DETROIT (AP) — Aaron Rodgers had his 37th birthday recently and is showing no signs of slowing down.
In fact, Rodgers is having one of his best seasons for the Green Bay Packers as they close in on winning the NFC North for a seventh time since 2011.
The Packers (9-3) can repeat as division champions with a win on Sunday at Detroit (5-7) and a loss by Minnesota at Tampa Bay earlier in the day.
Even if the Vikings beat the Buccaneers, Green Bay can earn a postseason bid with a win at Ford Field and some losses by other teams.
With Rodgers under center, the odds of winning are in Green Bay’s favor against the Lions because he is 16-5 against them as a starter — and he’s playing some of his best football. He has the second-highest quarterback rating of his career, just behind his numbers from his 2011 MVP season and ahead of his production from the 2014 MVP season.
“No matter how old he is or what he’s accomplished, it’s all about competing and winning,” Lions linebacker Jamie Collins said. “He’s definitely having an MVP season and that whole offense looks good. He’s not missing a beat.”
Rodgers is in a groove during his second season directing Matt LaFleur’s offense, throwing seven touchdowns without an interception in his last two games. He has an NFL-high 36 touchdown passes, is completing 69% of his passes — his highest as a starter — and has been picked off on only 1% of his passes for a total of four times this season.
Last year, Rodgers had a quarterback rating of less than 100 for a third straight season and had his second-lowest completion percentage as a starter.
“Anytime that you’re in a system for as long as he has been prior to last year, there is a transition process,” LaFleur said. “From a coaching staff standpoint, we’ve done a much better job just giving more opportunity and more freedom to him. He’s shown great ownership in what we’re asking him to do and he’s going out there and playing at a really high level.”
Rodgers shrugs and sheds praise as if it is a blitzing linebacker. He’s quick to deflect credit to his offensive line, running back Aaron Jones, tight end Robert Tonyan and receiver Davante Adams.
Adrian Peterson acknowledged the Lions are having fun playing for interim coach Darrell Bevell after reeling under Matt Patricia, who was fired two weeks ago.
“Having the change, it shakes things up,” the 35-year-old running back said.
Adams has a touchdown reception in seven straight games, equaling the franchise record set by Hall of Famer Don Hutson, who had a pair of seven-game streaks in the 1940s.
“He is as good as they come,” Rodgers said. “I wouldn’t want to throw to anybody else.”
If Adams catches a touchdown pass against Detroit, he will have a career-high 14 TD receptions and his single-season streak will trail just the 12-game run Hall of Famer Jerry Rice had in 1987, and the nine-game stretch Cincinnati’s A.J. Green had in 2012.
The matchup will feature two tight ends that could’ve been teammates.
Green Bay’s Robert Tonyan signed with the Lions as an undrafted rookie out of Indiana State in 2017, was cut after training camp and closed that season on the Packers’ practice squad. After catching only one touchdown in 2018 and 2019, he has eight touchdowns to tie Kansas City’s Travis Kelce for the most among NFL players at the position.
T.J. Hockenson, drafted by Detroit No. 8 overall last year, ranks third among tight ends with 52 receptions and 614 yards receiving and is tied for sixth at his position with five touchdowns.
KEEPING UP WITH JONES
Detroit’s chances of pulling off an upset after losing 42-21 at Green Bay might depend on whether it can slow down Jones.
Jones rushed for a career-high 168 yards and two touchdowns and caught four passes for 68 yards and a touchdown in September against the Lions. He’s coming off a 130-yard rushing performance in a 30-16 victory over Philadelphia that he sealed with a career-long 77-yard touchdown run.
Detroit is only one game behind a wild-card spot in the NFC, but it won’t be easy to stay in contention because the next four opponents own .500 or better records: Green Bay, Tennessee, Tampa Bay and Minnesota.
TOP PHOTO: Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers throws during the first half of an NFL football game against the Chicago Bears Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)
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