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With Favre's departure, Pack hands keys to Rodgers

Posted: Tuesday March 4, 2008 12:16PM; Updated: Tuesday March 4, 2008 6:49PM
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Though Brett Favre was slow to embrace his heir, Aaron Rodgers has been a willing and patient understudy for the Pack's QB job.
Though Brett Favre was slow to embrace his heir, Aaron Rodgers has been a willing and patient understudy for the Pack's QB job.
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Today belongs to Brett Favre, the Green Bay Packers' iconic quarterback who is retiring after 17 seasons with every major statistical passing record, three MVPs and one Super Bowl win.

But tomorrow and the coming season will belong to Aaron Rodgers, the 2005 first-round draft choice who spent the last three seasons watching from the sideline as Favre turned back opponents and Father Time. Rodgers is no longer the heir apparent. The ball, the offense and, possibly, the franchise are his, despite no career starts and only one career touchdown pass (and interception).

The good thing for the Packers is that last year, in his only significant playing time since leaving Cal with a year of eligibility remaining, Rodgers provided them with a reason to believe the transition could be smoother than many had believed. After Favre left a Thursday night game against the Cowboys in the second quarter with injuries to his right elbow and left shoulder, Rodgers took over and completed 18-of-26 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown. He produced eight first downs without a turnover and led the offense to two touchdowns and a field goal in six possessions, the last of which stalled after Green Bay took over with 59 seconds to play and the Cowboys ahead 37-27.

The hoopla surrounding the game was playoff-like, as both teams were 10-1 and fighting for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. It would be wrong to draw too many conclusions from one performance, but on that night Rodgers showed the game and the moment were not too big for him, despite being on the road and having only two career pass attempts before that.

Despite the solid showing, Cowboys defensive coordinator Brian Stewart questioned whether Rodgers would be able to maintain that success as a starter. "I know when I say this, everybody's going to say I'm a hater, but I think he's going to struggle. Our game plan that day was for Favre. He's not one to run the ball much, so our rush lanes were different. In fact, we did such a good job we put him out of the game. With Rodgers, basically he's a guy who can get out and run, so he ran the ball a little bit. But if we were preparing for him, I don't think he would do as well. He's athletic, but when you face him you'll game plan for that."

Rodgers has displayed tremendous poise throughout his career, dating to that 2005 draft. He was projected in many mocks to go No. 1 overall, but wound up free-falling to No. 24. As if that weren't painful enough, his arrival did not get Favre's stamp of approval. Favre felt the team could have used the pick on other areas of need, and early on he gave Rodgers the cold shoulder, saying on one occasion that it wasn't his job to mentor understudies.

Rodgers never groused. He went about his business, working and studying to get better. He showed Favre the ultimate respect this morning by declining through his agent to speak about his ascension to the starting lineup until after Favre has spoken publicly about his retirement.

Rodgers no doubt will step into sizable cleats that may never be adequately filled. Just as every Broncos quarterback post-John Elway has learned, the legend may be gone but his shadow lingers, long and large. So it will be in Green Bay, where Rodgers replaces a quarterback who threw for more yards (61,655) and touchdowns (442) than any player in league history and had more consecutive starts (253) and more wins (160) than any starting quarterback. When Favre was on the field, it was debatable who was having more fun -- him or the fans who witnessed a grown man playing with a child's enthusiasm.

There will be no grace period for Rodgers. He inherits a 14-4 team that advanced to the NFC Championship Game. There will be expectations. But if the past is prologue, as has been said, then Rodgers undoubtedly will handle the moment with poise and professionalism.