Category: Packers

Bucky, the Packers, the Brewers and the Bucks vs. Goldy Gopher, Viktor Viking et al

Patrick Reusse of the Minneapolis–St. Paul Star Tribune:

Current head-counting has the Minnesota population at 5.7 million and Wisconsin at 5.9 million. The major difference is that 3.65 million of Minnesotans are concentrated in the Twin Cities metro area. The Milwaukee metro is 1.58 million and Madison, located 80 miles west, is 670,000.

Wisconsin’s larger population is fed by more mid-sized cities than in Minnesota, including Green Bay, home to an NFL franchise with a metro area population of 325,000.

Tom Oates, the now-retired, long-time columnist for the Wisconsin State Journal, said: “I was asked frequently in press boxes, ‘How can Green Bay support a football team?’ Those people don’t understand how it works in the Midwest, and for sure, in Wisconsin.

“The Packers aren’t Green Bay’s team. They are Wisconsin’s team.

“There are no divided loyalties in Wisconsin. Everyone is a Packers fan, everyone is a Brewers fan, everyone is a Bucks fan and everyone is a Badgers fan.”

Oates paused and said: “Except Marquette in basketball. Marquette fans don’t like the Badgers in basketball.”

Much of Minnesota’s rivalry with Wisconsin stems from similarities. Population (as cited). Lakes, woods, fishing and deer hunting. Starkly divided politics by urban and rural.

Twin Cities media outlets have thrived on claiming “hate” for Wisconsin teams and their fans, but they are basically us — with a few more 16-stool taverns in the small towns.

The Minnesotans embracing that hate are having a very tough 21st century. And the competition taking place around pandemic outbreaks in 2021 has been toughest of all.

Consider the period from July 20 to July 27:

On the first of those Tuesdays, Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks to their first NBA title in 50 years. On the second of those Tuesdays, Aaron Rodgers showed up in Packers camp after an offseason drama in which management refused to trade him.

In between these two happenings, the Brewers were winning two out of three in a home series vs. the White Sox. The attendance for the series was 111,287, and the Brewers’ lead was seven games in the National League Central.

Here in Minnesota, the lowly Timberwolves were preparing to sit out the NBA draft after a trade that ridded them of Andrew Wiggins and brought in No-D-Lo Russell, the Vikings were about to discover that their quarterback’s plan to avoid another COVID quarantine was to shield himself with Plexiglas, and the Twins finished July last in the woeful AL Central, 17 games behind the White Sox.

What was left was for the Minnesota’s haters of Wisconsin sports entities was to gaze eastward and say, “This interstate rivalry has gone from bad to worse.”

Minnesota and Wisconsin started playing football in 1890. The only year missed was 1906, when 19 deaths in college football the previous season had caused a national campaign to ban the activity. Wisconsin’s response was to play a five-game schedule that did not include its “fiercest” rivals: Minnesota, Michigan and the University of Chicago.

The game was almost missed again last season because of the pandemic. The Gophers bowed out of two late games because of COVID issues, then agreed with the Big Ten to play at Wisconsin in mid-December.

A subpar Gophers team lost to Paul Chryst’s worst Badgers team 20-17. The Badgers are 16-1 in Paul Bunyan’s Axe games since 2004. There are other huge discrepancies, but leave it at this: 0-7 in Axe games vs. Bret Bielema.

In men’s basketball, coach Greg Gard had a group of seven seniors that primarily disliked him. And they beat the Gophers 71-59, putting Richard Pitino at 3-11 vs. Wisconsin and helping him to get fired after eight seasons.

Worst of all, there’s volleyball, where Hugh McCutcheon has the best program on the Twin Cities campus. The Badgers played for the national title in last spring’s delayed season. Now, they enter the fall season rated No. 2 in the nation, with the Gophers at No. 7.

Wisconsin has a two-time NBA MVP in Antetokounmpo, said by Oates and other observers to be an all-time great guy. It has a three-time NFL MVP (including 2020) in Rodgers, an all-time great quarterback. And it has a Brewers team that’s 25 games over .500 with the 2018 MVP, Christian Yelich, still waiting to get warm.

Plus, the Brewers now have Eduardo Escobar, “Effervescent Eddie,” who’s supposed to be our guy.

Face it, alleged haters of our Wisconsin rivals. They own us.

Minnesota is known as having 10,000 lakes (the correct number is 11,842). Former Gov. Tommy Thompson would say that Wisconsin had more lakes (15,874), “and ours have fish in them!”

YouTube provides us with a couple of highlights:

 

From the GREEN Bay Packers

Packers.com:

The Green Bay Packers on Thursday introduced their new, history-inspired third uniform: the 50s Classic Uniform. The new uniforms will debut at Lambeau Field on Oct. 24 against Washington.

The 50s Classic Uniform is inspired by the team’s uniforms from 1950-1953, which was the second time the team wore green and gold in its history. The Packers first wore green in the mid-to-late 1930s.

The uniforms are all green, with gold numbers and stripes similar to the jerseys worn in the 1950s. In those days, the green was a Kelly green and the team alternated between wearing it with green or gold pants. This alternate jersey, which is the Packers’ traditional green color, with gold numbers and stripes, will be worn with matching green pants with gold stripes, and matching green socks.

“The 1950s were one of the most interesting times in our organization’s rich history, creating the bridge between two of the greatest eras in pro football,” said Packers President/CEO Mark Murphy. “With the NFL growing rapidly, this time period set the stage for the construction of Lambeau Field and for the team’s success in the 1960s and beyond. We hope our fans enjoy celebrating our history with this new alternate uniform.”

First: How does it look?
This new uniform is based on this old uniform …
… which, though the new uniforms are forest green, not the kelly green of the earlier uniforms …
Green Bay Press–Gazette
… makes it a departure from the Packers’ previous throwbacks that were based on their navy-blue-and-gold days from founder (and one-year Notre Dame student) Curly Lambeau.
Once the Packers unveiled green uniforms in 1935 …
… they went back and forth between blue and green until Vince Lombardi said the Packers were the GREEN Bay Packers and would remain as such.
As someone who hates the Blue Bay Packers look, not to mention the White Bay Packers look (for the Nike-mandated Color Rush, though white isn’t really a color for purposes of clothing), I believe these are superior for that reason alone, though I am not usually a fan of monochrome uniforms. The Packers should, in fact, redesign their road look to replace the gold pants with green pants when wearing the white jersey.

I assert this (because I’m always right in this blog, and if you agree with me you’re right too) as someone who is not necessarily enamored with the green and gold look — specifically the “gold” part, which is more accurately described as “athletic gold” or “yellowgold,” basically a little bit darker than yellow. During the early 1950s apparently the Packers used a more metallic look …

… which is preferable to me from their current yellowgold.


(A Twin Cities sportswriter once described the Packers’ look as lemon and spinach. I have no problem with either description, but the writer should have included the Vikings colors — bruises and pus.)Other than the monochrome look, I have another issue:

While the early 1950s were not a particularly successful time for the Packers on the field, it was the dawn of an extraordinarily eventful decade off the field, a decade that began with the departure of the team’s founder Curly Lambeau and ended with the arrival of Vince Lombardi. In the 1950s, the NFL was growing quickly and gaining nationwide interest through television exposure. The Packers organization was at a turning point and a franchise-saving stock sale helped lay the groundwork for the eventual construction of Lambeau Field and set up the team to stay in Green Bay through modern times.

