Rodgers falls short of 'great' expecations
Aaron Rodgers considers himself a bit of a Biblical scholar – at the very least, the Green Bay Packers quarterback has enough recall of passages that he does pretty well when the subject is on Jeopardy! – so he’s familiar with Luke 12:48.
From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
That’s also the way Rodgers views his role as the leader of the Pack, which is why he views Sunday’s season-ending playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers being, in large part, on him.
“The performance I had wasn’t good enough to win,” Rodgers said on his weekly radio show on 540 ESPN, 100.5 FM ESPN and ESPNWisconsin.com Tuesday. “I put a lot on my shoulders. The team expects greatness out of me every week. They didn’t get it on Sunday. So I’m disappointed about that.”
In the Packers’ 23-20 NFC Wild Card Playoff loss to the 49ers at Lambeau Field, Rodgers completed 17 of 26 passes for 177 yards with one touchdown, no interceptions and four sacks for a passer rating of 97.8. But the Packers’ offense started slowly, going three-and-out and punting on each of its first three possessions as Rodgers didn’t complete a first-quarter pass and the Packers were outgained, 118-6. Only the 49ers’ inability to cash in on a pair of red-zone opportunities – they settled for two field goals to lead 6-0 – and Tramon Williams’ momentum-shifting interception prevented the Packers from being in a deeper hole.
As it was, Rodgers led scoring drives that gave the Packers 7-6 and 17-13 leads, and a fourth-quarter field-goal drive that tied the game at 20-20 with 5 minutes, 6 seconds to play. But after having first-and-goal from the 49ers’ 9-yard line, the Packers ran Randall Cobb out of the backfield for 1 yard on first down, saw Rodgers roll right and have to throw the ball away when no one was open on second down, and watched Rodgers scramble for 2 yards on third down – a play that, had Rodgers somehow scored or thrown a touchdown pass would have been wiped out anyway by a Josh Sitton holding penalty.
“We made some plays. We got back in the game. We took the lead and then we had another big drive to put points on the board,” Rodgers said. “[I] felt good about both of our fourth-quarter drives. Didn’t think [the field-goal drive] would be our last drive of the season there – getting down there and kicking the tying field goal. It is frustrating to watch those last five-plus minutes on the clock and not be able to do anything, and then to see them celebrating on our field. That’s frustrating.
“We’re always going to look on offense what we could’ve done better. If you would’ve told our offense before the game the defense was going to hold them to 23 points, I think everybody in there would’ve said we’re going to win that game.”
Rodgers and the Packers have now lost three of their last four playoff games, including two at home, after winning four in a row – all away from Lambeau Field – en route to the Super Bowl XLV title. Rodgers now owns a 5-4 overall playoff record as a starter, with the team’s lone victory since the Super Bowl title an NFC Wild Card triumph over the Minnesota Vikings in January 2013. In his nine playoff starts, he’s completed 210 of 318 passes (66.0 percent) for 2,489 yards with 19 touchdowns and five interceptions (103.1 rating).
“We had some opportunities on that (final) drive to make some plays and that’s what playoff football is all about. It’s about making the plays that are there to be made and doing your job every down,” Rodgers said. “We could’ve put our defense in a little better situation if we got 7 on the board there and made [the 49ers] have to score a touchdown to win the game. But we didn’t get that job done.”
Rodgers was especially bothered by the offense’s slow start, which was an issue during last year’s 45-31 NFC Divisional Playoff loss to the 49ers at Candlestick Park as well, when the offense went three-and-out to start that game, too.
“It’s a bad start. Very slow start. We didn’t execute very well. We didn’t throw it well, we didn’t catch it very well, we didn’t block very well. Unfortunately, against them this year, on possessions where we achieved a first down, I bet our scoring percentage was up around 75 (percent). Most of the other drives were three-and-outs. Too much inconsistency against these guys. Both games we played them, we were three-and-out on the opening possession. That obviously came back to hurt us.”
Indeed, the Packers had nine possessions Sunday. Four ended in three-and-out punts. The other five resulted in two touchdowns, two field goals and one punt.
In their season-opening loss at San Francisco on Sept. 8, the Packers had 13 possessions, five of which ended in three-and-out punts. On the other eight, the Packers scored four touchdowns and a field goal, had one interception, punted once and had the game end.
And in their playoff loss last year, the Packers had two three-and-out punts in nine possessions. The other seven possessions ended in three touchdowns, a field goal, an interception and two punts.
Given the injuries the team sustained – including Rodgers missing essentially eight games with the broken collarbone he suffered Nov. 4 against Chicago, Green Bay went 2-5-1 with Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn at quarterback after a 5-2 start – it could be argued that the Packers were fortunate to simply make the playoffs at 8-7-1.
But while Rodgers said his fourth-down, game-winning, last-minute touchdown connection with Randall Cobb to beat the Bears in the regular-season finale and earn a playoff berth was “something special,” ultimately, he believes this team had a chance to go on a run had he played better against the 49ers.
“This is one of my proudest years I’ve ever been a part of. I’m proud to be a Green Bay Packer,” Rodgers said. “I battled through some injury stuff that was tough. I’d hope my teammates would say through the process I was a good teammate and I still gave a lot to the weekly plan and to game days. I think that’s the mark often of a teammate is during adversity how do they respond. So I’d hope my teammates would say – Scott, Seneca and Matt would say I helped them as much as I possibly could and tried to be a cheerleader, tried to be a voice of calm and reason at times on the head set.
“We got an opportunity and I was proud to give us a chance in the second season. That’s why I’m disappointed we didn’t make more of that.”
A look at Aaron Rodgers’ numbers in his nine career playoff starts.
|2009 at ARZ||28||42||423||4||1||121.4||L|
|2010 at PHI||18||27||180||3||0||122.5||W|
|2010 at ATL||31||36||366||3||0||136.8||W|
|2010 at CHI||17||30||244||0||2||55.4||W|
|2011 vs. NYG||26||46||264||2||1||78.5||L|
|2012 vs. MIN||23||33||274||1||0||104.9||W|
|2012 at SF||26||39||257||2||1||91.5||L|
|2013 vs. SF||17||26||177||1||0||97.8||L|
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.