If you didn't know better, you'd think this was a rerun. Of course it isn't, we know that. Some of the names on the back of the Green Bay Packers jerseys have changed, and the injuries are different. Then there's the moustache Aaron Rodgers sported throughout November.
This isn't 2010. But it feels eerily similar.
The Packers endured a slow start this season, a slew of injuries and a blown call by a replacement official in Seattle. They had to shuffle their offensive line and deal with multiple injuries that have slowed the running game. Yet entering Sunday's game at Lambeau Field against the Vikings, the Packers are still in the playoff picture. After a 2-3 start, Green Bay won five games before losing in New York to the Giants last Sunday.
The Packers (7-4) are one game behind Chicago in the NFC North despite injuries that have piled up on both sides of the ball. And here is the main reason: quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
"We've had a lot of changes throughout our offense throughout the year," coach Mike McCarthy said on Wednesday. "[Rodgers] has handled that well; he manages it very well. He's entwined with the coaching staff, spends a lot of extra time here on his own. I think it's a credit to his work ethic, his ability. He's definitely someone we can lean on."
Rodgers' greatness is not news. But it is compelling that, thanks almost entirely to Rodgers, the Packers are working on a rerun of 2010, when they just made it into the playoffs and then went on a Super Bowl-winning run.
"I think we're hearing that a lot," Rodgers said. "That was a different team, different guys, different challenges. Obviously we lost a lot of guys that year, from Nick Barnett to Al Harris to Jermichael [Finley], Donald Lee, Mark Tauscher. This season we've had some of the same stuff."
The Packers have been without running Cedric Benson, who was lost in the fifth game. Tackle Bryan Bulaga was lost with a hip injury, a blow to an already thin offensive line.
And yet Rodgers has continued to produce. He is first in the NFL with a 105.6 passer rating and is first in touchdown percentage. He has the second-best passer rating in the fourth quarter and third-best on third down. Without a running game to set up play-action passes, Rodgers has still completed 252 of 379 passes for 2,838 yards, 28 touchdowns and just seven interceptions.
In recent weeks, however, protection problems have begun to surface. Green Bay has allowed 37 sacks for the season. The past two weeks, in a victory over Detroit and the loss to the Giants, Rodgers was sacked eight times by two teams that used primarily just their front four to rush the passer. Against the Giants, Rodgers was sacked or was under pressure on 17 of 27 drop-backs. Not surprisingly, Rodgers' passer rating of 81.9 was his second-lowest of the season.
The good news is that receiver Greg Jennings is expected back this Sunday, giving Rodgers his full arsenal of top receivers. Still, the protection issue will have to be addressed.
"A lot of the pressure has been just from four-man rushes," Rodgers said.
"There has been some success with that method, so I wouldn't expect a big change or deviation from that kind of strategy. Because of that, we have to shore up some of the protection issues. But adding Greg into the mix would definitely give defenses something else to think about."
Consider also that Rodgers has a career 116.5 passer rating in eight starts against the Vikings, completing 69.7 percent of his passes with 19 TDs and three interceptions. In his past three games against Minnesota, his passer rating is 145.4.
After the Vikings failed to take advantage of a troubled Bears offensive line, the prospects for this Sunday could be daunting.
"We have expectations around here in Green Bay that the next guy up is going to step in and play well," Rodgers said of dealing with injuries. "That's just the way we operate."