DETROIT – Aaron Rodgers was bad. Not just by his standards but by any standards. No, he was more than bad. He was all-time bad.
At halftime, the two-time MVP quarterback almost universally recognized as one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game had completed just 6-of-18 passes. In 170 games in which he started and threw more than 15 passes, Rodgers had completed less than 50 percent of his passes only seven times in his career. Never had he completed less than 40 percent. At halftime, he was at 33.3 percent. With each overthrown pass – and there were a lot of them – the Packers’ grasp on a first-round bye seemed to slip further away.
Rodgers got his game in gear just in time. He completed 21-of-37 passes for 233 yards after halftime, including touchdown passes for 20 and 33 yards in the second half. It was enough to save the day, with Green Bay rallying for a 23-20 victory, but it’s hard to believe what was good enough against the lowly Lions can be good enough to get it done in the playoffs.
Video: "That was a tough day, man"
Rodgers finished 27-of-55 for 323 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and a 72.0 rating. On the bright side, he finished the season with 4,002 passing yards – the eighth of his career being the sixth most in NFL history. On the other side, he completed 49.1 percent of his passes on the day. Rodgers never had more than one sub-50 percent day in a season in his career. Now, he’s had them in back-to-back games.
“Too many missed throws. Felt good about the throws, that’s the crazy thing,” Rodgers said, staring down at the podium. “Felt good about some of those I overthrew by a couple yards. Just a little bit off at times. But when we had to make some plays, we made some plays.”
Green Bay trailed 17-3 at halftime. A week after beating Minnesota by completing eight passes behind the line of scrimmage but only two passes 10-plus yards downfield, the Packers were intent to come out winging it against a defense that had been ravaged by injuries but had a mostly healthy secondary. Rodgers threw one deep pass after another. And one pass after another was thrown a yard or two too far.
“We wanted to try to stress them down the field,” coach Matt LaFleur said. “And when we had the looks, he takes the chance. And we know this, that the further you throw the ball down the field, the odds are the completion percentage goes down. That’s just the way we felt we needed to attack these guys today.”
That plan was a disaster, though. Green Bay’s first four possessions gained four first downs but ended in four punts. The Packers finally moved into scoring position just before halftime. On third-and-4 from the 14, Rodgers extended the play to his right. Running back Aaron Jones took his route upfield and was wide open for what should have been an easy touchdown but Rodgers threw it over Jones’ head.
“The timing was off a little at times,” Rodgers said. “Other than that, I can’t really tell you. Just sometimes the ball is coming off really good. Today was one of those days, really too good at times where I felt good about a number of those throws and I’m missing by a yard, yard and a half, two yards. Just one of those days.”
LaFleur finally changed the attack with Green Bay starting at its 5-yard line for its second possession of the third quarter. Using a barrage of short passes, not unlike what worked at Minnesota, Rodgers maneuvered the ball 95 yards in 12 plays. On third-and-10 from the Lions’ 20, Davante Adams ran a wicked post-corner route for an easy touchdown that pulled the Packers within 17-10.
Trailing 20-13 midway through the fourth quarter, Blake Martinez’s interception set up the Packers at Detroit’s 40. The score came on Rodgers’ best throw of the day, a bullet to Allen Lazard for a 28-yard touchdown.
The success of bombs-away ball, however, was fleeting. The Packers started at their 26 with 3:34 remaining. On second-and-10 from the 40, Rodgers went deep to Jake Kumerow but the pass was incomplete and Kumerow was flagged for pass interference. On second-and-20, Rodgers overthrew Marquez Valdes-Scantling on a deep ball. On third-and-20, Rodgers went deep to Kumerow but was intercepted; the 44-yard change of possession was as good as a punt.
Green Bay started at its 17 with 1:20 to go for its winning drive. Rodgers completed short passes to Geronimo Allison and Valdes-Scantling before Aaron Jones’ 31-yard gain on a screen set up Mason Crosby’s winning field goal.
Clearly, the Packers are going to have an extremely difficult time winning playoff games with this type of efficiency. The offense’s limitations from a personnel perspective are obvious but the quarterback needs to play much better, too, if they have any chance of winning three more games.
“When we have to make plays, we get stops, turnovers and then we make it happen on offense. That’s kind of the identity of this offense,” Rodgers said. “It hasn’t been pretty at times, but when we have to make plays, we’ve made plays. Now, ”