The first two seasons of green ended with the Packers’ 1937 title. The four seasons of the 1950–53 look that the Packers will debut against the don’t-call-them-Redskins-anymore were 3–9, 3–9, 6–6 and 2–9–1, which seems an era not worth commemorating. The rule of caring about how your team looks is that quality of look and quality of play are inextricably linked.

Presty the DJ for Aug. 11

We begin with a non-musical anniversary, though we can certainly add music:

On Aug. 11, 1919, Green Bay Press–Gazette sports editor George Calhoun and Indian Packing Co. employee Earl “Curly” Lambeau, a former Notre Dame football player, organized a pro football team that would be called the Green Bay Packers:

Today in 1964, the Beatles movie “A Hard Day’s Night” opened in New York:

Two years later, the Beatles opened their last American concert tour on the same day that John Lennon apologized for saying that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus. … Look, I wasn’t saying The Beatles are better than God or Jesus, I said ‘Beatles’ because it’s easy for me to talk about The Beatles. I could have said ‘TV’ or ‘Cinema’, ‘Motorcars’ or anything popular and would have got away with it…”

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for Aug. 11”

Aaron Rodgers, unedited

In my day job I summarized the soap opera called As Aaron Rodgers Turns and the epic traveshamockery over what he wants to do, what he’s feeling, etc., by saying that doesn’t include the words “Rodgers said” (that’s what we call “attribution”) should not be believed.

So when he showed up for training camp, this is what Rodgers said:

All the “fans” who claim that Rodgers is a diva and needs to just shut up and play especially need to watch this.

Posted on April 19, not April 1

The radio station where I announce spring football (including Fennimore at Brodhead/Juda tonight at 6:40 Central time) reposted this piece of speculation/argument from four days ago:

The Jason Smith Show

Why Aaron Rodgers Will Be Traded to 49ers For Third Overall Pick


Jason Smith: “The Aaron Rodgers situation with the Packers is going to blow up when Rodgers has all the momentum in the world. It’s silent right now but Rodgers still wants out, and the Packers still hate him and want to move on. This offseason should have been Aaron Rodgers getting a long-term commit – NOPE – we’re not seeing that. ‘Hey, let’s do something with his contract so it makes it easier for to do…’ NOPE, they didn’t help each other. They didn’t go out and get players for Aaron Rodgers because he’s taking up too much money in their salary cap. Everything is still the same as a year ago. When they drafted Jordan Love, they’re going to give the job to Jordan Love and Aaron Rodgers is going to be out. It’s going to happen THIS YEAR, and Aaron Rodgers is waiting because he’s going to play his leverage at the exact right moment, either right at the Draft or right before the Draft, and he’s going to say “YOU GET ME TO ‘TEAM X’ OR I’M GOING TO SIT HOME IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA AND JUST WAIT UNTIL IT HAPPENS”… The Niners trade up to get the number three pick knowing that at some point, either right before the Draft or leading up to it, Aaron Rodgers is going to play that card of ‘You’re going to trade me to the 49ers or I’m going to sit at home’ and the 49ers are going to say ‘we will give you the number three overall pick and get you Justin Fields, and you give us Aaron Rodgers.’ That’s my hot take, the number three pick will wind up going to the Packers and Aaron Rodgers gets traded to the 49ers.” (Full Segment Above)

Listen to Jason Smith explain why he believes Aaron Rodgers will end up being traded to the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for the number three overall pick, as Jason thinks the volatility between Rodgers and the Packers is just a temporarily dormant volcano about to blow.

Check out the audio above as Smith details his theory on why Rodgers will finish his career in San Francisco, and Justin Fields becomes the new quarterback in Green Bay.

Or don’t.

This, I must say, is why I don’t listen to sports radio, and I don’t often read sports radio social media. One of the great scourges of our day is the so-called “hot take,” where some mouth comes up with an outrageous opinion for the sole reason of generating clicks, irrespective of whether he believes what he asserts, whether it is based on any facts or logic, or whether it makes any sense. (See Bayliss, Skip.)

(Crap like this, by the way, is one reason I am not dissatisfied that my career didn’t advance to bigger markets. If “hot takes” are required to get paid, I’m not interested.)

First: The assertion that the Packers “hate” Rodgers might be the most idiotic thing you read today. The assertion that Rodgers wants out of Green Bay is certainly not based on anything Rodgers has said publicly. People who feel the need to read between the lines of Rodgers’ public statements to confirm their own stupid theories need to get a life. (Do Smith and Rodgers even know each other?)

Rodgers was only being honest when he said recently that his NFL future might not be entirely up to him. That is not a synonym for “Get me the hell out of Green Bay.”

One reason this speculation comes up is that Rodgers’ contract was not restructured to provide more salary cap space for the Packers before next week’s NFL draft. The contract Rodgers signed in 2018 includes a salary cap jump from $21.6 million in 2020 (based on, well, read it for yourself) to $37.2 million this coming season. Rodgers becomes a free agent in 2024, which is the year Rodgers turns 40.

One effect of having your quarterback take up a lot of your salary cap ($182.5 million this coming season) is it forces you to go with younger (and therefore lower-paid) players elsewhere. Pittsburgh has been notorious for developing players and then having them leave in free agency, recently due to Ben Roethlisberger’s contract. That in turn puts pressure on your scouts to find great young players, and your coaches to develop them.

Another reason is the parallels people think they see with the end of Brett Favre’s Packers career. The Packers drafted Rodgers in 2005, but Rodgers didn’t become the starter until Favre left after the 2007 season. Baseball executive Branch Rickey was fond of saying it’s better to let a player leave a year too early than a year too late. That, however, assumes you have an adequate replacement on hand, and the Packers do not have that with Jordan Love. The other thing, of course, is that the only person who was with the Packers when Favre left and now is president Mark Murphy, who certainly would be consulted on a Rodgers decision, but is not the guy making that decision.

Smith speculates that the Packers will trade Rodgers to San Francisco (the team that famously spurned him in 2005) for the 49ers’ first-round pick, the third in the draft (acquired from Miami), which the Packers then would use on Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields. One list (and remember what opinions are like) has Fields as the third rated quarterback in the draft, and one of four quarterbacks likely to get drafted in the first round.

If I were the Packers, though, I’m not sure I would be that interested in Fields. Ohio State has been a college football powerhouse for too long, but not because of its quarterbacks. Who, you ask, is the most successful Buckeye quarterback in NFL history? It’s, believe it or don’t, Mike Tomczak.

College quarterbacks must be analyzed as NFL prospects by the skills that pass on to the NFL, not necessarily based on how they played in college against inferior teams. Fields apparently has great arm strength, but “strength” and “accuracy” aren’t the same thing. Fields also apparently is a great athlete, but Cam Newton shows that being a great athlete doesn’t make you even a good NFL quarterback. Does Fields (or anyone else) have the ability to find a third receiver on a play with defensive linemen and linebackers all over his face? I suspect, given how good O!S!U! has been, that you might be able to count the number of times he’s had to do that with two hands in his entire career.

