Rodgers upbeat at the end of first season as Packers' starter

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- As the Green Bay Packers' season skids to a disappointing end, Aaron Rodgers still doesn't have a signature come-from-behind victory.

But that hardly makes his first season as a starting quarterback a failure. The Packers have plenty of problems that will keep them out of the playoffs this year, but Rodgers' play generally hasn't been one of them.

Rodgers' season began under trying circumstances, as he bore the misguided wrath of fans after an ugly falling-out between the franchise's front office and one of the team's most popular players, Brett Favre. Then he hurt his shoulder and played through severe pain. Now, his ability to handle pressure is being questioned.

Heading into Sunday's season finale against Detroit, Rodgers says the experience has taught him something it's easy for athletes to talk about but difficult to do: Stop worrying about things you can't control.

"It's definitely a learned trait," Rodgers said in an interview with The Associated Press. "It's not something that you can wake up and do. Because people say some hurtful things, some personal things about yourself, your family. You know, that stuff really gets to you. But it's so out of your control that you could either let yourself go crazy about it and be upset, or just say, 'You know what? I'm not going to be affected by that."'

Statistically, Rodgers ranks among the league's top 10 passers in touchdowns (25), yards (3,730), passer rating (91.4) and plays of 25-plus yards (28). He's ahead of Favre in each category.

Rodgers' lack of last-minute comebacks aside, he has shown an ability to handle pressure. His passer rating on third down is 104.1, third-best in the league. And the Packers have scored 15 fourth-quarter touchdowns this season, tying them for second in the league.

But the Packers have lost five straight, and the script for their last four has been maddeningly similar: Rodgers and the offense drive to take the lead in the fourth quarter, only to watch the special teams and defense give it away. Then Rodgers can't muster another late drive to retake the lead.

"It's been ups and downs, but I've definitely learned a lot," Rodgers said. "It's been a lot of good experience I think I'm going to take with me throughout my career. It's disappointing not being able to win the close ones."

And while Rodgers is as disappointed as anyone with the Packers' record, he will achieve one of his biggest personal goals for the season: starting all 16 games.

"A lot of people (doubted) my toughness or said I couldn't finish the season," Rodgers said. "And this Sunday will be my 16th consecutive start and it's definitely something I was hoping I could do this season."

It wasn't easy. Rodgers hurt his right shoulder at Tampa Bay on Sept. 28 and played more than a month in pain so severe that he couldn't do much in practice. The injury may require surgery in the offseason, and Rodgers admits that it was worse than he was letting on.

"I felt that if I still could perform, as painful as it was, I didn't want any excuses," Rodgers said. "I don't live that way, I don't operate that way."

Rodgers also isn't using Favre's weeks-long unretirement saga as an excuse, even though it turned the Packers' training camp into a circus and turned some fans against Rodgers.

"A lot of times it's difficult when you don't know what your future is going to look like and you're depending on somebody else," Rodgers said. "That's always difficult. But that's when I focused on the things I can control, and that was my preparation, training camp practice, getting ready for the season. It was difficult, but I think it made me a better person and I think strengthened our team and our resolve."

Nationally, the perception was that a cloud hung over the team long after Favre's departure. But the Packers got off to a 2-0 start before they began losing key players to injury. And Rodgers says the fact the Packers have so many young players who didn't really know Favre helped them shake it off. "There wasn't a huge shadow that hung over the team," Rodgers said. "We just tried to stick together and stay focused on the things that we can control."

On a lighter note, one thing Rodgers definitely can't control is his oddball fan mail.

After a loss at Minnesota, a Vikings fan sent him a box of tissue paper with a message written on it.

"I think it said something like, 'This is for the tears that you'll shed when you think about how you lost to us,"' Rodgers said. "Something like that. Something stupid."

Oh, and don't forget the marriage proposals -- including mothers who sent photos and bios of their daughters.

"My whole question on that is, does the daughter know? Is the daughter on board with that? And if so, that's kind of weird," Rodgers said. "And if not, how would she feel if she did know? Would she be like, 'Yeah, go for it. It might work.' I've talked to a few (teammates) about this stuff. I wonder if anybody else gets stuff like this and actually responds. I mean, who responds to stuff like that? That, to me, is just so weird."

So Rodgers remains single, but he's committed to a long-term relationship with the Packers after receiving a contract extension through the 2014 season.

"It was very humbling at the time -- still is -- to think about the commitment they made, both financially and in years of my contract," Rodgers said. "It heightens my sense of urgency and responsibility to this team and to the community."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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