Aaron Rodgers picked himself off the turf on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium. He had just been sacked for the fourth and final time on 3rd-and-7 in the fourth quarter against the Minnesota Vikings.
Trailing 20-7 with 12:49 left in the game, Rodgers couldn’t disguise his frustration as FOX cameras captured the bewilderment on his face. Had Rodgers been able to mask his disdain, he might have been a fill-in ballot winner of the Emmy for “Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series” on Monday night.
But he just couldn’t fake it. The Emmy went to Squid Game‘s Lee Jung-Jae, and Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers took an eye-opening 23-7 loss to their division rivals. And while Rodgers’ acting chops were clearly lacking, the back-to-back MVP’s passing prowess wasn’t diminished. Instead, it was everything around him that wasn’t awesome, which led to a horrific outing for the Green Bay offense.
Packers’ Aaron Rodgers is too old to babysit an offense with growing pains
The first offensive series of the season was emblematic of what the Week 1 letdown would become for head coach Matt LeFleur’s squad. With starting wideout Allen Lazard and starting offensive tackles David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins sidelined due to injury, Rodgers led a ragtag group of backups, veteran holdovers, and rookies into battle.
On the first play of the game, Rodgers heaved a beautiful rainbow down the sideline for wideout Christian Watson, a second-round pick, who go open on a “go” route with a double move.
The perfectly placed ball hit the ground after sliding right through the rookie’s hands. What would have been a massive play and likely touchdown score turned out to be an example of how alone Rodgers was against the Vikings. Watson wasn’t targeted again until there were just four minutes left in the game.
“Obviously, it would be great to have a 75-yard touchdown to start the game, but drops are going to happen,” Rodgers said Sunday. “It’s part of the game.”
On the next play, Rodgers had a screen blown up at the line after protection broke down a bit early. The timing was seemingly off, as fill-in starters littered the Packers’ offensive line.
It didn’t get better from there, as Rodgers was forced to throw behind rookie wideout Romeo Doubs on third down. While Rodgers admitted after the game that he intentionally threw the ball away because Vikings safety Harrison Smith was nearby, Doubs wasn’t targeted again until the second half and managed just 4 catches for 37 yards.
“We knew there was going to be growing pains,” Rodgers said. “This is real football. It counts. It’s different. There’s nerves.”
It was a forgettable opening drive but clearly a warning sign of what else was to come.
Throughout the remainder of the first three quarters, Rodgers attempted to battle back with familiar faces like Randall Cobb, Aaron Jones, A.J. Dillon, and Robert Tonyan — players who have earned the QB’s respect and trust over the years — but that wasn’t enough to compete with a Vikings team that was cooking the Packers’ defense like a Chicago-style deep dish all afternoon.
Rodgers was without his top three wideouts from last season — Lazard, Davante Adams, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling — along with his trusty bookend tackles. The difference was alarming, as Doubs, Watson, and journeyman wideout Sammy Watkins couldn’t pick up the slack. Rodgers went from throwing to an All-Pro in Adams to tossing to players who had never been in a regular-season game before, and the lack of maturation was glaring.
“We had a lot of chances today, not taking anything away from their defense, but we hurt ourselves many times, myself included,” Rodgers said after the game. “We had a lot of opportunities to score more than seven.”
At 38, Rodgers can’t be expected to oversee a daycare offense. Sure, the Packers have guys like Cobb, Tonyan, Watkins, and Marcedes Lewis, but those are players who are simply cogs in the machine. When the Packers made the decision to re-sign Rodgers to a three-year, $150.8 million contract extension, the idea was to “win now.”
Still, they traded Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders for a plethora of picks and failed to replace him with proven talent. Instead, the Packers went with the youth movement of draft picks, Watson and Doubs.
“Look, we’ve got to have patience with those guys,” Rodgers said. “They’re young. They haven’t been in the fire. That patience will be thinner as the season goes on, but the expectation will be high, so we’ll keep them accountable, but it’s going to happen.”
Bakhtiari has had multiple knee surgeries, and instead of reinforcing the tackle position, the Packers went with more of the same with backup holdovers Yosh Nijman and Royce Newman. That decision led to the Packers’ lack of consistent protection in Week 1.
Rodgers was hit five times and at one point, needed extra time to pull himself up after being crunched by a trio of Vikings defenders following a sack and fumble that was caused by a delayed blitz. A free rush to Rodgers was allowed because a lineman didn’t pick up the attacking defender.
“It’s the mental stuff that we just can’t have because we’re hurting ourselves, whether we’re going the wrong way on a block or missing a protection-something, missing a hot, not running the right route, the right depth,” Rodgers said. “There was just too many mental mistakes.”
And by the way, while Rodgers is a victim of a troubling offensive support system, he is also partially to blame for the lack of sweets in the cookie jar. Rodgers is making a ton of money, and while he can complain about transactions, his contract plays into how much the Packers can pay his supporting cast.
Instead of bringing back Za’Darius Smith on a bigger contract, for example, the pass rusher was crushing into Rodgers on a sack from the opposite side of the line scrimmage in Week 1. Rodgers also knew that Adams wanted out of Green Bay before he decided to sign on the dotted line of his megadeal this March and still put pen to paper.
So as Rodgers looks to repeat as MVP for the third time, it’s important that the QB, LaFleur, and the organization realize that “most valuable player” doesn’t mean “do everything himself” player as well. The Packers can overcome their rough start, especially with the expected returns of Lazard, Bakhtiari, and Jenkins, but the young pups need to step up around Rodgers.
The veteran QB completed 22 of 34 passes (64.7%) for 195 yards and an interception against the Vikings. The Packers’ offense was shut out in the first half. And those results were further proof that as Rodgers ages, he can only be the captain and not the entire vessel.
For the Packers to cruise into the playoffs and finally get back to the Super Bowl, he needs his younger teammates to fill the massive void left by Adams as fast as possible.
That’s easier said than done, but there’s no other solution. If those youngsters can’t get the job done, Rodgers is better off hosting a game show or golfing next fall.