GREEN BAY – Aaron Rodgers doesn’t know if or when a defensive player will win the NFL’s most valuable player award.
But the Green Bay Packers quarterback has a pretty good idea of who will do it if it happens: Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt.
While Rodgers received 31 of a possible 50 votes for MVP, Watt received 13 – or 26 percent of the vote. While it may not have been as close as some expected, 13 votes is a significant number for Watt to receive given the impressive season Rodgers put together at the league’s highest-profile position.
“J.J. had an incredible year. I mean, he scored three offensive touchdowns, two defensive touchdowns, [had] 20 sacks,” Rodgers said after receiving the MVP award at Saturday night’s NFL Honors event in Arizona on the eve of Super Bowl XLIX. “It’s tough [for a defensive player to win MVP], to be honest with you. He knows this – it’s an offensive-geared league and a quarterback or a running back usually wins this award. So it’s going to be tough.
“But I think if anybody could do it, it’s him.”
Rodgers has only faced Watt once, in 2012, when Watt sacked him twice but Rodgers threw six touchdown passes in a 42-24 Packers victory.
Watt didn’t go home empty-handed on Saturday night, however, as he was named the NFL’s defensive player of the year. The former University of Wisconsin star was a unanimous selection, garnering all 50 voted from the Associated Press’ panel of media who regularly cover the NFL.
Watt, 25, had 20.5 sacks and scored five touchdowns this season. It marked Watt’s second defensive player of the year award in his four years in the NFL, to go with his 2012 win, when he also had 20.5 sacks and was chosen on 49 of the 50 ballots.
Watt joined Reggie White, Bruce Smith, Mike Singletary, Joe Greene and Ray Lewis as two-time winners of the award. Lawrence Taylor is the only three-time winner of the award. He's also the last defensive player to be named MVP.
GREEN BAY – Aaron Rodgers is the NFL’s most valuable player – again.
The Green Bay Packers quarterback won his second NFL MVP award Saturday night at the annual NFL Honors event in Phoenix on the eve of Super Bowl XLIX.
Rodgers led the Packers to a 12-4 record and a berth in the NFC Championship Game this season, completing 341 of 520 passes for 4,381 yards with 38 touchdown passes and just five interceptions for a passer rating of 112.2.
In winning his second league MVP, Rodgers is the third Packers player to win the award multiple times, joining Don Hutson (1941 and ‘42) and Brett Favre (1995, ’96 and ‘97). Rodgers won his first MVP award in 2011.
Rodgers joined award presenter Peyton Manning (five), Johnny Unitas (three), Favre (three) Joe Montana (two), Steve Young (two), Kurt Warner (two) and Tom Brady (two) as quarterbacks who have won multiple MVP awards.
Rodgers received 31 of a possible 50 votes from the Associated Press’ panel, ahead of ex-University of Wisconsin defensive end and Houston Texans star J.J. Watt, who received 13.
GREEN BAY – Quotes as distributed from the Green Bay Packers’ public relations department on Saturday night following former Packers general manager Ron Wolf’s election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, making him the 23rd member of the Packers to be selected to the Hall:
“On behalf of everyone in the Green Bay Packers organization and all our fans, I congratulate Ron on being elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame,” said Packers President/CEO Mark Murphy. “His accomplishments with the Packers and in professional football are tremendous. The legacy he built, ‘The Packer Way,’ includes a winning culture that continues to greatly influence the organization today. This recognition is a well-deserved honor for Ron and we look forward to his enshrinement in August.” – Packers president/CEO Mark Murphy
“I would like to offer my congratulations to Ron on his selection into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The leadership and vision he brought to the Green Bay Packers continues to serve as an example for all of us in the organization. Personally, he has been a great friend and mentor and someone to who I owe a lot. This is a well-deserved honor for Ron and a great day for him, Edie, the Wolf family, the Packers and our fans.” – Packers general manager and director of football operations Ted Thompson
“The turnaround Ron Wolf directed for the Green Bay Packers is probably as significant as any in the history of the NFL. In the 20 years before he joined the team, we had five winning seasons and two playoff appearances. We weren’t playing at a high level. Ron changed the culture for the Packers and turned it into a positive, winning environment. His hiring of Mike Holmgren, trading for Brett Favre and signing Reggie White were instrumental in our success. We were winning again, with character and dignity. It was an amazing turnaround and without Ron it would not have happened. I have no doubt about it.” – Packers chairman emeritus Bob Harlan
“Congratulations to Ron Wolf for this tremendous and deserving honor. I owe much to Ron as he traded for me and brought me to the Green Bay Packers. As players, we knew Ron worked hard to continually make the team better and gave the Packers great credibility in the NFL. He built Green Bay into a championship team that contended each year. His legacy of success continues today." – Former Packers quarterback Brett Favre
“As a first-time head coach in the National Football League, I was fortunate to be partnered with Ron Wolf, who was not only the best general manager in the business, but also very much a mentor to me in all things about the NFL. In all our years together, while we didn’t agree on everything, we never had a harsh moment. Anything that he decided, as my boss with my help, was in the best interest of the Green Bay Packers. It was a privilege to work with him and I consider him a good friend.” – Former Packers head coach Mike Holmgren (1992-1998)
GREEN BAY – Entering the NFC Championship Game, Earl Thomas wasn’t so sure that Aaron Rodgers’ calf injury was legit. In fact, the Seattle Seahawks All-Pro safety publicly questioned if the Green Bay Packers quarterback was engaging in some gamesmanship in hopes of lulling the Seahawks defense into thinking he wouldn’t be himself.
Thomas told reporters in Seattle a few days before the Seahawks’ 28-22 overtime victory over the Packers on Jan. 18 that based on what he saw on film of Rodgers against the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Divisional Playoffs the previous week, he thought Rodgers’ torn calf muscle wasn’t as significant as it was being made out to be.
“I'm not buying into this leg issue,” Thomas said then. “I saw him scramble close to the goal line on the Cowboys, so he's not fooling me with that. I'm not falling into that.”
Now, as Thomas prepares to play in Sunday’s Super Bowl XLIX with a dislocated shoulder he suffered against the Packers, he’s changed his tune.
Writing on his personal website EarlThomas.com, the Seahawks safety said he came around on believing Rodgers’ calf injury was indeed serious as he went through the game.
“I have to give Rodgers a lot of credit,” Thomas wrote. “Going into the game, after watching the tape of their game against Dallas, I honestly didn't think he was that injured. I was preparing for the real Aaron Rodgers, not the hurt Aaron Rodgers.
“But that guy was really hurt out there. Going against him in the game, I could tell immediately that he was really in pain. And it sounds funny, but that actually caught me off-guard. Now that I'm dealing with an injury of my own, I have even more respect for him and what he did. A tremendous amount of respect."
He used a lot of quick-strike plays against us, and he attacked certain spots on the football field. It played to his advantage that they were playing an aggressive team like us. We were flying all around, but he was moving so slow and smooth. His focus was on point. I think that gave him an edge in the game.
“He also used his cadence to disrupt our rhythm. He was double counting, triple counting and the ball wasn’t getting snapped until two seconds were left on the play clock. They did a great job of controlling the game in that aspect. When you talk about a football game, the game is always won up front. We have a great secondary, but our front allows us to have a lot of leeway, and all of us were just off rhythm early on.”
GREEN BAY – From the very start, Bob Harlan wanted to ensure a Brett Favre-friendly audience for the prodigal quarterback’s return to the Green Bay Packers fold. That’s why the retired Packers president believed the Packers Hall of Fame banquet would be the perfect venue.
On Saturday, the Hall of Fame announced that all 1,600 tickets for the July 18 event had been snapped up by sponsors, supporters and fellow Hall of Fame inductees, meaning no tickets will be sold to the general public.
While that certainly will disappoint Favre fans who’d hoped to attend the event, it also guarantees that Favre won’t face any hostility from folks who still harbor ill will after his 2008 unretirement and decision to join the Minnesota Vikings in 2009.
“I told him, and I told [his wife] Deanna that,” Harlan said on Aug. 4, when the Hall of Fame and the Packers announced the plan for Favre’s reconciliation. “I said, ‘Deanna, the Hall of Fame banquet is a love fest. You’re going to get everybody there that just cannot wait to see you and Brett walk into that room. And that’s Step 1. And then Step 2 is you go out on that field.’ And I said, ‘The two of you deserve this.’”
In announcing that the event is sold out, Packers Hall of Fame president Perry Kidder explained why tickets went so quickly.
“Each year, no matter who is inducted, we first go to the people and companies who have supported us throughout the years to determine their interest in the banquet,” Kidder said in a press release sent from the Packers public-relations department on behalf of the Hall of Fame. “We were delighted with the positive response this year and how quickly the sponsorships, tickets and tables sold out. In addition to our longtime supporters, we will host a record number of returning Hall of Famers and their guests, plus expected NFL dignitaries.”
Kidder said the event would be broadcast on television on July 19.
“We know some fans will be disappointed that they won’t be able to purchase tickets to the banquet but, the good news is that, for the first time ever, the event will be recorded and broadcast the next day,” Kidder said. “It’s a great way for Packers fans to share in the experience.”
