The MVP award this season has shifted weekly, and the debates have raged: Who is the favorite this week?
After Sunday, it’s fair to ask if Aaron Rodgers’ throw to Jordy Nelson for 60 yards was an MVP-clinching play. The catch came with less than 30 seconds remaining against the Chicago Bears, and it set up Mason Crosby’s 32-yard field goal as the Packers scratched out a 30-27 win Sunday at chilly Soldier Field. Temperatures dipped near zero by game’s end in what was the fourth-coldest Bears game at Soldier Field at kickoff.
The award is given for a season’s worth of achievements, no doubt. But with the debate spread among half a dozen players this season, even suspension-shortened players such as Tom Brady and Le’Veon Bell. That’s how touch and go this argument has been. In essence, it has shifted weekly depending on which player delivered the biggest moments — coupled with which candidates fell on their faces.
Oakland Raiders QB Derek Carr had his moment, the “glove game,” but then stumbled in a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Matt Ryan has had a complete season for the Atlanta Falcons but hasn’t had one of those moments to charm voters of late. Ezekiel Elliott, who already has the rookie stigma working against him, has momentum working against him with the Dallas Cowboys not scoring at the same prolific rate in recent games. Matthew Stafford might have missed his small window with the Detroit Lions’ Week 15 loss at the New York Giants.
That’s why Brady, who delivered a game-saving bomb to Chris Hogan last Monday, and Rodgers, with his sky ball to Nelson late at Chicago, might be your favorites. Rodgers — slowed by hamstring and calf injuries — slid in the pocket to his right, set his feet and launched a gorgeous throw. Packers fans fell in love all over again; Bears fans felt the knife twist one more rotation. And people who vote tend to remember those kind of big-moment plays, and they become the tiebreakers as long as the other candidates’ statistics are comparable.
The Packers had to have this game. They led 27-10 into the fourth quarter, with the run game the big story much of the afternoon, and Packers fans’ “Go Pack Go” chant was drowning out whatever the few Bears fans could muster at that point. Credit Bears QB Matt Barkley, who was struggling with three picks at that point, for never giving up. He got Alshon Jeffery involved in a big TD drive. Then Jeffery and Howard led another scoring drive early in the fourth. The Packers defense was turning to cheese after such a strong recent run of games.
But that’s when Rodgers pulled the rabbit out of the hat. He saw Nelson had roasted Bears corner Cre’Von LeBlanc in “quarters” coverage (no deep safety help) and launched an amazing rainbow downfield that Nelson hauled in. Nelson got on top of LeBlanc, and Rodgers uncorked a perfect throw down the middle. It was reminiscent of another late-season Rodgers miracle at Soldier Field, when he hit Randall Cobb for 48 yards on fourth down to win the division in 2013.
Rodgers now has thrown for 32 TDs, seven interceptions and is closing in on 4,000 yards passing on the season. Those are MVP-worthy numbers by themselves, and Rodgers’ heroics with the Packers’ season on the brink take it up a notch.
It’s not as if Brady or Bell or Ryan (or someone else?) can’t deliver their moment. After all, there are two-plus weeks left in this topsy-turvy season, and the MVP award is far from decided. But if Rodgers can lead the Packers back into the playoffs after a 4-6 start, he has the name value, the statistics and now the moment to have that award fall right into his hands.
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