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Packers' Datone Jones: 'Aaron Rodgers is a genius'

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Aaron Rodgers' 2015 season was a study in transitory transcendence inevitably regressing to the mean through little fault of his own.

Coming off a brilliant 2014 MVP campaign and playing without reliable go-to target Jordy Nelson, Rodgers raised his game to an even higher level in September, channeling an unshakeable confidence that allowed him to envision possibilities and interrogate limits that other quarterbacks don't even think to explore.

"He's as hot a quarterback right now as I can ever recall seeing," FOX analyst Troy Aikman raved during the Packers' Week 4 victory over the 49ers. "The ball placement and his vision of the field is unsurpassed."

As we referenced several times on the Around The NFL Podcast, Rodgers was displaying a rare athletic genius on par with Michael Jordan's brilliance in the 1990s.

Appearing on Tuesday's edition of NFL Network's NFL HQ, Packers defensive end Datone Jones used similar terminology to reflect on Rodgers' special qualities.

"He is a genius. Aaron Rodgers is a genius," Jones said. "He's a smart guy. Last year he won Celebrity Jeopardy. That's who he is in the locker room. He's a guy who's going to challenge you mentally. ... He's extremely smart. He knows the defense. He teaches his receivers the defense."

After listening to Rodgers' recent appearance on comedian Pete Holmes' You Made It Weird Podcast, it's easy to understand Jones' comments. Rodgers exhibits a refreshing intellectual curiosity, delving deep to ponder philosophical conundrums.

On the field, he's often playing chess while other quarterbacks play checkers, a sentiment Aikman shared last season -- and recently echoed by Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks.

Since 2012, Rodgers has thrown 12 touchdowns on "free" plays in which he has tricked the defense into an offsides or encroachment penalty. No other quarterback has more than three touchdowns on such plays over that span.

Rodgers has succeeded in marrying unique physical gifts with coach-like powers of pre- and post-snap recognition to elevate the art of quarterbacking.

In hindsight, we should have seen those spectacular early-season 2015 performances as the canary in the coal mine, evidence that not even the best quarterback of the past half-decade can continually pry open the margin for error when the offense is reduced to improvisational wizardry and tight-window throws.

Saddled with a shaky offensive line, an out-of-shape running back and the NFL's slowest collection of wide receivers and tight ends, Rodgers oversaw a stagnant Packers attack that posted the lowest points per game, yards per game, yards per play and third-down percentage since Brett Favre was under center in Green Bay.

For all of that adversity, though, Rodgers still authored two of the season's magical moments with a beautiful desperation Hail Mary to knock off the Lions in early December and an uncanny redux via a miraculous two-play sequence to send the Packers' thrilling Divisional Round playoff game to overtime.

Coach Mike McCarthy labeled the game winner in Detroit the best throw he's ever seen. NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth was equally impressed with the heave in Arizona, deeming it "one of the great throws ever made, moving to his left, falling away and launching a perfect throw."

Packers teammates have come to expect that brand of genius from their quarterback.

"You know what, the craziest thing, I looked around at everyone's eyes before the last play," Jones explained, "and you could tell no one had any doubt that we were going down and catch the ball. Because we've seen it already. We saw it happen already. We knew we could win a game with no time on the clock. We've done it."

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