GREEN BAY — Aaron Rodgers arrived for his postgame video news conference wearing a black hoodie and a black knit cap, dark clothing to match what appeared to be a subdued mood.
At one point during a session that lasted a shade over 19 minutes, the Green Bay Packers quarterback was asked a two-part question: Why did he choose to do the interview over Zoom? And why did he sound — and look — so unhappy? After all, the Packers had just beaten the Seattle Seahawks 17-0 at Lambeau Field to improve to 8-2 on the season.
Rodgers, back in the lineup after missing last week’s loss at Kansas City due to a positive COVID-19 test, dodged the first question. But considering Rodgers made it clear during a recent interview on Sirius XM Mad Dog Radio’s “The Pat McAfee Show” that he believes it’s silly that unvaccinated players are forced to wear masks during in-person media sessions — protocol agreed to by the NFL and the players’ union — it wasn’t all that surprising that he avoided the media auditorium.
As for appearing to be dejected, Rodgers said that wasn’t the case at all.
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“I’m happy, (but) I’m just so tired,” he said. “It’s been a long, long 10 days.”
An emotional 10 days, too. It hit Rodgers the hardest when he left the field with outside linebacker Preston Smith, who had checked in on his teammate every single one of those days.
That trip heading to the locker room left Rodgers “a little misty” and he admitted it felt good to be back with his teammates after being quarantined from the time he tested positive on Nov. 3 until Saturday, when he was allowed back in the facility.
I wondered how the fans’ reaction to Rodgers would be on Sunday. My stroll through the tailgating scene in the parking lot included plenty of Rodgers jersey sightings, as usual, and there wasn’t any noticeable booing before or during the game.
Of course, it was awfully convenient that the defensive starters got introduced during pregame warmups. Rodgers had said during his interview with McAfee that the offense would get introduced.
Rodgers has spent more time this season being reflective following a strange offseason in which he considered retirement because he was so unhappy with the Green Bay front office. He had even more time to think while sitting at home the past week-plus.
“I just don’t take things for granted,” Rodgers said. “Any time you walk off the field as a winner, it’s special. The response is special. I think it all kind of hit me, seeing Preston. Preston’s a guy who checked on me every single day during my 10 days away from the squad. I just appreciate his friendship and appreciated the ovation from the crowd.”
Teammates and neighbors brought Rodgers food, he said. Coaches and others checked in on him to make sure he was OK. That group included “a lot of the suits” in the front office.
“And then all the people in my life across the country and world too was really, really cool,” he said.
But what about those who weren’t as supportive? Rodgers received a lot of deserved criticism for his misleading answer back in August about his vaccination status and for his initial interview with McAfee after testing positive, when he came out of the gates railing against the “woke mob” and “cancel culture” and came off as tone deaf at various times.
“Everybody has an opinion and I understand that it’s a very polarizing issue for some individuals, but I’m just focusing on the support that I got and it was deep and wide, and greatly appreciated,” Rodgers said Sunday. “There’s always going to be criticism in this world. I don’t define myself by the criticism but I understand it’s a part of this because this issue is definitely polarizing. But again, I’m just so deeply grateful for all the people that reached out.”
The only time Rodgers smiled during his interview Sunday was while raving about the defense’s performance in the team’s first shutout since blanking Buffalo 22-0 on Sept. 30, 2018.
“I’m not going to say that we’re a defensive football team just yet,” Rodgers said, “but we’ve definitely been playing like that the last few weeks.”
Rodgers also lit up while talking about running back AJ Dillon, who scored two touchdowns after starter Aaron Jones left the game late in the third quarter with a knee injury.
The defense and Dillon were the biggest reasons the Packers won this game. They survived an uneven performance from Rodgers, who was clearly rusty after doing most of his preparation for the game over Zoom.
Rodgers’ QB rating (75.5) wasn’t all that much better than the one produced by Jordan Love (69.5) in his first career start last week, but the veteran’s impact could be felt in other ways.
“You could feel the guys, they were excited to have him back,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. “I felt that (Saturday). I felt that (Sunday). He’s one of the greatest — if not the greatest — to ever do it. Anytime you get a player of that caliber back on your team, I think everybody’s pretty excited.”
Rodgers, too, even though he was too exhausted to show it.
Contact Jim Polzin at firstname.lastname@example.org.