GREEN BAY – A year ago, Aaron Rodgers was presented the Bart Starr Award by its namesake. For Rodgers, it was as meaningful as any award he’d ever received, because it came from a man who had become his mentor and close friend – someone whose path he hoped to follow.
“It means a lot, mostly because I get to stand with my personal role model,” Rodgers, who first met Starr at the Packers’ 2006 Fan Fest event, said after winning the award. “(Starr is known) not only by his play, but more importantly by his work off the field. I think as a football player, you realize you want to be eventually known for more than just playing football.”
On Friday, Starr’s son, Bart Jr., presented Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning with the award, as his father continues to recover from two strokes and a heart attack suffered in September. It marked the first time since the award was created in 1989 that Starr was unable to present it.
Starr, who turned 81 on Jan. 9, suffered an ischemic stroke on Sept. 2, then suffered a hemorrhagic stroke and mild heart attack five days later. He was supposed to return to Green Bay last fall to accompany another of the franchise’s legendary quarterbacks, Brett Favre, for his return to Lambeau Field. But Favre’s November return was canceled when it became clear that Starr’s health would not allow him to attend.
The Green Bay Press-Gazette’s Pete Dougherty spoke with Starr for a fantastic long-form piece about the Packers legend shortly before Starr’s health problems struck.
As part of a story by the Arizona Republic’s Jeff Metcalfe about how close the Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback was to leading an NFL expansion franchise in Phoenix, Starr’s wife, Cherry, paints a sobering picture of her husband’s recovery.
“It's really a very, very slow recovery," Cherry Starr said of her husband of 60 years. “When we left the hospital (after 2½ months), he could not walk or sit up unassisted. Now he's walking on a walker and standing very erect. He lost 20 pounds and gained back 10 and is getting stronger. I don't know how much recovery he can make with his cognitive ability.
"He's been such a kind, generous, loving man all his life. It's not a good quality of life for him, and it hurts me to see him this way. I wish so much this had never happened.”
GREEN BAY – After their special teams units followed up a poor regular season with two catastrophic mistakes with the Super Bowl on the line, the Green Bay Packers are in the market for a new special-teams coordinator.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy fired special-teams coordinator Shawn Slocum Friday afternoon, after watching Slocum’s units finish dead last in the 32-team NFL in Dallas Morning News columnist Rick Gosselin’s annual rankings and commit two crucial mistakes in the team’s NFC Championship Game loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
“I would like to thank Shawn for all of his contributions over the past nine years,” McCarthy said in a statement released by the club's public relations department. “He was a positive contributor to our success, including helping us win Super Bowl XLV. We wish Shawn, Michelle and their family the best moving forward.”
Slocum had been the Packers’ special-teams coordinator since 2009 and was one of only five remaining members of McCarthy’s original coaching staff from 2006. McCarthy and Slocum had coached together since their days at the University of Pittsburgh in the early 1990s.’
In his first nine seasons as Packers coach, McCarthy had only fired one previous coordinator: Defensive coordinator Bob Sanders, following the 2008 season.
“We have a format that we follow,” McCarthy replied Wednesday when asked during his season wrap-up news conference about the process of evaluating assistants. “Obviously [we start by] gathering information, documentation things like that. Then you have start having your exit interviews with the coordinators and you go through all the assistants. It usually takes about a good week or so to do that.”
Assistant coaches were supposed to be off all week, after their postseason meetings with McCarthy were postponed in the wake of McCarthy’s younger brother Joe’s death from a heart attack last week.
The Packers could promote Ron Zook, whom McCarthy hired last year after the ex-Florida and Illinois head coach had been out of football since 2011. Zook coached the Pittsburgh Steelers’ special-teams units from 1996 through 1998.
Then again, Zook was part of a staff that was in charge of a special teams group that finished last in the NFL in Gosselin’s annual special-teams rankings, in which teams are ranked in 22 separate categories. The Packers had an NFL-high seven kicks blocked (two punts, three field goals, two extra points), their kickoff return unit was among the worst in the league, punter Tim Masthay struggled during the second half of the season, and both the kickoff and punt coverage units allowed touchdown returns.
Then came the loss in Seattle, where the field-goal block unit was burned for a 19-yard touchdown on a fake field goal and tight end Brandon Bostick failed to secure an onside kick with just over 2 minutes to play. Had Bostick, who was supposed to serve only as a blocker on the play, recovered the ball or allowed wide receiver Jordy Nelson to do so, the Packers would presumably be playing in Super Bowl XLIX on Sunday
Slocum’s replacement will be the Packers’ third special-teams coordinator of the McCarthy era. Veteran special teams coach Mike Stock held the job from 2006 through 2008 but retired at McCarthy’s urging after the 2008 season.
