There shouldn't have been doubt about Aaron Rodgers thriving with Packers' rookie head coach

Terez PaylorSenior NFL writer

It wasn’t all that long ago — two months, in fact — when Matt LaFleur and Aaron Rodgers were quizzed regularly about the state of their new football partnership.

The questions made sense. After all the constant reports about Rodgers’ strained relationship with former Packers coach Mike McCarthy, many couldn’t help but wonder how much sway LaFleur, a first-time head coach who is only four years older than Rodgers, would hold with his opinionated Super Bowl-winning quarterback.

Rodgers generally said all the right things in training camp, aside from a quibble about the value of the newly instituted joint practices LaFleur had signed the Packers up for. Privately, LaFleur was surprised at how big a deal that ended up being. He worked hard to earn Rodgers’ trust after his hire, and dismissed the moment as a media creation, even as he continued to get daily questions about how things were going with Rodgers.

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Now, entering Week 8 of the regular season, many of those questions have dissipated as Rodgers and LaFleur appear to be well on their way to getting the last laugh.

Aaron Rodgers seems to be digging Matt LaFleur's playbook as he's off to a roaring start this season for the Packers. (Getty Images)
Aaron Rodgers seems to be digging Matt LaFleur's playbook as he's off to a roaring start this season for the Packers. (Getty Images)

Green Bay (6-1) leads the competitive NFC North, and the Packers’ 11th-ranked offense is more than doing its part. Rodgers has adjusted to LaFleur’s offense, which features lots of pre-snap motion, run-pass options and runs from under center, all while allowing Rodgers to unleash his creativity post-snap.

On the season, Rodgers is on pace to complete 64.5 percent of his passes and throw for 4,615 yards, 30 touchdowns, five interceptions and post a 103.7 passer rating. You’d need to go back to 2016 to find better numbers for him in any of those statistics, and after a brilliant outing on Sunday against the the Oakland Raiders, the 35-year-old is regularly being mentioned in the MVP conversation again. Not only did he throw for five touchdowns and rush for another against the Raiders, he also completed passes to eight different targets and finished with the first perfect passer rating of his career.

In retrospect, maybe everyone should have seen Rodgers’ 2019 performance coming. While LaFleur and Rodgers were confident about where the Packers were headed — “Listen, and I mean this from the bottom of my heart, I really feel confident about our relationship, where it is, where it’s gonna go,” LaFleur told me when I visited Packers camp in August — Rodgers’ teammates were saying similar things about the way LaFleur was meshing with all of them back then, too.

“I feel he’s been very in-tune with how we’re feeling as players, and he’s been great at adjusting the schedule and adjusting everything he’s doing,” center Corey Linsley told Yahoo Sports this past summer. “Some of it is just being in-tune with how we’re feeling as players and what we need to work on in practice.

“I know Aaron sometimes says a few different things like, ‘Hey, I wanna get some of these looks, let’s get some of this going,’ and Coach LaFleur was like, ‘Yeah, that’s a great idea.’ And vice-versa — it’s gone both ways.”

Linsley also got the sense that while LaFleur may be a consensus-builder, he also had an edge — a suspicion that was confirmed after hearing LaFleur call plays on the headset during the first preseason game, which Linsley sat out with an injury.

“He has a very, very competitive side — there’s no doubt about it,” Linsley said. “He’s like, extremely knowledgeable and calm. But listening to him on the headset, he’s got the competitive fire.”

I thought that would play well with his super-competitive quarterback, especially if the Packers got off to a good start which, lo and behold, they have.

But there’s still so much to accomplish this season, and Sunday’s nationally televised road test against the Patrick Mahomes-less Chiefs offers another spotlight game.

With a strong performance and a Packers victory, Rodgers and LaFleur will be able to address the media with smiles on their faces, all the while answering questions about everything other than their relationship. This may be a big sea change from a few months ago, but it’s one that makes sense, of course.

Winning in this league, after all, tends to speak for itself.

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