career and his chemistry with head coach Mike McCarthy makes them one of the best tandems in the league - up there with the likes of Brady/Belichick and Brees/Payton.
That is royal company to be in, but there's no doubt that he belongs among that sort of company. If you were picking the best players at his position, then Rodgers would be in everybody's top-five - he's just that good.
He has continued this trend in 2013, almost single-handedly carrying the Packers at times throughout the first half of the season. He has thrown for 2,218 yards and 15 touchdowns so far, with a passer rating of 108.0 - which once again puts him in the higher echelons of the league.
The Packers, on the other hand, have clearly regressed. They are no longer the dominant presence in the NFC North and have a real fight on their hands if they want to make the playoffs. The Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions have made significant improvements over the offseason and it is becoming more evident as the season wares on that they could have a significant say in who comes out of the NFC at the end of the campaign.
Despite this, you always felt that the Packers would emerge on top, and that is because of Rodgers.
Now, things are not so certain.
If he to miss just three games, then it won't have that much of an impact on their overall record. Their next three opponents are the Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings - who have a combined record of 7-18. Hardly the class of the NFC by any stretch of the imagination.
The Eagles may pose the biggest threat of the three teams mentioned, but McCarthy will be disappointed if his team doesn't emerge from these three fixtures with at least two wins.
After that, they have a crucial game against the Lions that they need Rodgers to be ready for. With Matthew Stafford, Reggie Bush and Calvin Johnson, they are guaranteed to score heavily on any defense in the league - so they will need their quarterback in the lineup if they wish to keep up with the potent offense of their opponent.
Even though Rodgers is scheduled to return for this date, any lingering effects the injury may have will only be detrimental to their chances. One good thing for the Packers and their signal-caller is that the injury is to his non-throwing shoulder, so it might not have as big an impact as people are fearing.
Psychologically, Rodgers will have to put the injury and any protection he must wear on it at the back of his mind if he doesn't want the injury hampering him when he does return. We have seen it before with the likes of Stafford and Michael Vick - just because the injury may have healed doesn't mean that it would cause them problems on the field.
Simply know it is there is enough.
Another plus for Rodgers is the rejuvenated running game for the Packers, which should take the pressure off him as he eases back into the rigours of the NFL season.
If there has been one criticism on the Packers over the years, it's that their running game has left a lot to be desired. They looked to fix that in this year's draft by selecting Alabama running back Eddie Lacy in the second round.
After some initial problems, particularly with his weight, the 23-year-old has come on strong over the last few games and has the look of a man that can carry the load for this franchise in Rodgers' absence. He has rushed 596 yards so far this term and his performance against the Bears when Lambeau Field was so deflated showed maturity beyond his years.
Finally, the Packers have a back they can depend on.
What the future holds for the Packers, nobody knows. They will be hoping their quarterback is a quick healer so they can make a push for home field advantage in the postseason - something that has been essential to most of the Super Bowl winning sides that have dawned the green and yellow of the 'Pack'.
Green Bay is an unforgiving place in the winter, which is something that most teams just aren't ready for - so getting Rodgers back to maximise their chances of this occurring is imperative.
If he is hampered by the injury upon his return, then they may not make the playoffs at all. The NFL is a game of inches, and having somebody as special as Rodgers under center gives the Packers an advantage over most of their opponents.
Without him, they have little chance of winning a championship.
It's just that simple.
Dean Jones: Follow me on Twitter @DeanJones_
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