GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The bloody hand hung there in the frigid dusk, looking like a prop you'd find on a Twilight movie set. It was an eerie sight -- eerier still because the man to whom the hand was attached, Aaron Rodgers, seemed completely unfazed by its condition.
"It looked like somebody shot him," Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, the Green Bay Packers' rookie safety, recalled Sunday evening as he prepared to leave Lambeau Field. "He came to the sideline -- I looked at his hand and it was nasty, just gushing with blood. I didn't hear any complaints. He was just standing there. He didn't try to rub it off or anything. He went back out and finished the game."
Fortunately for the Packers, Rodgers' left hand was the lacerated one, having been stepped on by New England Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins as the quarterback attempted to slide following a 17-yard first-quarter run. The right hand? That body part was fine, thank you. And right now, with apologies to Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and his future Hall of Fame opponent on Sunday, Tom Brady, Rodgers' right hand is the baddest in the land.
In a game featuring the two hottest teams in football -- and the NFL's two most potent offenses -- Rodgers played through pain and inflicted plenty of it on the Pats, completing 24 of 38 passes for 368 yards and two touchdowns. His 7-yard hookup with Randall Cobb with 2:28 remaining put the Pats (9-3) on ice for good, allowing the Packers (9-3) to close out a 26-21 victory that ended New England's seven-game winning streak.
As Rodgers closes in on a second MVP award, it's starting to look as though the road to Super Bowl XLIX may go through Titletown, a chilling prospect for the NFC's other playoff contenders. With NFC North-leading Green Bay, winners of four consecutive games and eight of its last nine, now tied with the Cardinals and Eagles atop the conference standings, it's quite possible the Pack's potential postseason foes will have frozen tundra in their future.
"Someone said something about us peaking too early -- I don't know what that means," Rodgers said. "We're playing pretty well ... we've won eight of nine. I do know this: We're good at home. We've been blowing people out. We didn't do that today, but this is a great football team that we played. It's too early (to draw conclusions), but I like where we are right now."
Since late September, when Rodgers made his now-iconic relax comment in the wake of the Pack's 19-7 defeat to the Lions, he and his teammates have been in a ridiculously potent zone. This has been especially true at Lambeau, where they've plastered foes such as the Vikings (42-10), Panthers (38-17), Bears (55-14) and Eagles (53-20).
In six home victories, Rodgers has thrown 20 touchdowns and zero interceptions. He has not thrown a pick in Green Bay since 2012.
"We feel we have the best quarterback in the league," cornerback Tramon Williams said. "I see him every day in practice. I know what he's capable of. Not just physically, but the mental aspect of the game. And in the end, we knew we had to get one stop so we could get him the ball back."
Rodgers had the Patriots' defenders backing up from the start, throwing for 282 yards in the first half, including touchdown passes to rookie tight end Richard Rodgers (32 yards, over the shoulder, left side of the end zone) and veteran receiver Jordy Nelson (45 yards, thrown up the seam, delivered perfectly in space and in stride). The Packers, however, would struggle in the red zone all day, settling for five short Mason Crosby field-goal attempts, four of which he made.
The final Crosby kick came after rookie receiver Davante Adams dropped a perfect pass from Rodgers near the goal line, giving the Pack a five-point advantage with 8:41 remaining. Brady (22 of 35, 245 yards, two touchdowns), not unpredictably, drove the Pats into the red zone -- but the revived Green Bay defense held. Clinton-Dix and linebacker Clay Matthews helped thwart an end-zone throw to tight end Rob Gronkowski, and Mike Neal and Mike Daniels combined to sack Brady on third-and-9, setting up a 47-yard field goal attempt that Stephen Gostkowski pushed wide right.
After a couple of runs by Eddie Lacy (21 carries, 98 yards), the Packers faced a third-and-4 at their own 43. The notion that Rodgers would allow the suspense to fester seemed unthinkable. The Patriots sent an extra pass rusher to try to get him to throw hot -- and he coolly found Cobb slipping across the middle, zinging a typically accurate ball in the elusive receiver's direction.
They damn sure have the quarterback -- Brady and Manning are two of the best ever to play the position, but at this moment in time, nobody does it better.
"It's unbelievable, man," Clinton-Dix said. "That guy's a different breed. He's amazing. He makes all the throws, makes all the plays, makes all the checks ... I don't think you'll ever find another one like him."
Said Matt Flynn, Rodgers' backup: "There was some good quarterback play out there. It'll be a fun one to look back and watch on film, that's for sure."
Of course, for Rodgers, seeing his left hand on tape will be akin to viewing a horror flick. He may not have made much of an effort to stop the bleeding, but he did accept some pain-management tips from Flynn.
"I've been stepped on before," Rodgers said afterward. "This one was a little worse. Matt gave me some good advice: Just keep it moving."
Not that Rodgers spent a great deal of time following that advice.
"If you don't move it, it can stiffen up," Flynn explained. "The lactic acid builds up, and the pain worsens. He needs that hand to take snaps. So every so often, I'd come up behind him on the sidelines and tap him on the butt and remind him to move it."
As for the right hand? Rodgers needs no such reminders. That's the one that's propelling the Packers to the top -- and no, they don't seem to be peaking just yet.