The Packers did exactly what they needed to do for two and a half quarters in Foxboro, one of the best homefield advantages in football. After a huge defensive stop, Rodgers and Co. were driving late in the third quarter, tied 17-17, before another fateful fumble, this time by Aaron Jones.
This is the second week in a row that the Packers have been derailed by a costly fumble (there was still plenty of game left, so we can’t say for sure how the non-fumble would have impacted the fourth quarter, but it’s safe to assume that the Packers would’ve gotten at least 3 out of that drive), and it’s also the second week in a row that the Packers have lost the turnover margin 1-0—it’s extremely difficult to beat two of the best teams in the league on the road when you aren’t forcing takeaways.
With a record of 3-4-1, Green Bay once again faces an uphill climb if they want to reach the postseason—a pattern that’s become all too familiar with Aaron Rodgers at the helm.
Two years ago, it required nothing short of a miracle (a prophetic “Run the Table” quote from Rodgers) for the Packers to reach the playoffs after starting 4-6. This season, they sit under .500 with a trip to Seattle and all three divisional opponents still to come on the docket. Until the Packers are mathematically eliminated, they can’t be counted out, but it will take a level of play close to perfection to play football in January.
So what has gone wrong for the Packers? It could be that they are just a very average team, but we’ll table that argument for the time being because we’ve seen this team play at a high level and hang with some of the best in the NFL.
It starts at the top—no, not Aaron Rodgers (we’ll get to him later).
Mike McCarthy. In recent years, there have been many calls for the coach’s head after mistakes and underachievement of a team with a Hall of Fame quarterback. And while I do think his time in Green Bay is coming to an end, he’s done a lot for this franchise and the fanbase can’t give up on him while he still dons the green and gold.
That being said, the play-calling has to become more creative—there are few times when watching a Packer game that I think “Wow, that was good play design”. But maybe more importantly, just more common sensical play-calling. To name a few examples from Sunday night’s loss:
- A wide receiver screen on third and goal at the 15 is a give-up play—you have the offensive weapons to score a touchdown, even from that far out.
- With a minute left in the half and a chance to go 2-for-1, they choose to roll Rodgers wide to his left to scramble for the first down rather than hand it off up the middle for one yard to Aaron Jones, who averaged over five yards a carry.
The second issue is playing on the road—the Packers are 0-4 in road games, as they join the Browns, Raiders, Cowboys, and 49ers as the only teams to have zero road wins. Rodgers told media this week “we have to learn how to win on the road”—if the trend continues, the Packers will find themselves with a 7-8-1, a half game better than when Brett Hundley played half the season last year. With away games in tough environments against Seattle, Minnesota, Chicago, and New York, something has to change. And quickly.
And the final concern with the team is unequivocally the most important, and it happens to be about the most important player on this team.
Aaron Rodgers looks off. He can still make brilliant throws and extend plays every now and then, but he’s only completing 60.6% of his passes—the lowest of his career as a starter. We’ve seen his throwaways increase, and it’s noticeably clear that he doesn’t look comfortable in the pocket. Obviously, the knee injury is a concern, but we’ve seen him power through injury before (see 2014 calf injury). It could be father time, but Rodgers still appears to be physically fine. Whatever the problem may be, time is running out on the season to right the ship, and it starts with Aaron Rodgers playing like the former 2x-MVP.