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Father Time Sacks Every Quarterback; Has He Sacked Rodgers, Too?

A longer-than-usual offseason is headlined by one franchise-shifting question: After a dismal season, is Aaron Rodgers capable of bouncing back and winning a championship?
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – Father Time is undefeated.

Great players can’t outlast the career hourglass forever. At some point, some combination of declining athleticism, attrition, reflexes and desire get the best of every professional athlete, no matter the sport or their level of greatness. For a football player, the choices are get out of bounds before it’s too late or get sacked.

As a quarterback, the career sack can happen quickly.

Bart Starr led the NFL in completion percentage in 1966, 1968 and 1969 but closed his career with eight touchdowns vs. 16 interceptions in 1970 and 1971. Johnny Unitas threw 10 touchdowns vs. 22 interceptions as a part-time starter during his final three seasons. Peyton Manning went from 55 touchdowns vs. 10 interceptions in 2013 to nine touchdowns vs. 17 interceptions in 2015. Brett Favre threw 33 touchdowns vs. seven interceptions in 2009 to 11 touchdowns vs. 19 interceptions in 2010.

Has Father Time extended his NFL sacks lead by taking down Aaron Rodgers?

Rodgers won MVP honors in 2020 and 2021. In 2020, he led the NFL in completion percentage, touchdown percentage and interception percentage – the rare quarterback percentage Triple Crown. In 2021, he led the NFL in touchdown percentage and interception percentage. He paced the league in passer rating both seasons.

In 2022, Rodgers posted the lowest passer rating of his career. His completion percentage was down by about 5 percent over his MVP seasons. He threw for the fewest yards of his healthy seasons, and missed his career high in interceptions by one.

All season, you waited for Rodgers to catch fire. It never happened. The Packers clawed back into the playoff race with four consecutive wins, only to have their season end with a dreary loss to the Detroit Lions.

The game was teed up for Rodgers to have one of those legendary moments. Big game. Prime time. At home. In the cold. Against a dome team. Against one of the worst defenses in the NFL. Against a team that made up stuff.

Instead, in his latest big-game failure, he threw for 205 yards and a killer final interception.

That led Rodgers to address one of the toughest questions of his career. At age 39, with a disappointing game to cap a disappointing season, does one of the NFL’s living legends still have it?

“The answer is yes,” Rodgers said.

To state the obvious, this was a different season for Rodgers. Throughout his career, Rodgers threw passes to established No. 1 receivers. Donald Driver and Greg Jennings passed the baton to Jordy Nelson. Nelson passed the baton to Davante Adams.

There was nobody there to grab the baton from Adams following his trade to the Raiders. The veteran addition of Sammy Watkins, predictably, was a bust. The three players selected in the draft, predictably, were slow to assimilate.

Was Rodgers to blame for skipping the voluntary practices? Was Rodgers to blame for not easing up on his exacting standards? Was it too much to ask rookies who played in FCS (North Dakota State’s Christian Watson in the second round), a lower-tier FBS school (Nevada’s Romeo Doubs in the fourth round) and mostly in FCS (Nebraska’s Samori Toure in the seventh round) to offset the loss of Adams?

Whatever the reason – or however you rank the reasons – Rodgers looked like just another replaceable quarterback. Without the uncanny connection with Adams that was built on tens of thousands of reps and countless behind-the-scenes conversations, Rodgers ranked 20th in completion percentage, 23rd in yards per attempt and 16th in passer rating.

“I feel like obviously losing Davante was a big deal,” Rodgers continued. “We didn’t fill that void. Nobody can. He’s super-human. He’s phenomenal. There was hope in certain things that were going to fill that void. Ultimately, that just didn’t happen.

“The things we were able to do, I think, may have been taken for granted at times because we were able to create so many different things in the moment over the years and, especially the last couple of years, because not much changed other than his absence from the lineup.”

That’s not the only thing that changed. Rodgers’ level of performance changed, too.

Heading into one of the biggest offseasons in memory – don’t we say that every year, though? – the Packers must figure out their future at quarterback. It’s a hugely complicated decision that starts with Rodgers’ desire to reboot for Year 19, the internal analysis of his performance, Jordan Love’s presence on the roster and finances.

Less than a year ago, coming off those back-to-back MVPs, the Packers signed Rodgers to a three-year, $150 million contract. In perhaps the most complicated contract in NFL history, there are no good times to part ways but this offseason would be least-worst of the options.

“We made a really big commitment to him last offseason, so I think as we did that it wasn’t certainly for just this year,” general manager Brian Gutekunst said on Friday.

If that’s the signal that Rodgers will be the starter in 2023, so long as Rodgers wants to come back, then what’s the future of Love, who presumably would have little interest in spending a fourth year as the backup?

Given Rodgers’ performance in 2022, which quarterback gives the team a better chance to win in 2023?

“You’re talking about a four-time MVP, right?” Gutekunst said. “So, we are very excited about Jordan and where he’s at, there’s no doubt about that. But Jordan’s never played a 16-, 17-game season and gone through all that stuff. Where Aaron’s at, the level he’s at, there’s not many teams he wouldn’t give the best chance to win.”

Rodgers sees a roster with a chance to win. He thought the team was “probably a couple players away” from contending. Those players could be on the roster, he said, no doubt an acknowledgment of Watson’s prodigious talent. With Watson and Doubs and a stabilized offensive line, “this offense could look a lot different” in 2023, he said.

Will Rodgers be back to run that offense? Or, perhaps the better question is should Rodgers be back to run that offense?

At a place called Titletown, this should be the only thing that matters: Can Rodgers, with a healthy thumb and more experienced receiver corps, bounce back and play at a championship level in championship-type games? Or has Father Time, the undisputed, undefeated champion, sacked Rodgers to slam that championship window of opportunity shut?

“You want to go out winning the Super Bowl, but it’s very rare that ever actually gets to happen,” Rodgers said. “You don’t want to lose your last game and miss out on the playoffs, but this has been a great position and a really tough business. It doesn’t always end with rainbows for everybody.”

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