TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — While Aaron Rodgers has a deep appreciation for what Tom Brady has accomplished during an unparalleled NFL career, he doesn’t see himself following the seven-time Super Bowl champion’s lead of playing well into his 40s.
“I’ll be doing something else. I have a lot of other interests outside the game,” Rodgers said, looking ahead to only the fifth head-to-head matchup of teams led by the star quarterbacks, who also are friends off the field.
“Game’s been really really good to me. I feel I’ve given my all to the game,” the 38-year-old Rodgers added. “At some point, it’ll be time to do something else, and I strongly believe that’ll be before 45.”
Brady’s already won two Super Bowls in his 40s. Less than six weeks after retiring in February, he announced he was returning for a 23rd season to pursue “unfinished business” with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who host Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.
The league’s all-time passing leader turned 45 during training camp. What impresses Rodgers most about Brady’s longevity is how well he continues to play.
“The consistency where you’re still playing at a high level and there’s not the drop-off. Every great player fears turning into a real below-average player on the way out. I don’t think anybody wants to really hang on,” said Rodgers, who's in his 18th season — all with the Packers.
“Maybe some guys just want to get another year, or they’re maybe on a team where they can do a lot less,” Rodgers added. “But when you’ve achieved at a high level for a long time, you try and stay there for as long as you can.”
The Packers quarterback has an admirer in Brady, too.
They’ve met four previous times as starters, with Rodgers’ lone victory coming in 2014, when Brady was with the New England Patriots.
“He’s an amazing player, has been for a long time. I love watching him play. He’s from California, too, so I feel like we’ve got a little bit of a connection,” Brady said. “He’s an older guy now. He’s been a great player in the same place for a long time.”
Tampa Bay is 2-0 against Green Bay since Brady joined the Bucs in 2020, including a 31-26 victory in the NFC championship game two seasons ago.
The Bucs will play without leading receiver Mike Evans, who’s serving a one-game suspension for his role in an on-field brawl at New Orleans last week. Brady could also be without two other primary targets — Chris Godwin (hamstring) and Julio Jones (knee) — who sat out against the Saints.
“Part of the job is to deal with different people being in. It’s part of the demolition derby that’s the game we play,” Brady said. “Guys are in and out. You’ve got to adjust.”
Packers rookie receiver Christian Watson went to Plant High School in Tampa and expects to have plenty of friends and relatives watching him Sunday. The second-round pick from North Dakota State has five catches for 43 yards through his first two games.
This won’t be his first time playing at Raymond James Stadium. Watson said he played a youth league game there.
“That was definitely exciting playing as a kid, looking up and wanting to play in the league one day, to be able to play in an NFL stadium, that was really cool,” Watson said.
Tampa Bay is off to a 2-0 start despite Brady not being at his best during victories at Dallas and New Orleans. He didn’t have to be, with the defense limiting the Cowboys to three points and not yielding a touchdown to the Saints until the fourth quarter of a 20-10 victory. The Bucs lead the NFL with 10 sacks and have forced six turnovers.
Rodgers has been sacked seven times this season, which doesn’t bode well heading into a game against an opponent with a relentless pass rush.
Although both teams have changed quite a bit in time since, the Bucs beat the Packers twice during the 2020 season — including the NFC championship game — and collected five sacks in each of those wins.
“They definitely like to pressure quite a bit and then they do a great job of getting the ball out,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. “They’re one of the best in the business, always punching at the ball. The guys in the secondary have really good ball skills, so that creates another problem.”
Green Bay’s offensive line benefited last week from the return of tackle Elgton Jenkins, who was appearing in his first game since tearing his left anterior cruciate ligament last Nov. 21.
AP Sports Writer Steve Megargee in Green Bay, Wisconsin, contributed to this report.