Card-carrying members of Packers Nation aren’t the only ones looking forward to Thursday night’s regular-season opener between the Packers and Chicago Bears.
So is virtually every football aficionado on the planet. That includes Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera.
“It’ll be interesting to see he works with Aaron,’’ said Rivera, referring to Packers’ first-year coach Matt LaFleur and Packers star quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
“And it’s going to be interesting because coach (Mike) McCarthy was there for such a long time.’’
Indeed, McCarthy was shown the door last December after 13 seasons as the green and gold’s head coach. He compiled a 126-77-2 regular-season and 10-8 postseason record. He guided the Packers to victory in Super Bowl XLV.
Then, after firing interim head coach Joe Philbin, the Packers conducted an extensive search for a head coach. They tabbed LaFleur, who is young – he’s 39-year-old – with no NFL head coaching experience.
However, LaFleur does have 11 years of NFL coaching experience on his resume and worked with respected offensive minds like Mike Shanahan, Gary Kubiak, Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay.
“I think it’ll be all about approach, how the players adapt to it,’’ Rivera said of LaFleur’s system. “They have to petty much understand that everybody has to be on the same page and work together.’’
Rivera said he doesn’t know LaFleur well, but is quite familiar with Rodgers. He said he hasn’t seen any decline in Rodgers’ game – even though the critics may beg to differ.
Rodgers threw only 25 touchdown passes in 16 games last season and his quarterback rating was 56.8 – the worst in his 11 seasons as a starter.
“Oh, no. No. I didn’t see any decline in his game,’’ Rivera said. “He’s still a quick decision-maker, has a strong arm, still throws off balance like nobody else.
“It’s pretty impressive what he can do.’’
Rivera contends Rodgers, who turns 36 on Dec. 2, has several impressive seasons left in him. Rivera cites two other current quarterbacks who are older than Rodgers, who are not only surviving but thriving.
One is Tom Brady of the New England Patriots and the other is Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints. Brady, now 41, has thrown 183 touchdown passes in the last six seasons – an average of 30 a season. When Brady was 38, he threw 38 touchdown passes – the third-most of his stellar career.
As for Brees, in the four seasons since he turned 36 years old, he has thrown 124 touchdown passes – or an average of 31 a season. He has also significantly decreased his number of interceptions. Last season, at the age of 39, Brees was picked off only five times – the fewest in his 17 seasons as a starter.
“You look at those two guys and you see what they’ve done in their late 30s,’’ Rivera said. “To me, quarterbacks aren’t hitting their strides now until they’re in their 30s.
“So, as they go forward, the guys who stay in shape, the guys who take care of themselves, they can play well past their 30s and play well. I see that happening with Aaron, too.’’