And for the Packers to make this trade (whether or not they would then draft Fields, or frankly any other QB) would require you to believe that the Packers are willing to go backwards from 13–3, which they certainly would with someone not named Rodgers as their quarterback. (There may be rookie quarterbacks who start this year, but that doesn’t mean any of them should.)

There is no sign that the Bears (who is their quarterback now?), Vikings (still paying Kirk Cousins the rest of his $84 million) or Lions (who couldn’t win with Matthew Stafford, the quarterback with great stats except for his win–loss record) are going to be substantially better next season. So at least on paper the Packers remain the team to beat in the NFC North, which means they’re still a Super Bowl contender, unless they no longer have a Super Bowl-level quarterback.

If I were the 49ers, I’m not sure I’d be interested in making that trade either. The 49ers were 6–10 last season and finished in last place in the NFC West. The 49ers would have to believe they are one player away from being a Super Bowl contender, and that one player — who, in Rodgers’ case, would be an injury-prone player (remember that Rodgers lost three seasons due to injury)  at an age where you don’t get less injury-prone — is worth giving up a draft pick that could be used on someone who could be a 10-year contributor. (Say, Justin Fields.)

This fantasy is also the fault of Tom Brady, who went to Tampa Bay and won a Super Bowl. So maybe every team without an NFL-caliber QB (note that “NFL-caliber QB” and “NFL QB” are not synonyms either) now thinks they’re the right QB from being a winner. The list of teams who thought that and found out otherwise is quite long.

This is not to say that Rodgers will be the Packers’ QB indefinitely, or to the end of his contract. But those predicting, or wishing, the end of Rodgers’ Packers career should remember what happened when Favre left — 6–10, followed by humiliating losses to their former quarterback. The Packers have been unbelievably lucky to have two Hall of Fame quarterbacks. What are the odds of a third?

Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!

For the second consecutive season the Packers play in the NFC Championship, this time at home against Tampa Bay.

The weather may cooperate …

… but whether or not it does, getting to the most pressure packed game of the season for the second consecutive season is quite an accomplishment for coach Matt LaFleur.

Matt Wadleigh:

When the Green Bay Packers decided to part ways with longtime head coach Mike McCarthy, they knew the next hire had to be huge. After all, McCarthy brought a Lombardi Trophy back to Green Bay and had the Packers competitive year in and year out.

The Packers hired Matt LaFleur to replace McCarthy, and he has taken this team to new heights in just his second season after spending time as the offensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams and Tennessee Titans. He has the most wins in franchise history through the first two seasons and has led the Packers to back-to-back NFC North titles.

Yes, LaFleur has more wins in his first two seasons than Packers legends Vince Lombardi, Mike McCarthy, and Mike Holmgren, just to name a few.

Lambeau Field is now home to the NFC Championship Game, and Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams have been playing at an all-time high level, with Rodgers the favorite to win MVP. The Packers’ defense has been solid, and Aaron Jones rushed for more than 1,000 yards for the second straight season. Green Bay’s offense is in the top five in both total offense as well as points scored, and the relationship between LaFleur and Rodgers has been incredible.

Questions initially swirled regarding the offense when LaFleur was brought in as head coach, but Rodgers insisted he wasn’t going to change his grasp of changing the offense on the go like he did year after year under McCarthy. As it turns out, LaFleur and Rodgers have worked together without blemish, even more so this season after the Packers selected quarterback Jordan Love in the 2020 NFL Draft.

Aaron Rodgers responded to the Love selection with arguably the best season of his careerand he deserves MVP. LaFleur commended Rodgers’ ability to change the play on the fly earlier in the season:

“He definitely has free rein,” LaFleur said. “So, if he sees something and can get us out of a bad play, yeah, he will get us out of a bad play. And he’s done a great job of it,” per Michael Silver of NFL.com.

It’s no secret that LaFleur has turned around this Packers team in his short time in Green Bay, and putting full trust in a Hall of Fame quarterback has a lot to do with it.

LaFleur’s team is preparing for their second consecutive conference title game, and with the home-field advantage this time around and a few thousand fans in the stands, it’s theirs for the taking. While Tom Brady is never an easy opponent, the Packers are still sour about their 38-10 embarrassment to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers back in October.

However, LaFleur and the Packers aren’t thinking about that game in October:

“I think our team has come a long way from that day, but everything’s just words at this point,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said Monday. “You’ve got to go out there and you’ve got to have a great week of preparation and you’ve got to go earn it on the field. So that’ll be our mindset and that’s how we’ll approach it,” per FOX Sports.

The Packers got off to a 10-0 start in that game against Tampa Bay, but the Buccaneers shut down Rodgers and company for the remainder of the game. Don’t expect that to happen this time around.

The stakes are at an all-time high for both teams, and Green Bay will have the benefit of home field on Sunday. Will the Packers reach the Super Bowl in just their second season with LaFleur, or will Brady reach yet another Super Bowl?

Whatever happens, LaFleur needs to be commended for getting the most out of Aaron Rodgers even at his advanced age. It was clear the Rodgers-McCarthy relationship had run its course, and the future Hall of Famer is rejuvenated under Matt LaFleur.

This seems not entirely accurate. McCarthy’s last days were more a case of players no longer listening to him, possibly including Rodgers, than the specific coach–quarterback relationship. It also was analogous to when the Packers hired Ron Wolf while Lindy Infante was still the head coach and Ted Thompson (who died Wednesday) when Mike Sherman was still the head coach. McCarthy had to know the writing was likely on the wall when Brian Gutekunst, who did not hire McCarthy, took over as general manager. And as happened to Infante and Sherman, McCarthy became the victim to some extent of the subpar work of his previous general manager. (Which, you’ll remember, in Sherman’s case was Sherman.)

On the other hand, McCarthy has not been a roaring success in Big D, but LaFleur has been so far. (McCarthy might be able to blame some of that on his current general manager, who mistakenly doubles as his team’s owner.) To paraphrase Bill Parcells, you are what your record says you are.

An interesting take comes from Nick Angstadt:

The Green Bay Packers have been the NFL’s best team for a large part of the season. They showed just that this weekend against the Los Angeles Rams by staying true to their offensive plan.

On the daily Locked On Packers podcast, Peter Bukowski shared why the Packers were able to operate so successfully on offense. In his opinion, it’s the same reason Daniel Day-Lewis is such a good actor.

Bukowski: What I absolutely loved is everything that they (the Packers) did, they did in character. They did not say that the Rams do X, Y, and Z, so we are going to counter with this. They just played their game. They stuck with the RPOs. Devonte Adams said after the game that most of the runs were called runs. They felt like they had an advantage.

Aaron Jones said during the week that they felt like they could run on these guys and guess what, not only did they run on them, but they also dominated on the ground. Every third and short, it felt like Green Bay could pick it up because they could get two yards. They could get two yards on the ground, or three yards or four yards, at will. That is what they did. That is why Green Bay finished the game eight of 12 on third down because they were in so many advantageous third-down situations. You get something going a little bit on first down, you run, and you get four yards. Okay, now it is second and six and the whole playbook is open to you. You could throw it, you could run it and if you do run it, you are going to get four or five yards and now it is third and short and the whole playbook is open to you. The Packers stayed in-phase the entire game.

