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Over the past decade-plus, there have been three constants in the city of Green Bay, Wisconsin. The cheese has been fresh and delicious. The beer has been as cold as the winters. And Aaron Rodgers has played the quarterback position as well as anyone in the NFL.
Maybe as well as anyone ever has.
But after watching the Packers fritter away a double-digit lead in a 27-24 loss to the Seahawks that dropped the team to 4-5-1 and put it in real danger of missing the playoffs in back-to-back years for the first time in well over a decade, something has become clear. Painfully so. There was an elephant on the field Thursday night in Seattle—one we’ve all tried to pretend hasn’t been there since September.
Something’s wrong with Aaron Rodgers.
At first glance, Rodgers appears to be having another excellent season. The 34-year-old entered Week 11 with a 61.1 percent percentage, 17 touchdowns and a single interception. The 332 yards and two scores that Rodgers threw for against the Seahawks put the two-time NFL MVP over 3,000 yards for the season.
And Rodgers is still capable of making the sort of plays that have defined his Hall of Fame-worthy career, like his 54-yard touchdown strike to reserve tight end Robert Tonyan in the first quarter on Thursday.
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That is classic Aaron Rodgers—extend the play with his legs and then uncork a seed.
However, we’re only seeing glimpses of that Rodgers this year. The quarterback who skipped a pass intended for Marquez Valdes-Scantling on 3rd-and-2 on what wound up being Green Bay’s final possession of the game? We’ve never really seen that guy before. The guy who just fell to 0-5 on the road this year.
It isn’t hard to pinpoint the origin of this bizarro-Aaron Rodgers. Back in Week 1 against the Chicago Bears, Rodgers injured his knee. That he gutted out the second half and led the Packers to a miraculous comeback was just one more chapter in the Book of Aaron.
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Fans breathed a sigh of relief—sure, Rodgers would have to wear a brace for a while, but he was going to be all right. So long as Rodgers was all right, the Packers would be too.
Except Rodgers hasn’t really been all right since. His accuracy is way down—his completion percentage this season is his lowest since 2015 and his second-lowest since he became a starter in 2008. Rodgers is missing throws—just flat-out missing them—that he would usually be able to make in his sleep.
Throws like that third-down one-hop to Valdes-Scantling on that all-important fourth-quarter drive.
He’s also nowhere near as mobile as we’re accustomed to seeing him. He’s not Carson Palmer this year, but he’s not Aaron Rodgers either. Rodgers is getting sacked—a lot. Five times against the Seahawks. Thirty times in total this season.
As Gregg Bell of the Tacoma News-Tribune reported this week, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy acknowledged that Rodgers’ knee remains an issue.
“He’s managing it each and every day,” McCarthy said this week on a conference call. “It’s something that we knew was a big injury when it occurred. And you’ve just got to give him a tremendous amount of credit in what he does to get himself ready each and every week.”
Paul Sancya/Associated Press
The issue with Rodgers isn’t just internal, though. There are external factors at play as well.
For much of his time as the king of Titletown before this season, Rodgers took talented but flawed Green Bay teams deep into the playoffs. His scrambling ability compensated for subpar offensive line play. He could overcome a leaky defense by just going bonkers and outscoring opponents.
That isn’t happening this year. Green Bay’s flaws around Rodgers are more pronounced than ever. The defense has been decimated by injuries and personnel losses—especially on the back end. With Jordy Nelson gone and Randall Cobb (and now tight end Jimmy Graham) hurt, the dependable receiving options at his disposal are Davante Adams and…that’s it.
Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown have shown flashes, but they are rookies and look the part at times—including Thursday. Routes aren’t run properly. The scramble drills that Rodgers shines in keep falling apart because the young receivers don’t have the experience or rapport with Rodgers to know what to do and where to go when the pocket collapses.
Tailback Aaron Jones has been a bright spot of late, just as he was in scoring twice against Seattle. But his usage has been spotty—despite averaging over six yards a carry, Jones has carried the ball just 84 times this season.
That brings us to McCarthy. To say that some of McCarthy’s decisions this season have come under fire is an understatement. The carousel at running back. Play-calls like the 20-plus-yard double-move route he called on 3rd-and-short against Seattle.
Rodgers was sacked on the play, in case you were wondering.
Stephen Brashear/Associated Press
Never mind the decision not to challenge a Tyler Lockett “catch” on the game-winning drive. The ball moved. Had McCarthy risked his final timeout and challenged the play, it would have been overturned. He didn’t, and the Seahawks scored the deciding touchdown.
At his best, Rodgers can paper over a lot of cracks. Plug a lot of holes. But when he’s not, the cracks widen. The leaks get bigger. The losses pile up.
As they have this year, Rodgers has appeared to press that much more. Tried his level best to carry the team like he’s done so many times in the past. Only now when he tries to hold the ball longer to make something happen, there are fewer highlight-reel plays and more sacks and incompletions.
Mind you, none of this is meant as a slight against Rodgers. To his credit, he keeps banging away. He bristled Thursday at a question from ESPN.com’s Rob Demovsky in the postgame presser about Green Bay’s fading playoff hopes.
“Of course there’s hope,” Rodgers said. “Of course we believe in one another. It’s just going to take one galvanizing moment, whether that’s a speech, or a practice, or something that happens in a game.”
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There have been opportunities for that galvanizing moment. In New England. In Los Angeles. And in Seattle. But there was no rally. Just more losing.
The Packers can’t be completely written off yet. After all, this is the same team that started 4-6 two years ago before winning eight straight and coming one game from a trip to the Super Bowl.
But as things stand right now, it’s hard to imagine a team that hasn’t won away from Lambeau Field this season or beaten a contender since downing the Bears in Week 1 defeating the Vikings in Minnesota in Week 12.
The Packers just don’t seem to have it in them. Maybe it’s that their star quarterback hasn’t been right physically all season. Maybe it’s that this Green Bay team has suffered one too many injuries or has one too many flaws. Maybe it’s both.
There’s been another constant in Green Bay over the past decade. The Packers will go as far as Rodgers takes them. This year, that appears to be to the final gun in Week 17 and no further.
And that’s the most glaring indicator of all that Rodgers just isn’t right.