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Aaron Rodgers: ‘There’s always going to be criticism in this world. I don’t define myself by the criticism’

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Let’s start with that desperation second-half pass by Russell Wilson into the end zone that was intercepted and ended a Seattle Seahawks opportunity to score their first touchdown on Sunday.

And let’s follow with that the desperation second-half pass by Aaron Rodgers into the back of the opposite end zone only moments later, that was also intercepted and ended the Green Bay Packers’ opportunity to score their first touchdown.

Consider those two plays when I say this wasn’t exactly a shootout of two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks at their best.

It definitely wasn’t that for Wilson, who had another pass into the end zone also intercepted.

This was more two future Hall of Fame quarterback deferring to their punters. And two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks riddled by motivated defenses.

But after the 17-0 Green Bay victory, turns out this game was about two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks deeply grateful just to play.

We begin with Rodgers because, well, he played better than Wilson and walked away with the Packers’ eighth victory in 10 games — a walk that was quite emotional after Rodgers spent 10 days on the COVID-19 reserve list, missed a game his team lost, and was the subject of white hot media criticism because of an interview he did during his time away.

“There were a lot of emotions for sure,” Rodgers said on a postgame Zoom call with reporters. “Good to be back with the guys. Good to be back at home. Good to be on the field, really. The most emotion from the whole night was probably walking off the field after the game. It definitely got me a little misty heading off, so that was good to feel those type of emotions.”

An explanation: Rodgers was on Zoom because he declined to subject himself to the NFL’s COVID-19 protocols for unvaccinated players while doing interviews, which would require Rodgers to wear a mask even though he would have been distanced from reporters who are all vaccinated.

“I feel pretty good for the most part,” Rodgers reported. “I feel like I played fairly solid. Obviously I had the one bad decision at the back of the end zone, and I’d say I had a couple of bad throws … But my wind was good … Wind-wise, I felt pretty good.”

Rodgers didn’t have his finest day, finishing with a below standard 75.5 quarterback rating despite throwing for 292 yards.

But the stats weren’t as important as the fact Rodgers helped his team win and then — and I’m being selfish, here — was interesting after the game.

“In general it was definitely a good time to reflect on the last 17 years and try to live daily with a lot of gratitude with sincere thanks to all the people who reached out,” Rodgers said of his time away from the team. “I heard from all over the country, all over the world, actually, checking on me, seeing how I was doing and sending words of affirmation and support. That was pretty special.”

And what about the critics?

“I mean, everybody has an opinion,” Rodgers said. “And I understand it’s a very polarizing issue for some individuals. But I’m just focusing on the support that I got. It was deep and wide and greatly, greatly appreciated.

“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 so deeply grateful for all the people who reached out.”

So interception, COVID-19, and criticism aside, Sunday was a happy culmination to two weeks for Rodgers.

Different story for Wilson. His team was shut out for the first time in the 150 games he’s been the starting quarterback.

So in that regard, his return from a fractured finger and the ensuing surgery and rehabilitation that forced him to miss three games was something of a failure.

“My finger felt fine,” Wilson said. “The problem tonight is I had two bad plays, you know. That’s what it really was. It felt like we were moving the ball pretty well … I felt confident. I didn’t feel anything. I threw one there too high to Tyler [Lockett], that I threw a little too hard. Other than that, I felt confident in every throw.”

Wilson’s injury was supposed to keep him out at least six weeks, so missing only three is nothing short of miraculous. But because he had a QB rating of 39.7, marking one of only four times in his career he’s been below 40, there were questions about Wilson returning too soon.

“First of all, I know myself well,” Wilson said. “I know myself really well and I know what I can and can’t do. I felt I could do everything tonight. Had some runs. First third down, for example, if I was second-guessing my hand, I wouldn’t go for that.

“I felt confident in my hand. I felt confident in all the hard work. It was just a bad game and those two plays, really. Those were really the defining moments of the game.”

The defining moments, both star quarterbacks insisted, came for them when they were able to play.

“For me, I’m blessed to step on the field again and do the things I love to do and do it with the teammates I love to do it with,” Wilson said. “To do everything, every minute, every hour for the past four weeks has been an amazing journey. And to be able to play tonight was a blessing in itself.

“And even though there’s a lot of frustration and disappointment internally with me with those two plays, I also know there’s a lot of grace and a lot of love and a lot of joy that I have.

“I know it didn’t feel great losing that game with those two plays, but what I do know is I’ll be better. I’ll be better. I always believe in myself. My confidence never wavers and it’s not going to waver now.”

Rodgers, meanwhile, was more succinct in describing the end of his afternoon as he left the field to cheers echoing around Lambeau Stadium:

“Every time you walk off the field a winner, it’s special,” he said. “And the response was special.”

Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

Written by Armando Salguero

Armando Salguero has covered the NFL since 1990 for the Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald and ESPN. He was a 2016 Associated Press Sports Editors Top 10 columnist. He is a Pro Football Hall of Fame selector and AP All-Pro team voter.

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