What other coach was famous for sticking to his game plan and not worrying about what the opposition would do? Vince Lombardi.

Andrew Beaton reveals something unusual:

In the tensest moment of the Green Bay Packers’ season, they had a three-point lead against the New Orleans Saints with two minutes left and the ball just inches away from the end zone. Then Aaron Rodgers did something that separates him from every other quarterback in the NFL.

Rodgers threw a 1-yard touchdown pass.

It sounds so simple. It’s also unusual. Rodgers’s aggressiveness passing the ball when he’s so close to the end zone, as opposed to handing it off, is unlike any other quarterback in football. It’s one of the critical reasons why the Packers are the No. 1 seed in the NFC and Rodgers’s career has undergone a resurgence at age 37.

The Packers went 13-3 this season, led the league in points and earned the right to watch the first week of the playoffs from the couch. They play the Rams in the divisional round in a matchup between the NFL’s top offense (Green Bay) and top defense (Los Angeles). The Packers are led by Rodgers, a heavy favorite to win MVP who commands an offense, cooked up by second-year coach Matt LaFleur, that behaves differently than every other one in the NFL.

Their extreme pass heaviness near the end zone—and Rodgers’s unmatched ability to do it successfully—explains how he threw for a league-high 48 touchdowns. His extraordinary production in these spots is the key reason why Green Bay scored on 80% of its red zone drives inside the 20—the highest rate for any team in at least three decades, according to Stats LLC.

“There’s been a lot of schematic touchdowns this year where I didn’t really have to do a whole lot except make sure I don’t screw up the throw,” Rodgers said last week.

Analytics experts have for years grown hoarse pleading with teams to throw the ball more often. It doesn’t take fancy metrics to understand that the average passing play gains more yards than the average running play or that modern offenses are throwing the ball more efficiently than ever. But the question teams have to philosophically answer isn’t as binary as run or pass. It’s also when and where.

The where makes Rodgers an extreme outlier.

There’s only one place in the NFL where offensive philosophies approach near uniformity: the parcels of grass closest to the end zone. Teams ran 441 plays from the 1-yard line this season. There were seven field goals, and of the 434 other plays 74.9% were runs. All but one team called more running plays than passing plays in these situations. The lone exception: the Packers.

Even Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, one of the most pass-heavy teams in the league in normal situations, ran the ball more than they passed it from the 1-yard line. Four teams never passed the ball from there all season. Those four teams—the Eagles, Jaguars, Panthers and Jets—also happen to all be picking in the top eight of the draft.

Green Bay placed the ball in Rodgers’s hands in the exact situation when every other team usually takes it away from its quarterback. He threw eight touchdowns from this spot on the field—twice as many as any other quarterback in the NFL. Thirteen of the 20 offensive plays the Packers ran from the 1-yard line, or 65%, were passes. They threw the ball almost as much as the rest of the league ran it.

Even as you inch farther out, Rodgers’s play is unlike his peers. Inside the 10-yard-line, he completed 39 passes. That is eight more than the next closest quarterback, Tom Brady, even though Brady actually attempted two more throws.

Rodgers’s success in these situations isn’t just a matter of play calling. It’s execution, too. He completed 81.3% of his passes inside the 10. The only two other starting quarterbacks above 70%, Drew Brees and Carson Wentz, attempted fewer of these passes, combined, than Rodgers.

It’s a remarkable blend of volume and efficiency for one other reason. Quarterbacks are supposed to be less accurate on this part of the field. Their receivers have less space to run, and they have to fit the ball in tighter windows. While passers completed 65.2% of their throws this season—the highest rate ever—they only connected 55.7% inside the 10. Rodgers, who completed a league-high 70.7% of the time in 2020, completed 81.3% of his passes inside the 10. He was even more accurate than he usually is on this area of the field, while other quarterbacks are less so.

LaFleur says it starts with the plan the team has for this part of the field, adding that it’s made possible when “you have a quarterback, that without a doubt in my mind is the MVP, directing you down there and being able to make quick decisions.”

That decision making is paramount in an offense like Green Bay’s that so often deploys run-pass option plays. Those calls mean Rodgers has to make a near-instantaneous choice after the snap on whether to throw or hand it off—and he has thrived by throwing more than anyone else when he’s so near the end zone.

It also helped that he has the NFL’s premier receiving threat, especially in these situations. Davante Adams led the NFL with 18 touchdown catches. Three of those were one-yard hauls. Thirteen of them came inside the 10. Adams’s 20 targets inside the 10 were the most since Randy Moss in 2002.

It produced a stunning transformation because Rodgers, who was previously MVP in 2011 and 2014, had stopped playing like one in recent years. From 2017 to 2019, Green Bay’s offense ranked no higher than 14th in the NFL in points per game. Even when the team made the NFC Championship game a year ago, it ranked 15th. His 48 touchdown passes this year were just three fewer than the prior two years combined.

The combination of his age and diminishing play were enough of a red flag that the Packers used their first round pick in the last NFL draft on a quarterback, Jordan Love.

Rodgers responded by tightening his grip on his job instead of loosening it—and again making Green Bay the place no other team wants to play in January.

Must-read for Saturday

Packers tight end Robert Tonyan:

Let me just say right off the bat: This isn’t a typical thing for me.

I’m not ordinarily someone who does a ton of talking or opens up about himself for the whole world to read. But this season has been special — and meaningful to me. I felt it was the perfect time to share a little bit of myself and give our amazing fans an inside look into this incredible team and organization.

Before I dig in and talk about what makes us tick, and the playoff journey we’re about to undertake, I’ve got a little story for you.

Flash back to three years ago. First week of December, 2017.

I’d just signed on with the Pack’s practice squad after having gone undrafted as a receiver out of Indiana State and being cut by the Lions in preseason. It’s my first day on the job, new guy in Green Bay, low man on the totem pole.

So I get to the facility early, check in, and immediately — like as soon as I get there — the quarterback comes right up to me and shakes my hand.

“Hey, I’m Aaron. Welcome!”

For a split-second it was like, Whoa! But I hold it together and manage to get out something basic like: “Hi, I’m Robert. Really excited to be here.”

And Aaron, he’s just being totally on-point and welcoming, but the funny thing is, for whatever reason, right off the bat.…

I notice that he’s calling me “Bobby.”

It’s like he’s known me for years and that’s just what he calls me. Like we were buds from middle school and that’s what he knows me as.

Which is cool, obviously. But at the same time, it’s kinda throwing me for a loop because … no one has called me Bobby since, I don’t know … kindergarten? First grade? Next thing I know he’s introducing me to people as Bobby.

And, I mean … I’m just rolling with it. Right? Like of course. Lettin’ it ride. Just sitting there smiling and nodding away like, I’ll be Bobby … why not.

So anyway we get out onto the practice field and, like clockwork, as soon as things ramp up and we get ready to go, it starts snowing.

And it’s one of those perfect winter snowfall deals, too. It’s like something out of a movie. Lambeau in the background, snow coming down, a crisp chill in the air. It’s just perfect. I look around and take it all in and just kind of think to myself: Well, it couldn’t get much better than this.

