Last Sunday, from deep in his own territory, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan leaned over -- and over -- and handed off to the 5-foot-6 Jacquizz Rodgers. Rodgers burst through the line, shed a Seattle defender who had a fistful of his red jersey and came facemask to facemask with Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas.
The subsequent collision flattened Thomas but barely fazed Rodgers. The play, a 45-yard gain, "got everybody fired up," Rodgers' fellow tailback Michael Turner said.
Among the Falcons' skill-position players, Rodgers represents the only substantial variation between the current team, which beat Seattle 30-28 to earn a berth in Sunday's NFC Championship Game against San Francisco, and its predecessor, which fell in the wild-card round 24-2 to the New York Giants last year.
Rodgers joined Atlanta in 2011 as a low-cost draft pick (fifth round) out of Oregon State, but he was limited by that year's lockout, which delayed his immersion into pro football, and by an offensive coordinator, Mike Mularkey.
Under Dirk Koetter, Mularkey's successor, Rodgers' carries increased to 94, from 57, and his catches increased to 53, from 21.
"There have been diminutive backs in the NFL before," guard Justin Blalock said. "The thing about him is, he's powerful and agile."
NEW YORK TIMES