KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The moment Green Bay Packers center Corey Linsley felt his man slide off him Sunday night, he felt a sense of panic well within him, the type only a veteran NFL offensive lineman would understand.
In this league, when the big, fast behemoths he’s charged with blocking wiggle free, it often portends doom. Nothing ruins an offensive play like a penetrating defensive lineman, and as the Kansas City Chief who slipped free — Derrick Nnadi — closed in on Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers on a third-and-1 at the Chiefs’ 3-yard line, Linsley rushed to recover, hoping he could do anything to prevent being the primary reason the play went bust.
Linsley did not recover, as Nnadi proceeded to close on his quarterback unimpeded.
It also didn’t matter.
A split-second before Rodgers was hit, the future Hall of Famer slung a side-arm heave — off his back foot — to the back right corner of the end zone. And as all eyes in the stadium zeroed in on the high-arcing spiral, one that initially looked to many like it may land harmlessly out of bounds, the low rumble of the crowd turned to gasps from Chiefs fans and cheers from Packers fans as the ball settled just beyond the outstretched fingertips of linebacker Ben Niemann and right into the grasp of running back Jamaal Williams for a stunning touchdown.
“I saw Jamaal catch it and I was like damn, that’s a great catch, too,” Linsley told Yahoo Sports with a laugh. “It was fantastic. The whole thing was great.”
Frankly, it was all about Rodgers’ outrageous throw, one that gave the Packers a seven-point lead with nearly 14 minutes left. It also doubled as one of the greatest touchdown passes of Rodgers’ career, one that fit into the tiniest of windows that left even his head coach stunned.
“That was one of the best, if not the best, passes I’ve ever seen live in person,” said Packers coach Matt LaFleur, who thought Rodgers was trying to throw it away. “That was incredible. I couldn’t believe it. Just a great play because he was under duress, too.”
It was the epitome of greatness in one tidy eight-second highlight.
Like why he’s worth his record-setting $134 million contract.
Or why he’s worth sticking with, even after the drama that surfaced last year between he and former head coach Mike McCarthy.
And finally, why he should be considered the odds-on favorite to win MVP for the resurgent 7-1 Packers. Rodgers, 35, is on pace to finish with 4,600 yards passing, 32 touchdowns and four interceptions, just one year after a miserable injury-plagued season in which he boasted a 25-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio but the Packers went 6-9-1.
And rest assured, if Rodgers wins his second career MVP award in 2019, that throw will be at the epicenter of his campaign.
“Man, we’re talking about a legendary quarterback making a legendary throw,” Packers edge rusher Preston Smith explained afterward. “It’s what we see all the time. I guess it’s new to y’all.”
Smith scoffed at the notion it was lucky, one that some fans were quick to jump on afterward — and one that Rodgers didn’t completely disavow when explaining his thought process.
“As I rolled to the right there, I saw Jimmy Graham and I saw [Williams] wrapping behind him,” Rodgers explained. “I was actually throwing a ball that Jimmy could go up and get if he wanted to and if he didn’t, the guy behind him might be able to get. Luckily the guy behind him got it … It seemed like there was not anybody in the back of the end zone, so I felt like it was a safe throw.”
And when told that Williams, a third-year pro, said he “locked eyes with Rodgers” on the throw, Rodgers seemed amused.
“I did see him if that is what he is talking about — I am not sure if we locked eyes,” Rodgers said. “That might be a little bit of a stretch, but I did see him. Wind probably helped out on that one.”
So was there a little luck involved? Sure. Does it matter? Probably not.
Even with a sprinkle of good fortune, it’s obvious that only a handful of quarterbacks in the past two decades could have gotten the ball to that spot and his teammates are well aware of this fact.
“He’s just a special player — he can do things like that,” Williams explained. “He’s got a great IQ. He’s got a great feel for the game. I’m just grateful to be able to play with a guy like this who gives us opportunities to keep on playing.”
Perhaps that’s what matters most. His teammates believe in his ability to do the impossible, because he makes them believe in his legend, too.
And it’s not just the youngsters like Williams who are convinced of it. When asked where the throw ranked in the pantheon of Great Rodgers Throws, Linsley — who has been around Rodgers a while — shook his head and thought about it for a second before conceding it was great, but insisting there are lots of other great throws to choose from, too.
“I would say that’s top five, maybe, especially [with it being] Sunday Night Football,” Linsley told Yahoo Sports. “That’s good s---, though.”
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