Aaron Rodgers has seemingly tried everything over the years. He’s gone to the “R-E-L-A-X” well and tapped a “run the table” prediction that his teammates had to live up to.
Now, add “might as well let it all hang out” to the mix.
With his team’s playoff hopes flickering at 4-6-1, Coach Mike McCarthy’s job in jeopardy and whispers about his own invincibility growing louder, perhaps doing just that against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday will turn the team around.
“Yeah, why not?” Rodgers told reporters. “If we lose, you guys are just going to write us off, so [we] might as well let it all hang out these last five [games].”
Only one opponent, the Chicago Bears, is over .500, but the Packers, undefeated at home and winless on the road, trail the Bears by 3.5 games and the Vikings by two games in the NFC North. Green Bay has lost two games in a row, but even more surprising is how Rodgers’s play lies at the heart of it. His statistics may not reveal any deficiencies in his game, but he has failed to do what has always spectacularly done: lift his teammates to a higher plane. Is it injuries (the broken collarbone that required 13 screws last fall or the knee injury in the season opener)? Is it age (he turns 35 on Sunday)? Is it McCarthy’s play-calling? For perhaps a combination of all of these, his fundamentals have come into question every time he doesn’t plant his right foot on a throw or holds the football too long or leaves an open receiver waving futilely for the ball.
“I don’t think I need to respond about fundamentals,” Rodgers told reporters. “I mean, I drill the fundamentals. I throw how I throw. I’m not playing any different this year. It’s just we’re not completing as many passes percentage-wise.
“I listen to my quarterback coach and my offensive coordinator and my head coach. My study of myself, I’m very critical of my own film. I’m not playing any differently, fundamental-wise. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t love it when it’s a certain way and then critique it when it’s the other way. I mean, you guys can because that’s what you guys get paid to do. Again, that’s the news cycle. They’re going to pick at things when you’re in a situation like this where we’re at. We’re 4-6-1 so it comes with the territory.”
Statistically, little looks off. He has passed for 20 touchdowns against one interception and has a 101.7 passer rating. But he has completed 61.7 percent of his passes, a figure that is the second-worst of his career. More troubling, he also leads the league with 46 throwaways. The next closest quarterback has 27. So, it’s not that Rodgers is bad, it’s that he’s just kind of average, throwing with confidence at times and at others sending passes into the turf. Sports Illustrated’s Andy Benoit speculated that the problem may lie with a style that “creates an illusion of dysfunction around him.” Rodgers scrambles and invents plays and the line or the coach gets the blame when it fails. It’s convenient.
Ryan Wood of the Packers Wire points out that “Rodgers is greedy when he doesn’t need to be,” often refusing to take “the path of least resistance [as he] tries to jam his outdated style of playing quarterback into an offense just begging for a trustworthy distributor.”
Whatever is going on with Rodgers and the team, there was a great deal of discussion about it Wednesday at Lambeau Field. Against the Cardinals, the Packers figure to do better than scoring three points in the second half, as they have done in their last two games with the season slipping away. There is a huge “disconnect between Rodgers and McCarthy,” according to Pete Dougherty, and “short of a miracle finish it’s hard to see how McCarthy survives this. Rodgers (94.0 rating Sunday) isn’t playing well, even now that he’s healthy, and that’s at the root of what has ailed this team all year. If McCarthy wasn’t able to coax it out of Rodgers for this game, with the season on the line, then it’s hard to see it ever coming.”
Meanwhile, there’s that impending birthday and all it means.
“Obviously, I’ve got a lot more gray in the beard than I did a few years ago,” he told reporters after the game Sunday. “So I know that football mortality catches up to everybody, and you never want to lose a season – especially when you felt great starting the season about our prospects. But we’re going to battle the next five weeks and put ourselves in a position to be in the conversation. Then hopefully it’ll be enough, and like I always say, you’ve just got to get in. So we’ve got to win these five and see what happens.”