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  • Surgically repaired shoulder and eight-game layoff, no matter—Green Bay needs their QB to be great if the team wants to reach the playoffs ... and Rodgers was not great against the Carolina.
By Jonathan Jones
December 17, 2017

CHARLOTTE — Expecting Aaron Rodgers to return from his eight-week layoff and be the same ol’ Rodgers with his surgically repaired collarbone would be a stretch. The Packers were likely expecting for Rodgers to be somewhat rusty.

But that rust showed significantly throughout Sunday’s 31–24 loss to the Panthers. With the exception of his first touchdown pass, Rodgers made no throws that were distinctly him. He tossed three unnecessary interceptions after having thrown just three in his previous six games, and now the Packers may be sitting at home in January for the first time in nine years.

With the playoffs on the line (and the NFC North locked up by Minnesota), Green Bay cannot afford to have its two-time MVP playing sloppily, even after missing eight games. It seems almost certain that the NFC Wild Card winners will need at least 10 wins, and even that is out of the question now for the 7–7 Packers.

Rodgers was his usual slippery self, scrambling for an eight-yard pick-up in the red zone in the first quarter, wiggling out of a would-be Kawann Short sack in the second quarter and then picking up consecutive first downs with his feet late in the third quarter. But it’s his arm on which the Packers’ hopes rest, and his arm failed him.

The first of Rodgers’s trio of picks was the most understandable one. Defensive tackle Kyle Love pressured Rodgers on a second down in the second quarter, and Rodgers threw the ball near the sideline after seeing Jordy Nelson had tripped up the seam. The ball floated and cornerback Daryl Worley was able to get his second interception in as many weeks.

But his other two passes to the Panthers seemed to be a direct result of his repaired throwing shoulder. In the third quarter Rodgers looked for Randall Cobb deep in the middle of the field, but he underthrew the ball badly and was intercepted by big nickel Colin Jones. Jones saw more playing time on Sunday thanks to Ron Rivera’s decision to sit a healthy Captain Munnerlyn after the veteran’s complaints about playing time this week.

And then again Rodgers’s underthrown ball cost the team, this time later in the quarter. He scrambled out of the pocket and looked deep for Nelson, but the ball couldn’t make it to his favorite target and was picked off by James Bradberry (who also got his second interception in as many weeks).

“I feel pretty good, I just missed some throws,” Rodgers said. “I missed some ones I’m used to hitting. I underthrew Randall Cobb for a pick. I was trying to throw it away to [Adams], it got picked. I threw the ball in the dirt to Geronimo Allison in the red zone. Just uncharacteristic plays. Just disappointed in my performance today and obviously didn't play very well...

“Just missed some throws, and obviously I hold myself to high standards and this comes in well below in those standards.”

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Not since 2009 has Rodgers thrown three interceptions in a game, and he had only done it three times before in his career. The fourth time may have been the worst of them all, though. It’s difficult to see these Packers now getting into the playoffs when the NFC is as tough as it’s been in years.

Carolina gave Green Bay an opportunity to get back into the game with less than three minutes left. Greg Olsen couldn’t come up with the onside kick (yes, sometimes they work in favor of the Packers) and gifted the Packers the ball in Panthers’ territory. But a Geronimo Allison fumble ended that threat nearly as quickly as it began.

Green Bay is constructed in a way that it requires great games from Rodgers. The defense can give up 31 points because the offense, with Rodgers, can get 32 points. And so the Packers needed fewer interceptions and more from its generational quarterback than his 287 yards and three touchdowns, surgically repaired shoulder or not.

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