But then … it does.

I’m on the scout team, and we’re getting set to do red zone stuff, and it turns out on that particular day, get this … first set of downs, guess who comes jogging into the huddle?

“What’s up, Bobby? Let’s go score some points, what d’ya think?”

Unreal.

Aaron was in the process of rehabbing the collarbone injury he’d suffered against the Vikings earlier that season, and he was working his way back when I came to Green Bay. So now … that’s my scout team QB.

Aaron frickin’ Rodgers.

Not too shabby, right?

And, to top it off, dude ended up throwing me three touchdown passes that day, too. Perfect passes. Textbook throws.

It was definitely one of the coolest days of my life.

But then, at the same time, it was also like … I guess Bobby it is!

Looking back on it, it really does seem to me like maybe Aaron saw something in me that day because from then on he’s held me to an extremely high standard. He wouldn’t let even the tiniest mistakes slide. He’d explain things to me and coach me up, but he’d also get legit mad when I screwed up.

And to me, I always took that as such a compliment. It was like, Hey man, this guy really cares about you and wants you to reach your full potential.

Every single day I’ve been a Packer, Aaron has pushed me and helped me get better. And as a result a good friendship has developed that I think is paying dividends on the field. You go the extra mile for the people you truly care about, and that’s what it’s become with Aaron and me, for sure.

And, honestly, the more I think about it, it’s like that with literally everyone on this team right now. The support and trust and love we show for one another really is off the charts. We’re all on the same page. And that’s one of the things that I believe makes this team truly special and ready for these playoffs.

Because of how focused we are on winning, we all push each other constantly. As a tight end, from Day One, I was so fortunate to be able to learn from true pros like Jimmy Graham and Lance Kendricks and Marcedes Lewis.

And man, let me just say, Marcedes….

That’s my guy right there. He’s like my big brother, and he truly embodies everything I hope to be. Year 15, healthy, still doing it at a high level, still loving the game, so wise, and just the best, nicest dude you’ll ever meet. When we’re on the field together, it’s almost like we feel this extra, I don’t know what to call it … almost invincibility. When you have a best friend on the team — someone you look up to and respect — and you’re lined up right next to him ready to make something special happen, there’s no better feeling in the world.

And I’m pretty proud to say that, thanks in large part to Davante, I’ve now gotten to a place in my career where I have total confidence in myself during those big moments. That guy, he’s just always drilled into me that you need to believe in yourself and that you should never set any limits on what you can do. He’s taught me to develop and harness that … I guess you would call it raw confidence, or inner belief that all great athletes possess.

The week in Atlanta when Davante was out and I had that big game on Monday night, the first thing he did afterward was pull me aside in the weight room and tell me, in no uncertain terms, that when he got back on the field he wanted to see me acting exactly like I did that night against the Falcons.

Not playing like I did … acting like I did.

I didn’t really get it at first, so I asked him what he meant.

“Acting like you were unstoppable,” he said. “Like no one on the planet could stick with you. Knowing that you had reached another level.”

Coming from a guy of that caliber? I mean, It was one of the coolest moments of my career to have him say that to me.

“I need you to be like that,” he said. “We all do. This team needs you to be like that every single game.”

That type of honesty, that directness, is one of the things I love most about being a Packer. We’re a player-led team, so we’re all just completely real with one another. There’s no bulls*** when you come into the Packers’ locker room. And everyone knows it.

Hell, even outside the locker room we’re like that with each other.

I’ll never forget Thanksgiving in 2019 at Aaron’s place, when David Bakhtiari leaned over to me at the dinner table for a word. (Literally at the dinner table. And, keep in mind, this is two Thanksgivings ago … before I was anything at all. Before I was really even playing.)

“Listen,” he says, “I don’t know what’s up with you in the passing game, or how you do things when the ball’s in the air … but when we’re running the ball, in the run game, what you’re doing … it’s not good enough. You need to be better.”

He wasn’t smiling as he said this. Trust me.

He was … mad. Like mad mad. Here I am thinking dude was gonna ask me to pass the gravy or something and David, he’s pissed off … and leaning in to talk to the fourth-string tight end about his run-blocking skills.

Dude was not messing around.

To this day, David’s fiancée, when she sees us together she’s still like: “Man, you were sooooo mean to Bobby that one Thanksgiving.” (Of course, I’m “Bobby” to everyone now. Thanks, 12.) But I actually really loved the talking-to he gave me that afternoon.

When he came at me like that, I remember there was this pure emotion that rose up inside me. It wasn’t anger. It was desire.

It was inspiration.

I looked him dead in the eye, and I was like: “I cannot wait until practice tomorrow.”

A few years later, David’s one of my very best friends on the team. We joke about that conversation all the time, and how stern he was. But the really cool thing about it is that when we talk about it now, do you know what he says?

“Dude, you went and made me look like a damn fool after that.”

David helped me more than he’ll ever know. And you damn sure better believe that we’re gonna do everything in our power to help bring that guy a Lombardi Trophy this year. We’re all heartbroken for David, obviously, but I’m truly hopeful that we’re about to do something special for him over the next few weeks.

For me, these playoffs are going to be the most fun thing imaginable. And running onto that field for these games is definitely going to take me back to when I was a little kid.

I grew up in Northern Illinois, not too far from Wisconsin, and the first football game I ever went to was at Lambeau. It was us against the Bears. And I was really little, maybe five or six. So I only remember blips and flashes. But, I gotta say: They’re some pretty damn good blips and flashes.

I remember our angle to the field, and the scoreboard, and then I remember the bright yellow railings and steps, just all that yellow paint, and the light reflecting off that yellow. I mean, what an image. What a memory.

And to this day it still takes my breath away when I look around Lambeau. When it’s noon on Sunday in October, and there’s dew on the ground and the sun hits all that yellow and reflects off the bleachers at the same time? It’s just … wow. There’s this golden tint to the field. And it just looks like football, man. It’s just beautiful. There’s really no other way to put it.

So to me, getting the chance to play in these playoffs on that field now, that hallowed ground … I just feel extremely fortunate.

It’s a dream come true.

Ever since I was young — and I’m talking really, really young, like two or three years old — I feel like what I’ve been put on this Earth to do is to play football and compete. That’s just how I’m wired. That’s what I was put here to do. And at this point, thanks to this team and this incredible community….

I know the exact place where I was meant to do it.

That big G, and everything it stands for? It’s unlike anything in all of sports. And that’s not me being disrespectful in any way to any other team. It’s just that Lambeau Field and the Green Bay Packers … that’s NFL royalty right there. The frozen tundra, all those historic games, that yellow and green. It speaks for itself at this point.

We all know what this is about. We all get it.

This is what we all live for. It’s what we’re all here to do. Players, coaches, fans … all of us.

This is what it’s all about.

And it all starts right now. It’s gonna be one hell of a ride!

Go, Pack, Go!

The Badger/Packer basketball/football tripleheader

Saturday is going to be an historic sports day in Wisconsin. Thanks to the vagaries of the coronavirus and TV scheduling, it will be the first time the Badger basketball and football teams and Packers will play on the same day.

