Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers may have successfully shushed their critics – literally and with their 42-24 victory over previously unbeaten Houston – on Sunday night, but in order to make it meaningful, they must do something they haven't done all year: Win two straight games.
"Our team has a lot of pride. They have never lost any confidence. I haven't seen that. I think after (Sunday) night's win, it's even stronger," coach Mike McCarthy said Monday evening, as his Packers (3-3) turned their attention to the Rams (3-3), whom they'll face Sunday in St. Louis in the last of three consecutive road games.
"But you just turn the page and you get up and you come into work today and you put on the St. Louis Rams tape and you see a team that had almost 500 yards of offense versus (Miami on Sunday) and they lose the game. So it's tough every week in this league, and you're foolish not to think so.
"We need to do all the little things that we did a better job of leading up this game and into this game this week as we did (Sunday) night. And that's the facts."
Another fact: Rodgers, the reigning NFL MVP, plays better when he feels he has something to prove – and he certainly felt that way against the Texans, who watched him complete 24 of 37 passes for 338 yards with a franchise record-tying six touchdowns (two of which Jones caught) and no interceptions (133.8 passer rating).
After the game, NBC sideline reporter Michele Tafoya asked Rodgers what he thought he'd told the critics with the team's performance against the undefeated Texans.
"Shhhhhhh," Rodgers replied before smirking and walking away, out of the camera shot.
There were certainly plenty of critics for Rodgers and the Packers to answer, both nationally and locally, even before Pro Football Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe took several swipes at Rodgers on The NFL Today on CBS before Sunday's games. Sharpe suggested that Rodgers' receivers didn't like him, said Rodgers does "a lot of finger-pointing" and even went so far as to say that "just because you're a great quarterback and an MVP quarterback, that doesn't make you a great person."
In his post-game news conference, Rodgers didn't specifically address any of the criticism but acknowledged he was aware of it.
"Of course, I heard it," Rodgers said. "It wasn't like I paid a lot of attention to it, but people, whether it's good stuff or bad stuff, friends of mine, they like to tell me what's being said out there. I'm not somebody that watches a ton of TV or puts a whole lot of worth into some of those comments, but I feel like I've always played with a chip on my shoulder. It helps when people give me a reason to have that chip."
Rodgers, who set an NFL record in 2011 for single-season passer rating (122.5) while tossing 45 touchdowns against six interceptions and leading the team to a franchise-record 15 victories, had entered Sunday night's game with a 97.0 passer rating – good for eighth in the NFL – with 10 touchdowns against four interceptions.
By virtue of his performance against the Texans, Rodgers took over the NFL lead for passer rating at 105.4. He's now completed 153 of 225 passes (68.0 percent) for 1,637 yards (7.3 yards per attempt) with 16 touchdowns and four interceptions.
""He's played a lot of great games," offensive coordinator Tom Clements, Rodgers' longtime quarterbacks coach, said Monday evening. "But against a very good opponent, an undefeated team, I don't know if I've seen him play better. The playoff game in Atlanta (in the 2010 postseason) was pretty special, too. He had an outstanding game."
Asked if he thought Rodgers had been motivated by his critics, Clements replied, "Um, I think it may have factored in a little bit. But I think what factored in more was just the situation we were in. We needed the game. We're playing against a very good opponent. We're the underdog. Everyone's focus was up. I'm sure some criticisms of Aaron's play probably motivated him a little bit more. But had that not even been the case, I think he would have been ready to play and had a good game."
Meanwhile, McCarthy took issue with the idea that, before Sunday night's victory, there had been something "wrong" with his team, which has alternated between winning and losing each week since dropping the regular-season opener to the San Francisco 49ers at home.
After that, the Packers' next two losses came under unusual circumstances: A Sept. 24 loss at Seattle on a controversial Hail Mary touchdown pass on the game's final play that was ruled a catch and not an interception by the NFL's replacement officials working the game; and an Oct. 7 loss at Indianapolis in which the Packers frittered away a 21-3 lead against an emotional Colts team that was playing its first game after head coach Chuck Pagano had been diagnosed with leukemia.
"There's such a fine line between and not winning. I think that sometimes gets lost in the conversation that the players and the coaches go through and when it doesn't go your way," McCarthy said. "I think sometimes when you give honest answers to questions … things get skewed and strong opinions are made about individuals or how we're playing.
"We're 3-3, and I know exactly why we're 3-3. But I (also) know how to continue to improve. Maybe that gets old, but that's the way we operate. It's about fundamentals, it's about having the proper mindset and energy. Teams have to work and improve throughout the year at practice, we're doing that. Those are things we're focused on. That's not what's wrong with our team."
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on "Green & Gold Today," and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.
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