GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Fake 94 X Read.
If there’s one play that told Mike McCarthy everything he needed to know about quarterback Aaron Rodgers, that was the one.
Only hours earlier, the Green Bay Packers coach told his QB that he wouldn’t have to throw the ball farther than 15 or 20 yards against the Atlanta Falcons on that 2008 afternoon. Rodgers’ separated throwing shoulder, an injury he had sustained the previous week against Tampa Bay, surely couldn’t handle anything longer than that.
Then, early in the second quarter, with the Packers facing a third-and-1 at the Falcons’ 44-yard line, McCarthy radioed in the play: “Fake 94 X Read.”
“I remember looking over at him going, ‘I thought we took this play out,’” Rodgers said.
Said McCarthy: “I'm like, 'Oh, I forgot all about it.'”
Fake 94 X Read is a home run play. With three running backs behind him, Rodgers fakes a handoff and then looks deep for the only receiver, in that case Donald Driver.
“Friday of that week, I tried to practice, and I couldn’t throw the ball 10 yards,” Rodgers recalled.
Then, on Sunday morning, just a few hours before the game, Rodgers worked out for McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson and convinced them he could play that afternoon.
“We were trying all different kinds of harness on him, and he was able to throw the ball about 20 yards,” McCarthy said. “So now we're going through the play list and we had a third-and-1 shot in the game plan -- Fake 94 X Read -- and I said, 'Well, instead of throwing it out, I'll just wait and make sure and see if you can throw it, you know, in case we needed it.'
“He goes, 'Yeah, let's do that.' ... Then, as soon as I called it, I can see, like, his head -- [and he] looks at me.”
Rodgers hurled the ball 50 yards in the air between two Falcons defenders and into Driver’s waiting hands in the end zone. The film of that play shows that Rodgers pump-faked, but he wasn't trying to draw the defense. Instead, Rodgers said he wasn’t sure his injured shoulder would allow him to make the throw.
“You’ve just got to grip it and rip it at that point,” Rodgers said. “That goes back to pain management. You just learn how to deal with certain injuries.”
Rodgers threw for 313 yards and three touchdowns in that game, and although the Packers lost 27-24 on their way to a 6-10 record in his first year as the starter, it cemented Rodgers’ approach in McCarthy’s mind. It’s probably why McCarthy didn’t seem surprised this week when Rodgers told him not to hold out anything from the game plan for Sunday at Chicago because of the quarterback’s right-calf injury suffered on Sunday against Seattle.
Rodgers played through an injury to his left calf in 2014 and a hamstring strain the past two weeks. In both cases, he turned in some of his most memorable performances. His touchdown pass to Richard Rodgers against the Cowboys in a playoff game two years ago was among the best throws of his career. On Sunday against the Seahawks, he had the fourth-highest passer rating of his career, and he got hurt on the third play of the game.
“I feel like regardless of how my legs feel, I’ll always be able to throw the football effectively and efficiently,” Rodgers said.
Rodgers rarely misses practice -- something that happened this Wednesday for the first time this season -- and although he doesn’t have the ironman streak of his predecessor, Brett Favre, a concussion (in 2010) and broken collarbone (in 2013) have been the only injuries to keep Rodgers from starting.
“Aaron Rodgers is as tough as anybody I’ve ever known,” McCarthy said. “To have two guys (Rodgers and Favre) that approach it the same way, and they play through the things they play through, I think it speaks volumes about those guys individually. ... Aaron has played through so many things. I go back to '08 is the first time [he played through an injury], because you never know.”
McCarthy knows now, thanks in part to Fake 94 X Read.