GREEN BAY – Green Bay Packers fans weren’t the only ones who figured their team was going to be hoisting the George Halas Trophy at the end of the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 18.
Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider, who grew up in the Green Bay area and got his NFL scouting start with the Packers under Ron Wolf, thought so, too.
In fact, Schneider was thinking about what he’d say to his team with the Packers up by 12 points and safety Morgan Burnett having just intercepted Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson with just over 5 minutes to go in the game.
“I was thinking to myself how I was going to address each player after the game, what I was going to say to the coaching staff,” Schneider said during the pre-Super Bowl festivities this week in Arizona, where his Seahawks will go for back-to-back Super Bowl titles against the New England Patriots on Sunday. “I was going to be like, ‘Hey, we had a great season. We’ll get them next year. Let’s have a great offseason.’ All those things are running through my mind, and then at the five-minute mark, things just started snowballing there.”
Indeed they did, and in the end, the Seahawks advanced with a 28-22 overtime victory made possible by running back Marshawn Lynch’s go-ahead touchdown late in regulation, Wilson’s miraculous 2-point conversion to tight end Luke Willson after the TD, and Wilson’s game-winning touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse in overtime.
“The quarterback and the running back basically just willed their way,” Schneider said. “The 2-point conversion was unbelievable. Wilson and Luke made a heck of a play. When you go back and watch the game, it’s amazing how it went down. I’m not quite as positive as (coach) Pete (Carroll) is all the time.”
“Anxiety, depression, you can throw it all in there. It was nuts.”
GREEN BAY – Of all the plays that defy explanation and cost the Green Bay Packers a berth in Super Bowl XLIX – and Lord knows there were a lot of them – perhaps the most confounding was safety Morgan Burnett’s interception and decision to give himself up thereafter.
Well, to most folks, anyway. Apparently not to Packers coach Mike McCarthy.
McCarthy said Wednesday in his season wrap-up press conference that he had no problem with outside linebacker Julius Peppers’ decision to advise Burnett to go down and Burnett doing so – even after seeing on film that Burnett might have scored a game-clinching touchdown on the interception return had he not given himself up.
The Packers led, 19-7, at the time, and the Green Bay offense took over at its own 43-yard line after the pick, with 5 minutes 4 seconds left in regulation. After back-to-back-to-back handoffs to Eddie Lacy resulted in a net loss of 4 yards, the Packers punted – and the Seahawks rallied for a 28-22 overtime victory that has them playing for their second straight NFL title on Sunday in Super Bowl XLIX against New England.
“Those are decisions that are made in the heat of the battle. I agree with the intent of the decision,” McCarthy said. “I clearly expected to move the ball and at least change the field position. The fact that Morgan went down, and then we give them the ball back on [the 43-yard-line]? That’s not Morgan’s fault, and I don’t think you go back and question that decision.
“Why he did it, I understand. The way we were playing at that point. Defensively we were in command of the game.”
That said, while defensive backs routinely give themselves up after interceptions when they occur at the end of games, one could argue that there was too much time left on the clock not to complete the play. The coaches film camera angle showed that had Peppers blocked instead of giving Burnett what the Packers call the “No mas” signal, Burnett would have had a big return up the left sideline and may even have scored to put the game away.
Nevertheless, McCarthy stood by Burnett’s decision.
“You’re playing in a game, it’s raining a little bit on and off, you’re on turf,” McCarthy said. “So he played the high side of caution there.”
GREEN BAY – Clay Matthews’ move inside apparently wasn’t a one-year thing.
Although the Green Bay Packers star linebacker’s primary position remains outside, coach Mike McCarthy said Wednesday in his season wrap-up press conference that Matthews was too good inside not to consider continuing to use him there.
That said, McCarthy made it clear where he thinks Matthews should spend most of his time.
“I mean, Clay’s an outside linebacker. I think we all recognize that. But he was very productive in his role when he went inside. I think as we build our roster and go through the player acquisition phase [during the offseason], there will be more answers, hopefully more options and we’ll see how it goes.”
Matthews finished the season with 69 tackles, 11 sacks, one interception, six pass breakups and one forced fumble. The Packers’ 32 nd-ranked run defense improved significantly after Matthews started splitting his time inside and outside after the Week 9 bye.
“I think not only what we accomplished with Clay specifically [was positive], but I think the fact of the matter [is] that we were able to be more flexible in how we utilize Clay,” McCarthy said. “I thought all those changes were very positive for our defense and the way the play time was distributed, the stress that you’re able to apply to the opponent with different matchups [was also positive].”