Aaron Rodgers’ on-field admonishment of wide receiver James Jones in Thursday night’s victory over the Chicago Bears remains a topic of discussion, four days after it occurred.
The Green Bay Packers quarterback demonstratively yelled at Jones after Jones was the intended receiver on an interception during the Packers’ 23-10 victory. Rodgers’ criticism, which was caught by the NFL Network cameras and seen by most of the crowd of 70,543 at Lambeau Field, came in a game in which Bears quarterback Jay Cutler went after his left tackle, J’Marcus Webb, after Webb was beaten for a sack by Packers linebacker Clay Matthews. Cutler not only yelled at Webb but also bumped him.
Since then, ESPN NFL analyst Tedy Bruschi has said that Rodgers’ criticism of Jones was warranted while Cutler’s of Webb was not, while the agent for tight end Jermichael Finley chimed in on Twitter about Rodgers’ leadership.
On Friday, when asked about Rodgers decision to yell at Jones immediately after the play and the comparisons being drawn to Cutler’s actions, Packers coach Mike McCarthy replied: “I think there’s definitely a difference. There’s a line between playing with a lot of emotion and being disrespectful, and sometimes it looks the same. I think that’s the reality of that particular situation. He’s not trying to disrespect James Jones – by no means. He’s competing, he’s extremely competitive and they talked about it immediately on the sidelines. I think that’s the case.”
It’s worth noting that Jones is the only player Rodgers has ever gone to bat for publicly about a contract issue – Rodgers implored general manager Ted Thompson to re-sign Jones before the 2011 season, which he did – and Rodgers has stood by Jones and spoken repeatedly about his importance in the offense, despite a number of crucial drops in the 2010 season.
Still, there was no missing Rodgers yelling at Jones after the interception. One of the few people who didn’t see the exchange was Packers offensive coordinator Tom Clements, who works games from the sideline. Clements said he didn’t see Rodgers and Jones, so he said he was “not sure what you’re referring to. Without being there, I’m not going to make a comment on it.”
But speaking on ESPN Radio, Bruschi, who played 13 NFL seasons and won three Super Bowls with the New England Patriots, drew a distinct difference between getting on a teammate for making a mental error and showing him up for a physical error – something Rodgers has said himself on a number of occasions.
"I don't even think it's a big thing that [Cutler] bumped him or he pushed him. The big thing was about when he chose to get on J'Marcus Webb, and the difference between when Aaron Rodgers chose to get on Jones, the wide receiver,” Bruschi said. “Now J'Marcus Webb, all he did was get beat physically. He was in the right place. He did his best to block Clay Matthews, and he got beat. Clay Matthews got the sack on Jay Cutler.
"Clay Matthews has beaten many offensive tackles who are a lot better than J'Marcus Webb. So when you get on somebody and embarrass somebody on national TV for getting beat physically, it's almost like you're kicking a man when he's down. OK, yes, you lost. He's just not better than Clay Matthews. Clay Matthews was better than him on that play. There's nothing you can do. There's no scheme or anything. It was one man against another, and you lose. You kick him when he's down, it's not the right thing to do.
"James Jones made a mental error. ... That's when you can get on players. That's when you can get in their grill because they made a poor decision. That justifies any type of criticism you can give them on national TV or not."
Packers players had Saturday, Sunday and Monday off, and Jones, who caught two passes for minus-1 yard on five targeted passes against the Bears, did not speak with reporters after the game. He wasn’t able to haul in what appeared to be an overthrown pass from Rodgers in the end zone that glanced off his hands, then did not run his route properly on Rodgers’ fourth-quarter interception, according to McCarthy.
Blake Baratz, the agent for Finley, then took to Twitter on Sunday to share his thoughts on Rodgers and his leadership, listing Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Tom Brady as being excellent leaders and adding that Cutler “doesn’t get it.” When a follower asked Baratz why he left Rodgers off the list, Baratz replied that Rodgers is a great quarterback but “isn't a great leader,” saying that leaders “take the blame” and make everyone better. “He doesn't,” Baratz wrote.
Last season, Rodgers spoke on his weekly radio show on 540 ESPN and ESPNWisconsin.com about the times he’s jumped players on the field for mistakes.
Asked if it’s hard for him to hold back when he’s really angry after a play, Rodgers replied, “It is. It is. It really is. I think it’s difficult when you’re a player and you’re emotional and you care about the game. And I think we all care about the game, but some people show their emotions differently. There’s times when I’ve probably shown up guys when I shouldn’t have. But it’s something you really have to think about. I think I’m better at it now than when I first came into the league. I mean, I was so demonstrative and I’d show my frustration. I think I’m definitely more restrained now. But there are just certain times where you know you need to be focused and not have mental mistakes and your emotions get the best of you.”
When it was suggested that not showing up teammates can be a challenge for most quarterbacks, Rodgers added, “Just watch any game. It’s difficult to not be emotional. We put so much into this game, and I’m not going ot make excuses about it. Like I said, I’ve probably shown up guys I shouldn’t have. And guys do it back to you as well. I mean, it’s not a one-way street. But it is frustrating when there’s mental mistakes.”
A few weeks later, after several of his receivers dropped passes, Rodgers revisited the mental-versus-physical mistakes discussion.
“(A drop is) frustrating, very frustrating at the time, but not as frustrating as a mental mistake. I’ve said in the past, physical mistakes are going to happen. It’s part of the game. We’re human, we make errors physically,” Rodgers said. “But the mental errors are ones I just really have a hard time with because I think that’s all about preparation. And I know the kind of time that the coaches put in, getting us ready with this game plan, getting us prepared. I know the kind of time that I put in, preparing myself and I think there’s an expectation that each player puts in a similar amount of time to be ready for the game. And those mental mistakes are just uncalled for in my opinion.
“That’s why I’m more upset about those than the drops. The drops are going to happen. It hurts worse when a drop becomes an interception but that’s part of the game. It’s going to happen. You’re frustrated by it, but what are you going to do? Guy’s not trying to drop the ball and gift-wrap them a pick. It’s frustrating in a key situation, but they’re going to happen. I think you just have to learn to deal with them. It’s frustrating right when it happens because you’re just ticked about it but it’s a part of the game.”
In an offseason interview with ESPN Radio’s Colin Cowherd, running back James Starks, a frequent recipient of Rodgers’ public rebukes, said he wasn’t bothered by them.
“He’s gotten under me a couple times – (for) missing a block, things like that, things he knows I can do better. That’s his job to do it. I didn’t take offense to it at all,” Starks said. “ (He’ll) scream at me a little bit – in games and in practice. If he knows I should do something right, he’ll let me know. It’s not embarrassing to me. He’s been there, he knows the ropes, and I’m learning from one of the greatest. I take it as a learning experience.”