Aaron Rodgers seemed tired and disinterested, as if working overtime spreading fake science and conspiracy theories was more important to him than getting the Green Bay Packers to the Super Bowl.
Tom Brady didn’t look much better. He was beaten up and aging rapidly on a field in Tampa Bay until he suddenly stopped.
They both lost in what was arguably the most exciting weekend of the NFL playoffs ever. And they both left their fields not knowing where they would play next year – or if they would play at all.
Not that it mattered that much. In an epic round of playoff games, the young quarterbacks showed that the NFL would be in good hands for years to come.
Patrick Mahomes beat Josh Allen and the Bills in such a good game that it should have been a Super Bowl in its own right. Maybe two.
Joe Burrow won one for the Bengals, proving he’s as good as he is sassy, and Matthew Stafford is far from doing in Los Angeles what he’s never been able to do in Detroit.
Jimmy Garoppolo, meanwhile, never stopped smiling, though he did little more than lead San Francisco to a game-winning field goal in frigid Green Bay.
Old men? Eh, not so much.
It seemed like the perfect opportunity for Brady to finally acknowledge Father Time and put an end to a distinguished career, even as he helped lead the Tampa Bay’s incredible fourth-quarter rally against the Rams. Brady had his moments, but there were also long stretches of the game when it looked like retirement couldn’t come fast enough for the greatest quarterback of all time.
“I didn’t really think about it,” Brady said later, choosing his words carefully. “We’re just going to do it day in and day out and see what happens.”
Rogers wasn’t about to mess with his future either, but he did warn Green Bay fans that they wouldn’t see him again if the team planned to go into recovery mode. He has a year left on his contract, though you might wonder why the Packers are risking another season failure because of a quarterback who completely derailed this season.
But really, who else needs it?
Rogers is as selfish and arrogant as the star athletes, convinced, perhaps, by the fact that he hosts “Jeopardy!” that he knows the answers, others can only guess. During the season, he had no compulsion to pretend he was vaccinated, disrespecting his teammates and putting them and everyone else at Packers headquarters at risk of contracting COVID-19.
The way social media gleefully mocked Rodgers’ performance in the snow against San Francisco, it seems like he doesn’t have many people rooting for him, let alone buying a new insurance policy on his orders.
Those on the Twitterverse speculated that Rodgers was silenced by a conspiracy of special teams players. They said he had no chance of winning and pointed out that it was his first playoff loss in the Moderna era.
They also wondered – like the rest of us – if the 49ers game plan was as detailed as the 500+ pages of “research” Rogers read before deciding to roll the dice with a virus that doesn’t care how good it is at finding open receivers.
Lost in all this drama is the fact that despite Rogers poised to win a second consecutive MVP trophy, he has only played one Super Bowl in his 14 years as a starter in Green Bay, and that was 11 years ago.
Brady is different, of course, because Brady is different from every quarterback that has come before him. Seven Super Bowl rings would be a record that would stand the test of time, and he gave the franchise new life when he left New England two seasons ago for the Buccaneers.
Brady may find it hard to sympathize even after all these years, but it’s not because he thinks Bill Gates is putting tracking chips into vaccines. He plays on his own terms and reveals little to fans, but no one can dispute his greatness. Even in Sunday’s bumpy performance, he was still the only player most feared on the opposite side as the clock moved into the fourth quarter in Tampa.
If Brady wants to come back for another season, the Bucks will definitely take him. But on a weekend when young quarterbacks showed off their skills, what good is a 23rd season on the field with players who weren’t even born yet when he snapped his first NFL snap?
The Brady era must end someday, and on Sunday it seemed like that was the time. There hasn’t really been a Rogers era outside of Green Bay, but it’s time for that to end too.
As it was clear to anyone who watched this incredibly interesting quartet of games, a lot of great quarterbacks took their place.