Aaron Rodgers responds to being called Gandalf the White by opposing cornerback
GREEN BAY – It's probably a pretty small overlap in the Venn diagram circles of professional football players and high fantasy films, but those unlikely sets did indeed meet on Wednesday, in advance of the Packers' Week 11 game, with the exchange of some fun "Lord of the Rings" references.
It all started when Washington cornerback Josh Norman said in a conference call with Green Bay reporters that Aaron Rodgers – despite a thus-far disappointing season individually and for his team – still had plenty of quarterbacking magic up his sleeve.
"Let's not get things mistaken over there. That's No. 12," Norman said. "That's pretty much Gandalf the White over there. That's a wizard. That's who he is to me."
Norman was referring to the LOTR wizard character, portrayed by actor Ian McKellen, who is initially known as Gandalf the Grey but later returns from death as Gandalf the White. It was certainly an unexpected comparison, though not necessarily unwelcome.
"That guy can hit you anytime, any place, anywhere, any given day, any given game," said Norman, who was signed by Washington as a free agent in the offseason. "I really don't care what the outside noise is."
Rodgers, who has completed 63.1 percent of his passes this season for 2,410 yards with 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions, has endured criticism for not playing as flawlessly and productively as in past years. His 93.9 passer rating so far in 2016 is down from his career rating of 103.3 – still currently the best in NFL history – and he's on pace for his most interceptions in a season since his first year as a starter.
But Norman's not buying the decline.
"I know who we're facing, and that's a cerebral quarterback that's the best of the best at what he's doing, regardless of what others may think of him," Norman said. "I know for a fact that that is the toughest quarterback challenge to face because he has everything in his toolbox, in his arsenal, to make them win."
A 2015 All-Pro cornerback, Norman is himself considered one of the NFL's best players who typically covers the opponent's best wide receiver. Against the Packers, he will likely match up all game opposite either Jordy Nelson or Davante Adams.
So how does Norman plan to defend on Sunday the once-explosive but recently mediocre Green Bay offense, which is ranked 15th in the league in yards per game (335.9) and 11th in points (24.8)?
"You have to do a lot of different things. You can't show the same looks," he said. "Those back-shoulders, man, shoot, you defend them or you can't. You just have to be in good position, and if they get one, you tip your hat to them, and just come back and get the next one."
A few hours later, standing at his stall in the Packers' locker room, Rodgers was asked – fairly quickly – if he was a "Lord of the Rings" fan.
"I am, yeah," Rodgers said with a grin when questioned about Norman's comments. "I heard that; I love it. (Gandalf the White) is one of my favorite characters, so I appreciate the comparison. You know, Gandalf kind of fell into oblivion there, and he came back and he was a lot more powerful as the White.
"I don't really have any gray in the beard yet, but I'll take any compliment from Josh like that, especially a 'Lord of the Rings' one. I mean, he didn't say Gimli, so I feel pretty good about that."
An allusion to the dwarf warrior character, Rodgers will hope to avoid playing like Gimli in Washington. He'll have to be sharper than he was last week against the Titans, when he threw for 371 yards and two touchdowns, but also had two interceptions among his 51 passing attempts. Rodgers said Wednesday the Packers' offense needs to be "more efficient," in order to start fast, get into a better rhythm and help the defense. After claiming running back Christine Michael off waivers, Green Bay will presumably try to run the ball more on Sunday.
"If we've got to throw it 60 times to win, we've done that before," Rodgers said of the rushing attack, which has been stalled by injuries and ineffectiveness. "Obviously you'd love to have some balance, but, at this point in the season, it comes down to winning football games."
Green Bay has lost three straight and has a record of 4-5, below .500 this late in a season for the first time in eight years and in third place in the NFC North division. Trying to prevent Rodgers and the rest of the Packers from winning in Washington – in Sunday Night Football primetime – will be Norman, who, for reasons of either authenticity or psychological warfare, still had only the highest praise for the two-time MVP.
"What I'm concerned about is facing a cerebral quarterback that can light you up at any time," Norman said. "Yeah, I'm sure they're going to come in hungry. They took a pretty bad beating last week, they really did. I don't feel like they're going to come in here and lay this thing down. They're going to come out here fiery hot.
"A-Rod already said that it's on him, so I'm pretty sure that he's going to come out ready to go. I've got to be ready to go, too, because he's not going to shy away from nothing, I know that. I need to be on top of my P's and Q's, for sure."
And whether Gandalf the White, or his effusive counterpart, is more successful on Sunday will likely determine who comes out on top with the W or L.
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