GREEN BAY, Wis. – Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said he doesn’t want to be part of a rebuilding job.
No wonder, if Saturday’s season-ending loss to the San Francisco 49ers was a look into the future of the passing game.
Running back Aaron Jones caught nine passes for 129 yards and receiver Davante Adams, who would be the best player in free agency and perhaps unaffordable to the Packers given their mountain of a salary-cap problem, caught nine passes for 90 yards.
Every other member of the Packers caught two passes for 6 yards.
Rodgers only threw two passes to his other receivers: one catch for 6 yards to Allen Lazard to convert a third down early in the fourth quarter and one pass to Randall Cobb with about 4 minutes to go that was almost intercepted.
During a superb closing stretch to the season, Rodgers assembled a streak of seven consecutive games with two-plus touchdowns and zero interceptions. During that span, he threw 20 touchdowns in helping the Packers score the second-most points in the NFL. Adams led the NFL with eight touchdown catches and Lazard was tied for third with five.
But, as has too often been the case for Green Bay, regular-season accomplishments turned into playoff disappointment.
In the 2019 NFC Championship Game at San Francisco, the legendary Rodgers’ two second-quarter fumbles helped put the Packers behind 17-0. In the 2020 NFC Championship Game vs. Tampa Bay, the revered Jones’ fumble at the start of the third quarter put the Packers in a 28-10 hole.
On Saturday night, the beloved Marcedes Lewis’ fumble was the biggest play of the night. The Packers exploded out of the starting gate with a quick touchdown and were on their way into scoring position again when Lewis was stripped by linebacker Fred Warner. The 49ers recovered the fumble; the Packers’ offense never recovered.
“We just couldn’t put together another good drive,” Rodgers said. “That second drive was a turning point for us. Went right down the field and scored, had another good drive going, and then unfortunately Big Dog fumbled. After that point, we just kind of spun our wheels for a while until I hit Jonesey there in the 2-minute for (75 yards). Again, we’ve get points in that situation, go in 10-nothing at half, and then give up a kick return. We just really didn’t do a whole lot.”
Here’s the breakdown:
First 14 plays: 102 yards, 7 first downs, 7.29 yards per play.
Final 40 plays: 161 yards, 7 first downs, 4.02 yards per play.
39 plays without Jones’ 75-yard catch: 86 yards, 6 first downs, 2.21 yards per play.
Rodgers accepted “a lot” of the responsibility for the offense’s failings.
“I didn’t have a great night tonight,” Rodgers said. “They did a good job of kind of getting me off the spot, and a better job of taking away some of the quick game we got going last time we played them.”
Rodgers lamented the turning down of some checkdowns and wished he would have attacked the 49ers’ zone with some hole shots. Late in the third quarter, Rodgers hit Adams for a gain of 25 to set up a field goal. A better throw, he lamented, might have given Adams a chance to take the ball closer to the goal line. And on the final drive, on the third-and-11 bomb to Adams, Lazard was running wide open on a crossing route at the 45.
“That probably gets us out to about midfield and then we’re a couple first downs away from being in field goal range,” Rodgers said. “Definitely disappointed by some of the decisions I had tonight. I definitely take my fair share of blame tonight.”
For the 22nd consecutive year, the NFL MVP (assuming Rodgers wins it) will not win the Super Bowl. On Saturday, the hottest quarterback in the league froze under the pressure. The pressure of the moment and the pressure applied by San Francisco’s defense against a revamped offensive line were too much to overcome.
So, the Packers will enter an offseason filled with franchise-altering decisions. The biggest revolve around the team’s longtime stars, Rodgers and Adams. Will Rodgers return for his 12th shot at winning a second Super Bowl? And who will be catching his passes? Receivers Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown will be unrestricted free agents. So will tight end Robert Tonyan, who suffered torn ACL on Oct. 28. Lazard will be a restricted free agent and won’t be cheap to keep. Randall Cobb is under contract but with a cap number of $9.64 million. Given the Packers’ cap problems, they could move on from him, too, to save $6.59 million.
So, who would that leave? Juwann Winfree caught eight passes, Amari Rodgers caught four and Malik Taylor caught two. That’s 14 receptions for 117 yards.
With Rodgers playing poorly, with the running game contributing just 21 yards in the second half without AJ Dillon, with the pass protection unable to hold up against the 49ers’ ferocious pass rush, the offense went into a funk it couldn’t shake.
“A little numb, for sure. Didn’t think it was going to end like this,” Rodgers said. “Disappointed in the offense. Ten points is obviously not enough. The defense, man, played outstanding. Special teams obviously hurt us, taking points off the board and giving them points. But offensively, scoring 10 points, never good enough.”