The day will start at the Kohl Center at 11 p.m. for Louisville at Wisconsin …

… before shifting to Camp Randall Stadium for the 3 p.m. kickoff of Minnesota and Wisconsin for Paul Bunyan’s Axe.

To the northeast, the Packers, presently with the number one NFC seed, host Carolina at 7:25 p.m.

This is the first time the Badgers are playing regular-season football in December, so there have been no home football/basketball doubleheaders I’m aware of. There have been football/hockey doubleheaders back when the hockey Badgers played at the Dane County Coliseum, and, yes, I played at them.

Adapting the schedule of my band days, we would have had a very early Camp Randall practice (when hardly anyone was really awake), then gotten out the band sweaters and headed to the Kohl Center by 10:30 a.m. to start playing when the basketball team hit the floor a few minutes later. After the game, we would have gotten into our band uniforms and headed to Union South for the 2 p.m. concert, headed from Union South to Camp Randall, and hit the field at 2:40 p.m. for pregame. After the Fifth Quarter, off to watch the Packer game, followed by the mandatory post-Badger-game party.

Other than the party or parties, none of that is happening tomorrow, since the band has not been able to play at any Badger football or basketball game this season due to COVID.

 

Postgame schadenfreude, edition number 100 (wins)

As long-time readers know, big wins over rivals get the postgame schadenfreude (defined as gaining pleasure from others’ misfortune) treatment.

It’s particularly fun to watch Chicago media eviscerate Da Bears when they disappoint, even if the Packers’ 41–25 (and it wasn’t that close) throttling Sunday, the Packers’ 100th win over Da Bears, wasn’t really a surprise.

The Chicago Sun-Times begins with a very pointed headline and subhead:

Hot seat heats up for Bears coach Matt Nagy after humiliating 41-25 loss to Packers

The Bears have been absolutely awful on offense the last two seasons, and it’s hard to see an alleged offensive guru keeping his job when they start cleaning up this mess at the end of the season.

As losses accumulate and the Bears drift further from being a contender, the thrill of coach Matt Nagy’s debut season fades into forgetfulness. The team has plunged since then, plodding along with one of the NFL’s worst offenses and minimal cause for optimism.

Their latest humiliation came in the most painful way possible: A thoroughly devastating and decisive 41-25 defeat by the Packers at Lambeau Field. It’s their fifth consecutive loss, and they’ll go into December sitting outside the playoff field for the second season in a row.

The Packers have been snuffing out Bears coaches for years now, and Nagy must wonder if he’s next after this one. He’ll certainly get the rest of the season, but the case is stacking up against him lasting beyond that. A game like this should make him very concerned about his job.

“No, I’m not,” he said.

A lot of people are, though.

When asked to defend where the Bears are right now, Nagy went back to a well-worn soliloquy about sticking together. He’s right to think that way, but it doesn’t change anything about how far the Bears have fallen.

“We understand where we’re at, and when you have games like this, you’ve gotta soul search,” he said. “You’ve gotta be able to stop the bleeding. There’s a couple directions you can go.

“But my job as a leader is to make sure that they understand that. Obviously the last five weeks have been extremely difficult. It’s not fun. We all want to win. But the one reason why I’m here is to fight and to lead, and that’s what I think is most important during these times. When you go through these times, how do you respond? I think that’s the test of true character.”

This felt like the most desperate game of Nagy’s time with the Bears as he tried to fight off the longest losing streak of his career and keep them above .500. The Bears actually would’ve overtaken the Cardinals for the seventh playoff spot with a win.

He went back to Mitch Trubisky, his original choice as starting quarterback this season, and the offensive came to life with a 57-yard run by David Montgomery on its first possession.

For a fleeting moment, the Bears were an exciting offense — the very thing the organization hired Nagy to create. They quickly spiraled into the same bad habits — no run game, mindless penalties, disastrous turnovers by Trubisky — and the game was out of reach late in the second quarter with the Packers ahead 27-3.

They ran it to 41-10 by the end of the third, and that was it. Anything the Bears did after that was of no consequence. They get no award for technically making it a two-score game putting up their third-highest point total of the season. By the way, the league average this season is 25 points per team per game.

“They got after us the entire game, from the first quarter to the very end,” Nagy said. “That’s basically where we’re at right now.”

The only good thing about Sunday was that it was the last time America had to sit through a Bears game on a national broadcast this season.

Nagy’s offense, with offensive coordinator Bill Lazor calling plays for the second game, fell flat, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. It was a complete meltdown for the Bears as their defense, which had been the only thing keeping them afloat, withered against Aaron Rodgers. The Packers scored on their first three full possessions and added another touchdown when Trubisky fumbled at his own 11-yard line.

If Nagy doesn’t have the safety net of an elite defense, he’s got no shot.

Over the last two seasons, cumulatively, the Bears had the second-fewest points and total yardage in the NFL going into Sunday. They’ve averaged the third-fewest yards per carry and put up the sixth-worst passer rating. Only two teams have been worse on third downs.

Nagy has great leadership qualities, but how does any offensive guru keep his job with those numbers?

The number in Nagy’s favor has always been his record, which has gotten considerably dimmer since going 12-4 and winning the NFC North in 2018. The thumping by the Packers dropped him to 25-18.

That includes a 5-0 mark against the Lions team that can’t beat anybody, plus seven wins when his team scored fewer than 20 points. Marc Trestman would’ve won if he’d been supplied this defense.

There’s been a lot more Club Flub than Club Dub lately. It takes a minute to even remember the last time the Bears won a game. It was their most lopsided victory of the season, an error-riddled 23-16 escape against the Panthers 42 days ago.

This mess isn’t entirely Nagy’s fault as he works with a completely mismanaged roster from general manager Ryan Pace. He was holding his breath hoping this would be just a Nagy column.

He’s got his coach trying to rebuild an engine with spare parts from a bicycle.

There’s no offensive line and no quarterback. And, worst of all, no plan to fix it. Nick Foles is under contract for two more seasons, salary-cap concerns will prevent them from fully overhauling the o-line and they’ll be light on playmakers if wide receiver Allen Robinson walks in free agency.

Pace bears more of the blame than Nagy. He did exceptional work crafting one of the NFL’s best defenses, but totally undercut that with his poor judgment on offense. There’s no way the Bears can rationalize letting him try to rebuild the offense again, and firing Pace likely means the end for Nagy as well.

Pace has had it coming ever since he whiffed on Trubisky in the draft and allowed Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes to land elsewhere.

Remember when the Bears went 8-8 last season and the whole city was furious about it? That was their second-best record of Pace’s six-year span as general manager.

During his tenure, the Bears are 39-52 — worse than the Dolphins and Raiders; barely ahead of Washington and the Lions.

That kind of mess requires a deep cleaning, and it’ll be difficult for Nagy to avoid getting swept out.

