GREEN BAY, Wis. – Aaron Rodgers walked off Lambeau Field feeling “gutted” after the Green Bay Packers lost the NFC Championship Game.
And for good reason. Beyond his acknowledgement of his uncertain future with the team, there was the feeling the Packers let the opportunity of opportunities slip through their fingers following their 31-26 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In the new 14-team playoff format, only one team per conference gets a first-round bye. In the NFC, that was the Packers. For the first time in Rodgers’ 13 years as the starting quarterback, he had the NFC title game on the home turf.
It didn’t matter, which only added to the pain of a fourth loss in the conference championship game since winning the Super Bowl in 2010.
“There’s always change. That’s the only constant in this business,” Rodgers said after the game. “It’s really tough to get to this point. Really, really tough, especially with there being only one bye week in the playoffs. It’s a grind just to get to this point. And that makes the finality of it all kind of hit you like a ton of bricks. That’s why it’s a gutting feeling in your stomach. Ugh.”
The game was there for the taking. The Packers won the turnover battle 3-2, a noteworthy number considering the history under coach Matt LaFleur. That’s because in his two seasons, the Packers had won the turnover battle 19 times in regular-season play. They won every one of those games.
And yet, with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, that trend didn’t mean a thing.
It’s no secret the team that wins the turnover battle is likely the team that will win the game. Last season, the team that won the turnover battle finished 163-35-1. That’s a resounding .822 winning percentage. Green Bay went 10-0 last season.
There’s something to be said for simply not losing the game. That’s why with Rodgers, who is No. 1 all-time in interception percentage, the Packers have been consistent winners. Moreover, running backs coach Ben Sirmans has been tremendous in coaching ball security. Green Bay had the third-fewest fumbles per game last season and the fifth-fewest in 2019.
After tying the franchise record with only 13 giveaways in 2019, the Packers led the NFL with just 11 in 2020.
Ball security, obviously, will be worth watching during the 2021 NFL season due to the potentially seismic shift at quarterback from Rodgers to Jordan Love. During his final season at Utah State, Love threw an FBS-high 17 interceptions in 13 games. Rodgers, by contrast, threw 17 interceptions in 53 games the past four seasons.
Once again, the primary runner will be Aaron Jones, who fumbled six times the past three seasons but coughed it up twice in the NFC Championship Game. The second of those fumbles put the Packers in a 28-10 hole. There is a noteworthy change on the depth chart, with AJ Dillon replacing Jamaal Williams as the No. 2 back. The primary backup the past four seasons, Williams’ ball security was impeccable. Last year’s second-round pick, AJ Dillon, will move into the No. 2 role. He fumbled only four times in 568 touches at Boston College in 2018 and 2019. Rookie Kylin Hill, the front-runner to be the No. 3 back, finished his career with 448 consecutive touches without a fumble dating to his freshman year.
“I treat every back as though they have an issue (with ball security), because I think that’s important to try to reinforce that particular skill,” Sirmans said during OTAs. “You look at Jamaal Williams, he never fumbled here in all of his four years here. But I still treated him as though he was a guy who ran with the ball and was vulnerable for it to come out.”