During his 15 seasons as the Green Bay Packers starter, Aaron Rodgers made 11 playoff appearances and dueled some great quarterbacks during that time. Whether it was Matt Ryan, Russell Wilson, Eli Manning, Tom Brady, or even Ben Roethlisberger in a Super Bowl, Rodgers faced off against some great quarterbacks in the postseason. However, there was one all-time great quarterback that Rodgers never got to face in the playoffs: Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints.
Rodgers and Brees are described by many as two of the greatest and most efficient quarterbacks of the 2010s. Both quarterbacks had prolific careers and elevated their respective franchises to new heights. However, the two only met five times in their careers, with Rodgers holding the head-to-head edge with a 3-2 record. The two quarterbacks even had the chance to meet in the playoffs four times in their respective careers, but fate intervened and we never saw that big-name duel.
Today, let’s go over the missed opportunities for one of the all-time great QB playoff duels we never got to see.
2009: Kurt Warner comes between a Rodgers-Brees Divisional Round duel
The Packers visited the Arizona Cardinals for a 2009 Wild Card Round matchup, with the winner earning the right to face the top-seeded Saints at the Louisiana Superdome in the Divisional Round. Rodgers and Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner put on a show, throwing for a combined 801 yards and nine touchdowns as the high-scoring game went to overtime tied at 45-all. However, a Rodgers sack-fumble in overtime was returned for a game-winning touchdown by Cardinals linebacker Karlos Dansby as Arizona won the game 51-45. The Cardinals themselves went on to fall to the Saints, as Brees would go on to claim his first and only Super Bowl title.
2011: Rodgers and Brees’ high-scoring offenses both get taken out in the Divisional Round
Rodgers and Brees had put up two of the most efficient seasons by a quarterback in NFL history during the 2011 season, and it seemed like the two were destined to meet in the NFC Championship. But while the defending champion Packers went 15-1 and had the NFC’s top seed, the Saints’ 13-3 record relegated them to the Wild Card round after they lost tiebreakers with the San Francisco 49ers. As in 2009, fate had other plans, and both teams actually missed the conference championship.
The 2011 Packers became the only 15-1 team in NFL history to lose their first playoff game when Eli Manning’s New York Giants came into Lambeau Field and ambushed the league’s best offense with their stout defense and efficient play by Manning, taking a 37-20 upset win. The 49ers, meanwhile, carved up the Saints’ defense and pulled out an upset victory of their own, winning 36-32.
An NFC Championship showdown would’ve been a rematch of the 2011 season opener in Green Bay, which the Packers won 42-34. It was revealed during the 2012 offseason that Rodgers was among four quarterbacks targeted by a bounty program that the Saints ran from 2009 to 2011, so maybe it was for the best that the two didn’t meet that postseason.
2019: Kirk Cousins spoils a Divisional Round duel at Lambeau
The 49ers, Packers, and Saints all went an NFC-best 13-3 during the regular season, but the 49ers and Packers got the top two seeds and first-round byes while the Saints were once again relegated to the Wild Card round, where Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota Vikings awaited them. Experts and fans penciled in a Brees-Rodgers playoff duel at Lambeau Field, but the Vikings had other plans.
Mike Zimmer’s squad came into New Orleans and ambushed the Saints, holding the Saints offense to 324 total yards, forcing two turnovers from Brees, and holding the Saints to 4-for-11 on third down attempts. The game went into overtime tied at 20-all, with the Vikings getting the ball first. Brees’ poor play and terrible clock management by head coach Sean Payton caught up to the Saints, as Cousins hit Kyle Rudolph for a game-winning touchdown on the Vikings’ first possession.
Instead of finally getting that big-name matchup, we saw the Packers play Russell Wilson and an injury-ravaged Seattle Seahawks squad in the Divisional Round, which wasn’t exactly the headliner duel that we all wanted.
2020: Tom Brady spoils Brees’ final game at the Superdome
As in 2019, the Packers went 13-3 during the 2020 season and got a first-round bye, this time as the NFC’s top seed. While the Saints went 12-4 and got the conference’s second seed, the NFL’s new 14-team playoff format meant only the top seed got the bye. That meant that the Saints would again be relegated to the Wild Card Round, where they beat the Chicago Bears. Next up? A duel with Tom Brady and his new team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
After the Packers defeated Jared Goff and the injury-riddled Los Angeles Rams in the Divisional Round, fans eagerly tuned into the Brees-Brady duel to see which big-name QB would get the right to face Rodgers in the NFC Championship Game. Brees, who had turned 42 years old just days prior to the game, looked every bit his age as his three interceptions sent the Saints to a 30-20 loss in what would be the final game of his career. For the fourth and final time, Brees missed out on a chance for a playoff duel with Rodgers.
Despite another missed chance for a Brees-Rodgers playoff game, we did get to see a Brady vs. Rodgers NFC Championship, which Brady won as his Buccaneers went on to win the Super Bowl that year. As with 2011, a Saints-Packers playoff game would’ve been a rematch of a regular season contest, as the Packers beat the Saints 37-30 during a Week 3 Sunday Night game at the Superdome.
Drew Brees vs. Aaron Rodgers will always be one of the biggest what-ifs in NFL playoff history. It’s the NFL equivalent to not getting to see LeBron James vs. Kobe Bryant in the NBA Finals. The only takeaway I can think of here is that for every great QB duel we get in the playoffs, we always miss out on one. This playoff matchup had the potential to be something special, and it’s a shame that we never got to see it.