FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are universally regarded as two of the best quarterbacks of their generation.
Brady has spent the better part of his 19 seasons in the NFL eclipsing virtually every milestone set by his predecessors. Along the way, he’s captured every major piece of hardware the league has to offer from multiple MVPs to Super Bowl titles, all while remaining at the top of his game at 41.
Rodgers isn’t as decorated as Brady, but has been just as celebrated during his 14-year career for a free-wheeling style and an uncanny ability to pull off plays that have been rarely duplicated by his peers.
Between them, they have five regular-season MVP awards, nine Super Bowl appearances and six Super Bowl rings.
Yet when the Patriots host the Packers on Sunday night , it will mark just the second time that the future Hall of Famers have squared off as starting quarterbacks. Rodgers won the first meeting in 2014 in a game in which they combined for 613 passing yards and four touchdowns in Green Bay’s five-point victory at Lambeau Field.
Rodgers capped that season by winning his second regular-season MVP trophy. Brady went on to hoist his fourth Super Bowl title.
Watching each other’s success from afar has bred a deep respect between them. Rodgers for Brady’s longevity. Brady for the skillset Rodgers brings to the position.
“Tom’s been at the top of his game for over a decade,” Rodgers said. “Obviously, we play a little bit different style of game, but the stuff that he does well is stuff that over my career I’ve tried to incorporate into my own game.
“I enjoy competing against great players and obviously Tom is right at the top.”
It’s similar to how Brady describes Rodgers.
“What he’s done as a quarterback, I think it is inspiring even for me,” Brady said. “I watch his game and it makes me want to get out there and practice and improve because I think he’s so phenomenal with the way he manages himself in the pocket and his ability to throw the football is unlike anyone probably in the history of the league.”
Though he wants to play until he’s 45, Brady will presumably retire before Rodgers, leaving the 34-year-old time to narrow the gap between them in career numbers.
But neither is interested in playing the hypothetical game about who the better quarterback is.
“I don’t really try to get into the ‘what-if’ game,” Rodgers said. “I’m fortunate to have been drafted here and sit behind Brett (Favre) for three years. He was obviously drafted late there … so his chip might have been a little bit bigger than mine starting out his career.
“There’s a lot of pride in that legacy part of your career, and I think him and I both feel the same way about our organizations.”
Brady also called any similar debate about the greatest quarterback of all-time a fruitless endeavor. Though he knows one name that belongs on his list.
“It’s hard to compare positions and eras. It’s impossible to answer,” Brady said. “I think Aaron is one of the best ever to play the game. He’s got every skill you need to be a great quarterback.”
Here are some things to watch for in Sunday’s game:
Brady enters Sunday’s game second in NFL history for the most combination passing, rushing and receiving yards in the regular-season and playoffs. Peyton Manning tops the list with 79,978 yards. Brady is next with 79,781.
The trade of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix means that the Green Bay Packers are without a five-year starter at safety .
Clinton-Dix, who led the team with three interceptions, was the most experienced player at a position that was still mired by inconsistency. Possible replacements include Jermain Whitehead, who missed practice at midweek with a back injury; or Josh Jones, a second-year player who missed time earlier this year with an ankle injury. Veteran cornerback Tramon Williams also has a couple games of experience playing safety while with the Browns a couple years ago. Cornerback Bashaud Breeland appears to be getting healthier from a hamstring injury and might be ready to play. The Packers didn’t acquire players at the trade deadline, a sign that general manager Brian Gutekunst might like the depth in the secondary even without Clinton-Dix.
Coming a long way
Davante Adams was a rookie the last time these teams played in 2014 at Lambeau Field. That 26-21 win by the Packers was a milestone game for Adams, now Green Bay’s No. 1 receiver.
Adams had six catches for 121 yards in the game, taking advantage of more targets after the Patriots elected to blanket then-top wideout Jordy Nelson. Now the roles might be reversed, and Adams could be the player who gets extra attention. If that’s the case, it won’t be much different from what Adams has faced all year. Adams has had at least 132 yards receiving in each of the last three games.