The Chicago Tribune’s Brad Biggs has 10 thoughts, including …

  1. At the midpoint of the 2014 season, the Bears made their trip to Lambeau Field after their bye week and were absolutely humiliated, pummeled by the Packers 55-14 in a stunning beatdown before a Sunday prime time audience.
    Green Bay bolted out to a 42-0 lead at halftime that year and the Bears became the first team since the Rochester Jeffersons in 1923 to allow 50-plus points in consecutive games, as they had melted down two weeks prior in a 51-23 loss at New England.The Bears had an extra week before the 2020 game as well, although that extra time is hardly normal amidst the COVID-19 pandemic as the NFL ratchets up protocols and policies on what seems like a weekly basis now. And wouldn’t you know it, the Bears got kicked around once again, falling behind 27-3 in the second quarter and then trailing 41-10 after three quarters. Aaron Rodgers did pretty much whatever he wanted to, the Bears struggled to do so much as lay a hand on him and the defense showed minimal interest in playing run defense. The offense? Well, it looked a little bit better than it had while flatlining with Nick Foles at the controls, but it’s going to be tough to beat any opponent at minus-three on turnovers — and damn near impossible to beat Rodgers.I reference the 2014 loss at Lambeau Field as I really think that was the beginning of the end for the Marc Trestman era. He was fired after only two seasons — a move that came at the end of the season — and with each frustrating week that passes, the chatter will only become louder about the future of those currently in charge at Halas Hall.

    General manager Ryan Pace is the architect of the Bears roster and in his sixth season. He’s had one winning season to date and the Bears have not won a playoff game since Jerry Angelo occupied that office. Matt Nagy is the coach, the guy hired because of his acumen on offense and brought in to turn things around after the dreary and non-imaginative John Fox. Neither is excelling and will come under scrutiny as this season unravels. The Bears were paper tigers when they were 5-1 early in the season and now they’re battling injuries and the pandemic, and they’re going to be exposed just about every time they face an opponent with a high-powered offense. They can’t keep up. It’s that simple.

    I don’t necessarily buy the idea that the horrid loss to the Packers got Trestman fired. Not on its own. That season was spiraling out of control and while the team managed wins over the Minnesota Vikings and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the following weeks, it went on to lose the final five games. In all, Trestman lost eight of the final 10 games, and he and GM Phil Emery were fired the day after the 2014 season ended.

    Sunday’s loss was ugly, but not nearly as gruesome as the 2014 debacle. What’s really interesting is that there are now four teams with GM openings around the league. Jacksonville fired Dave Caldwell on Sunday, a day after the Detroit Lions blew out GM Bob Quinn and coach Matt Patricia. There are numerous coaching vacancies annually. Usually, there are five or six teams pressing the reset button with a head coach. GM jobs don’t turn over quite as often and of the three front office folks I reached out to Sunday night, none could ever recall four spots being open during a season before. The Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans will also be hiring a GM and coach after the season.

    What’s that mean for Pace and Nagy? I don’t know just yet, but I get the distinct impression things are trending badly for both. A longtime agent who represents coaches said he wasn’t too surprised about the four openings around the league right now and said he doesn’t think there will be too many more.

    The pandemic has cost countless millions of people around the world employment or earning potential. It’s had a stunning impact. You get the feeling that while COVID-19 has cost so many people their jobs, it could wind up saving a few coaching staffs around the league. That’s the economic part of the equation that few want to acknowledge, especially when they’re frothing mad at the team they follow. Will this come into play for the Bears? I don’t know that, but I do know is the NFL is a business for the McCaskeys. They haven’t sold a single ticket at Soldier Field this season and it certainly doesn’t look like they will. It’s anyone’s best guess what stadium attendance will look like in September 2021, meaning the bottom line could still be taking a hit at the start of next season. I can say with relative confidence that the financial impact of the pandemic is going to be a major factor for football coaches at the NCAA level and I suspect it will also come into play at least somewhat in the NFL.

    1. Matt Nagy said he’s not worried about losing his job — and he shouldn’t be right now.

    The Bears are 5-6, which isn’t good enough, and they’re a franchise that has never previously fired a coach during the season. But Matt Nagy is in a heck of a battle right now and I’m not sure how much he has in his background to help navigate his way out of it. The last time Nagy was part of a five-game losing streak was in 2015 when he was the quarterback coach in Kansas City. The Chiefs won the season opener, then dropped their next five games before winning 11 straight, including one in the wild-card round of the playoffs before being eliminated. Before that, Nagy was a quality control assistant in Philadelphia in 2012 when the Andy Reid era came to a crashing end.

    Nagy is a positive guy and sometimes he can lean on some corny sayings. Fortunately, he didn’t do this after the Week 12 loss. It still can come across as word salad though, but at some point, however it’s framed really doesn’t matter, right?

    “It’s about fighting adversity, it’s about building cultures and staying together,” Nagy said. “That’s where we’re at. So that’s what I do, that’s what our coaches do, that’s what our players do. We stay together and we understand where we’re at and that when you have games like this, you’ve got to figure out, you’ve got to soul search and you’ve got to be able to stop the bleeding. There’s a couple directions you can go. But my job as a leader is to make sure that they understand that.

    “Obviously, the last five weeks has been extremely difficult. It’s not fun because we all want to win and we know that. The one reason why I’m here is to fight and to lead, and that’s what I think is most important during these times. And when you go through these times, how do you respond and I think that’s the test of true character.”

    He loses me when he launches into a discussion of culture. Yes, I’ve covered Bears teams with worse cultures in the locker room. No question about it. But this team’s culture, no matter how much better it might be, isn’t making much difference when it comes to on-field performance.

You know what improves a locker room culture? Winning.

The contrast has been made numerous times between the Packers and their two starting quarterbacks over the past quarter-century and Da Bears’ 252 quarterbacks over that time. When you lack a capable quarterback (and there are more NFL quarterbacks than there are capable NFL QBs), you do dumb things like sign a quarterback with part of one good season to a stupidly large free-agent contract (see Glennon, Mike) and then trade draft picks to move up to get a quarterback (see Trubisky, Mitch) the same offseason.

(Yes, the Packers have the ignominy of the John Hadl trade. Of course, it’s not as if Da Bears had better QB play during the ’70s either.)

For Bears fans unfamiliar with stability under center, the Tribune’s Dan Wiederer writes what it’s like:

Third-and-long. Against the NFL’s stingiest red-zone defense.

Aaron Rodgers knew a play was needed on the opening drive Sunday night at Lambeau Field, and he dialed in accordingly. With the Green Bay Packers at the Chicago Bears 12-yard line and trying to finish off a tone-setting march that already had covered 63 yards in 13 plays, the quarterback whom Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano likened this week to Picasso and Michelangelo went to his palette, whipped out his brush and gracefully painted his newest masterpiece.

The play that ended with Rodgers pinpointing a 12-yard touchdown pass to Davante Adams took 9 seconds from snap to score. It was another dazzling off-script magic trick and a definitive closing argument — if there is such a thing less than 8 minutes into a game — that the Packers remain the class of the NFC North.

Still, Rodgers’ comprehensive postgame description of that touchdown pass proved even more striking to anyone in Chicago who might have been listening, just one more reminder of the master class on quarterbacking he has been teaching for the last 13 seasons as the Packers starter, so often at the Bears’ expense.

So, Aaron, about that TD …

“I saw that they dropped eight at the snap,” Rodgers began. “So I knew I’d have a little bit of time. We ran a two-man concept to that side with Davante and Robert (Tonyan). And I was about 50-50 as to whether ‘Te was going to stop his route and break it off at the top of the stem, which actually wasn’t in the plan. But I thought he might make that reaction. He didn’t. So I went to (Tonyan). And right when I was about to throw it, he slipped.

