A couple of times in his career, when his Packers looked to be struggling, Aaron Rodgers has remained cool and told people to chill out with some memorable quote that becomes kind of a motto for the rest of the team’s season. There was “R-E-L-A-X” after a 1-2 start in 2014, which turned into an MVP year for Rodgers and an NFC title game lost by awful luck. In 2016, Rodgers claimed that the 4-6 Packers “can run the table” to make the playoffs, and they did just that, again bowing out just before the Super Bowl.
In 2018, however, with the Packers stuck at 4-6-1 after Sunday night’s 24-17 defeat against the Vikings, the 34-year-old Rodgers is a lot less bold than he once was. In yesterday’s postgame press conference, his tone was somewhere between bargaining and depression:
“You can crunch the numbers there,” Rodgers said. “I can tell you 8-7-1 won’t get in, though. I don’t think.
“We are where we’re at right now record-wise. We’re going to need some help from some teams and then we’ve got to take care of our own business, you know? We’re going to have to find a way to win a game on the road. We’re 0-6 on the road. So we just got to go back home, get some rest, beat Arizona ... and then come back and beat Atlanta ... then go to Chicago, a place we’ve won a number of times, beat them ... go to New York around Christmas, beat them ...and then come home against Detroit, beat them. Get a little help.”
“Get a little help” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, but nothing about the Packers this season should give anybody cause for optimism. It’s well established at this point that head coach Mike McCarthy isn’t doing anything to make proper use of the singular offensive weapon at his disposal, but in a game that saw the Pack score just three points in the final 44 minutes of play, all the problems intensified, and it became even clearer that McCarthy needs to go. The plays called were stale and predictable, the coach used timeouts too early, and stupid small mistakes allowed Minnesota to gain an advantage. Most notably, the Vikings scored what became the game-winning touchdown thanks their incredible field position following an error-filled Packers sequence that included a delay of game penalty, a third-down sack, and an illegal formation penalty on the punt.
These were McCarthy’s two most infuriating offensive plays of the game, in which the Packers start a running back deep in the backfield on consecutive plays in short-yardage situations, then just let him fail to penetrate a strong defensive line for the turnover on downs. It’s uncreative, it takes the ball out of Rodgers’s hands for no clear reason, and McCarthy called a damn timeout in between plays. Maybe he was trying to prove a point after getting roasted for punting on a fourth down in Seattle, but slamming into a brick wall won’t do anything but hurt himself.
“We’re about winning football games. We didn’t do enough. I didn’t do enough. I need to coach better,” McCarthy, in full damage-control mode, said after the game.
There were more problems for the Packers to deal with besides just what was coming from the sideline. Rodgers looked weirdly unlike himself. Putting up just 198 yards on 17-of-28 pass attempts, for one touchdown and no interceptions, he was merely pedestrian. The beginning of Green Bay’s attempt at a comeback, down by 10 with about three minutes remaining, saw Rodgers make a couple of nice throws, but he tanked the drive at the end with two straight miscues, including an overthrown ball in the end zone to Davante Adams that forced a field goal. (It didn’t matter that much anyway; Green Bay wouldn’t get the ball back because it failed the onside kick and only had one timeout left.)
But Rodgers isn’t going anywhere for at least several years. Even if his lack of heroics this season is actually indicative of the start of his decline, quarterback is the very last place where the Packers need to make a change. On Sunday, just like in last week’s Seahawks loss, a few small tweaks like a fourth-down conversion here and a saved timeout there would have put the team in a much better position. The Packers have just a six percent chance of finding the playoffs. This does not seem like the coach who will get them there: