The 40-33 loss the Green Bay Packers took at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles tells us more about the state of the Packers — on and off the field — than it tells us about the emerging playoff picture. The game moved the Eagles further ahead in the race for the No. 1 seed in the conference, but it also told another interesting chapter in the Aaron Rodgers saga.
Aaron Rodgers Should Have Given Jordan Love a Chance Weeks Ago
Jordan Love took over at quarterback early in the fourth quarter in place of an injured Rodgers, a sentence that was true seven weeks ago and should have remained true for the rest of the season.
Since Week 6, Rodgers has been dealing with a thumb injury that typically would require surgery to correct, per NFL Network’s Ian Rapaport. During that stretch, Rodgers threw six interceptions to 13 touchdowns for 6.81 yards per attempt and 5.96 adjusted net yards per attempt, ranking 20th among quarterbacks. In EPA per play, Rodgers was worse, ranking 27th.
In that span, Rodgers only had two games where he finished with over 7.0 yards per attempt; three of his five previous performances hit that low bar. The Packers have struggled to generate points or wins in those seven weeks. After starting the season 3-2, Green Bay followed with a 1-6 record.
It certainly is understandable that a monomaniacal quarterback — a trait shared among almost all the great ones — would want to push through injury if he feels like he can. It’s less understandable to do so after racking up loss after loss and then blaming teammates publicly, and in doing so, implicitly blaming the coach.
Love ended up throwing nine passes in the game, a number that matches his season-long attempt total to this point. From the outside looking in, there’s not much evidence about what Love has the capability to do.
But that sliver of evidence is pretty good. He’s averaged 10.3 yards per attempt and connected with players that, hopefully, will be part of the Packers’ future — Christian Watson, Robert Tonyan, AJ Dillon, and so on.
History doesn’t always repeat itself, but it does rhyme. Rodgers’ refusal to take a step back and allow Love to play is reminiscent of how Brett Favre kept denying Rodgers the opportunity to take the helm in the mid-2000s, something Rodgers resented about Favre.
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The Packers organization grants an enormous amount of leeway to Rodgers, as it did Favre, and as most organizations do with their franchise quarterbacks. One difference between Rodgers and most quarterbacks is perhaps the fact that his frustration with the team has been so public.
That leeway only extends to him because of his value to the organization. If he cannot put the organization’s needs high on his list of priorities and win games, that deference goes away.
We may have seen the last game of Rodgers in a Green Bay uniform — or any uniform at all — but he should have respected the other 52 players in the locker room and given the team the best chance to win by sitting out during his clearly serious thumb injury weeks before this.
Initially, it looked like it may have been a moot point. The game turned out to be a high-scoring affair, and after the first half, Rodgers did look like he was well on his way to turning it around, which would have built on his successful game against Dallas on Thursday night. Both of his touchdowns turned out to be vintage Rodgers throws, and he threaded some needles on the run.
But in the end, he faltered. And it set the Packers back enough that many people thought the game was done when Love came in for Rodgers. While that substitution was more a result of a reaggravated thumb injury than the Packers waving the white flag, it felt familiar to the last time Love took the field late.
Love happened to make things pretty close with a great pass to Christian Watson to bring the game back to within one score, but the Eagles held on to the win and avoided an embarrassing upset.
Philadelphia Eagles March on in Quest for NFC Dominance
For their part, the Eagles showcased that they can survive the loss of Jordan Davis and their declining run defense against a powerful running unit. Signing Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh hasn’t been enough to stop the bleeding in that regard, but it has helped.
The first Packers touchdown came after a long Dillon run, one that followed a 30-yard catch-and-run from Aaron Jones on a screen. But the Eagles tightened up after that. That drive featured both the longest run and the longest pass from Rodgers they would give up all game. Dillon and Jones would finish with 107 yards on 20 carries.
That’s despite the fact that they lost safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson partway through the game. Gardner-Johnson has been a big part of the Eagles’ defense all season and part of their exciting story of dominance on both sides of the ball.
Instead, Philadelphia relied on undrafted rookie Reed Blankenship, a player whose draft stock was through the roof several seasons ago before an injury of his own set back his career and he returned to the Middle Tennessee State lineup as a different player.
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The Eagles saw both sides of Blankenship, with a remarkable interception paired with an awful tackling angle against Watson on his 63-yard reception in the fourth quarter, which allowed Love to bring the Packers back into contention.
The story for the Eagles’ win comes more on offense than defense, as Jalen Hurts continued his MVP campaign, rushing for 157 yards and throwing for 153. His rushing enabled Miles Sanders to go off for 143 rushing yards of his own.
The only hiccup on offense seemed to be a pair of failed short-yardage conversions that didn’t benefit from generous spots, but that they made up for later.
Philadelphia proved that they weren’t the team that dropped the ball against Washington, something many people didn’t need proof of anyway. They control the race for the top seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
But the more interesting and impactful story from Sunday night’s game seems to be the fumbled passing of the baton for the future of the franchise in Green Bay.