New Packers starter Aaron Rodgers has yet to throw an interception this season
Following in the footsteps of a legend is never easy. The heightened expectations, minimal tolerance for mistakes and ever-lingering what-ifs can be overwhelming.
But for Green Bay Packers starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the prescription for dealing with the pressure of taking over for the legendary Brett Favre has been a healthy sense of belief in himself.
"I am very confident in my abilities and believe that with the kind of preparation I put in during the week, I expect to play well on Sundays and Mondays," Rodgers said. "So I wasn't surprised by the way I have played so far. I am disappointed with the loss last week obviously, but for me my biggest hurdle every week is just preparing the same way, watching a lot of film, practicing very hard and studying the game plan.
"I feel like my preparation puts me in a position to be successful on Sundays. Two things that I feel like every quarterback needs to have that are necessities are common sense and mental toughness, and I feel like I have both those things. When you are playing with a high level of confidence I feel like you are going to be more successful than not"
A fourth-year veteran, Rodgers has been groomed to succeed Favre ever since the Packers tabbed him in the first round of the 2005 NFL Draft. Throughout the circus surrounding Favre's retirement and subsequent un-retirement this offseason, Rodgers kept his cool. He then impressed his teammates and coaches – not to mention Packers fans – with his hot start to the 2008 season.
Rodgers has led the Packers to a 2-1 record by completing 64.6 percent of his passes for 796 yards and four touchdowns. He has yet to throw an interception and has also flashed the ability to scramble when needed, rushing 17 times for 70 yards and another two scores.
Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy said he has been pleased with his young quarterback's play thus far…though, again, not necessarily surprised.
"Aaron Rodgers is a fine young quarterback that has a lot of football in front of him," McCarthy said. "He's a quality person and he's done a great job of focusing on the opportunity that's finally presented itself. This is something he's been waiting for. He's taken full advantage of sitting in the No. 2 seat and learning and preparing himself for this. Mentally, he can handle the volume of any offense. Physically, he can play inside and outside of the pocket and make all the throws. He's just really at the point in his career where he just needs to play games and keep building on the experience one week after another. I'm excited about him – he's a fine young quarterback.
"He's just been consistent on what he's done since he's been here. He's improved throughout, just like any other quarterback that's able to be in a system for a three-year period. He's now applying it to the games. I have the benefit of being around him every day. He's definitely playing at the level that we thought he could."
It hasn't hurt Rodgers' that the Green Bay fans, despite their enduring affection for Favre, have thrown their support behind a new rising star at quarterback. Although it was difficult for many of those fans to say goodbye to Favre, their backing of Rodgers has helped make his transition into a new role as a team leader that much smoother.
"It's been great," Rodgers said. "This is my fourth year so they have seen me in preseason and seen me a little bit last year when I played against Dallas. The response in the community has always been great.
"I totally understand that there are still thousands and thousands of Brett Favre fans in Green Bay. I understand that and expect that and I never want to take that away from them, but I really appreciate the support that I have gotten from the fans, the ovations, the nice things that they have said to me in the community. I can't explain how good it feels to be the starting quarterback for the Packers and to have the kind of support that I have gotten on the field and in the community from the people of Green Bay."
Unfortunately for Rodgers, Sunday's visit to Tampa will take him far away from the friendly confines of Lambeau Field and will be his toughest road trip to date. Rodgers played extremely well in Detroit in the Packers' 48-25 Week 2 road victory over the Lions, but a much stiffer Buccaneers defense and their 65,000 supporters await him at Raymond James Stadium.
Living up to his aim of being well-prepared at all times, the Packers' young passer said he's well aware of the stout defensive unit that will be gunning for him on Sunday and is impressed with what he's seen of the Tampa Bay unit.
"I actually got to see them on TV before our game a little bit," Rodgers said. "I thought they did a very nice job against Chicago on tape. I think their front four is a very solid group. Gaines Adams is doing a very nice job, and they are doing a good job at getting after the passer. Their secondary, Ronde [Barber] is a veteran guy, very savvy, very smart player, and makes plays. Phillip Buchanon is doing a nice job as well. I think the total defense, and linebacker core as well with Derrick Brooks being the veteran guy and Barrett [Ruud] in the middle and Cato June on the other side, they are very athletic but also a veteran-laden group. They are a very solid defense."
The Bucs' defense and their raucous fans will make for an interesting matchup Sunday, especially considering that the Packers have played extremely well on the road under McCarthy, sporting a 12-5 record since 2006.
As confident as he may be, Rodgers admitted that facing off against a Tampa Bay squad that is riding a two-game winning streak and eager to return home and play in front of the pewter-and-red faithful won't be easy.
"It's a home game for Tampa but we have currently been, since Mike has been here, a good road team," Rodgers said. "We're going to come down with a good game plan. We know it's going to be a hostile environment, they have some momentum, and they are 2-1, two back-to-back good wins and a lot of momentum for them. They are very well coached on both sides of the ball. I know [Head Coach] Jon [Gruden] a little bit from when I was coming out; I respect him a whole heck of a lot and what he has done in his career. [Defensive Coordinator] Monte [Kiffin], obviously on defense, has done a great job. So it is going to be a great test for us on the road in a tough environment and I look for it to be a very good game."