“So I reset back in the pocket because we had done a nice job on the right side and doubled Khalil (Mack) over there. And as I reset back in the pocket, I saw Davante kind of roll behind (Danny) Trevathan. And I knew based on the presnap, they probably wouldn’t have anybody on the left side who would disrupt a throw in that area. So I just tried to put it high knowing Davante has such great leaping ability. Obviously he came down with it.”

The Packers were ahead to stay.

Be honest, Bears fans. When’s the last time you heard your starting quarterback describing surgery with that level of detail? Heck, when’s the last time you had a quarterback do what Rodgers did Sunday night, drilling touchdown passes on his first three possessions, adding a fourth in the third quarter and carving out the Bears’ heart in a 41-25 gutting?

Think about it. The Packers scored touchdowns on three consecutive possessions to open Sunday’s bright-lights, big-stage game. During the Bears’ current five-game skid/collapse/free fall, the offense has scored only two touchdowns before the fourth quarter. The Bears offense remains consistently unreliable in the first half and downright awful in the third quarter.

That’s what made Sunday’s biannual check-in on the Packers so jarring and distressing and, if you can bring yourself to appreciate the brilliance of a rival, sort of refreshing.

“So that’s what an NFL offense is supposed to look like.”

As the Bears season accelerates down the garbage chute with a fan base screaming for heads to roll ASAP at Halas Hall, the Packers are coasting to another division title and eyeing another run deep into January and possibly beyond.

While Rodgers and his offense consistently creating iconic artwork, the Bears seem to be stuck in a first-grade project gone bad, covered from head to toe in acrylic and sheepishly apologizing for the mess.

“This is the stuff through the season that you go through,” coach Matt Nagy said. “It’s about fighting adversity.”

Rodgers, by contrast, was cheerful but characteristically low-key in the afterglow of his team’s win, relishing what he called “a fun day of milestones.” Follow along for some of the most prestigious.

  • Adams recorded his 500th career reception on that first-quarter touchdown, becoming the fifth Packer in that fraternity. (For perspective, the Bears’ all-time leader in catches is Walter Payton with 492.)
  • Rodgers became the 11th quarterback in league history to surpass 50,000 passing yards, doing so in style in the third quarter with a well-designed and all-too-easy 39-yard play-action touchdown pass to tight end Tonyan. (Again, for perspective, Rodgers’ passing yards total is greater than that of Jay Cutler, Sid Luckman and Jim Harbaugh — the Bears’ three career leaders — combined.)
  • And — oh, yeah — Rodgers was sure to point out that Sunday’s victory was the Packers’ 100th over the Bears in the historic rivalry, giving them a five-game lead in a series that was once tilted heavily in the Bears’ favor. Before Brett Favre and Rodgers, of course.

“I’m proud to be just another one of the guys in the lineage of Green Bay quarterbacks who have had the opportunity to lace them up against Chicago,” Rodgers said, “and we’ve obviously won a good deal of my starts.”

When the Bears offense faces gritty, nasty defenses, we tend to hear about it for a month afterward with explanations for why the running game can’t get going or why the third-down failures were so extreme or how an untimely turnover or red-zone stall-out led to another maddening loss.

The Packers, meanwhile, sized up a normally rugged Bears defense, decided they had the right combination of playmaking ability and schematic wrinkles and then went out and dominated the night.

Rodgers’ four touchdown passes were certainly headline-worthy. But Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams also combined to run for 163 yards on 34 carries.

So while the Bears spent their latest postgame therapy session with Nagy calling for teamwide “soul searching” and an urgent quest to “stop the bleeding” and another wave of appreciation for his team’s fight, the Packers suddenly believe they’re light years ahead of where they were at this time last year. Remember? When they went 12-4 and fell one victory short of the Super Bowl?

When the 2019 season began, there was leaguewide curiosity about how Rodgers and Packers coach Matt LaFleur would coexist, whether a 15th-year veteran on his way to the Hall of Fame would jell with a green head coach barely four years older than him.

On Sunday night, Rodgers was in a full gush about how LaFleur has worked to refine and improve this high-powered offense, praising “the subtleties of simplicity” that the Packers coach implemented over this past offseason.

“That’s really allowed me to feel super comfortable with the plan every week, with my responsibilities and my checks,” Rodgers said. “And I think that’s why I’ve been playing well.”

Simplicity. Comfort.

The Packers offense had a near-perfect first half. Touchdowns on three of their possessions. Zero penalties. None of their 37 plays lost yardage. Eighteen of them produced first downs.

Rodgers believes LaFleur has “settled into his role as head coach.”

“Him and I have really been on the same page all season,” Rodger said. “There’s just a beautiful trust that has blossomed even more this year between him and I.”

LaFleur, meanwhile, paid the praise forward to the effort of an offensive line that has been sturdy all year and helped jump-start Sunday night’s beatdown. (The Bears not only never sacked Rodgers or forced a turnover, but they also weren’t credited in the final game book with a single quarterback hit.)

“It makes it a lot easier, no doubt about it, when you have your whole playbook open and you can call plays that are complementary,” LaFleur said.

None of this sounds at all familiar to Bears fans, who are left to continue envying the Packers’ success as they try to unsee interceptions forced into double and triple coverage. Bottom line: Week after week, the Bears make it clear they have few if any answers on offense.

As so many feared, Nagy’s midweek praise of Mitch Trubisky’s “different focus” and his impressive week of practice and the offense’s oh-so-encouraging “huddle mechanics” didn’t mean much on game night.

The Bears stalled in the red zone on their opening drive, settled for a field goal and never led. Trubisky threw two picks and fumbled twice, losing one that Preston Smith scooped up for a 14-yard touchdown return.

Trubisky short-hopped throws to open receivers on multiple occasions. He also threw high and away at times.

The Bears’ fifth straight loss — and the franchise’s third winless November in the last five seasons — brings amplified questions about Nagy and the quarterback situation and general manager Ryan Pace and a genuine curiosity about how many current players, coaches and front-office members still will be here the next time the Bears win a playoff game.

“Right now, this is a very, very difficult time that we’re going through,” Nagy said.

Meanwhile, the Packers rolled on, satisfied but hardly surprised by Sunday’s blowout.

“It says a lot about who we are as a team,” Adams said.

Added Rodgers: “I like where we’re at. … I said before the game and I believe it: If you want to be a great team, these are the kind of games you have to win.”

In this series, the Packers usually do.

Who would have thought Bears fans would pine for Dick Jauron and Jay Cutler?

ESPN Chicago’s Jeff Dickerson continues the theme of future firings:

The Chicago Bears (5-6) seem like a team headed toward massive offseason change.

Sure, the Bears technically remain in the hunt for one of three NFC wild-card spots — the NFC North Division race effectively ended with Green Bay’s 41-25 victory on Sunday night — but coach Matt Nagy’s team is so much worse than its record indicates.

With an extra week to prepare, the Bears played their most egregious and lethargic opening half of football of the year and fell behind 27-3 in front of a prime-time audience.

In an epic reversal, the Bears’ defense — considered the bedrock of the team — pulled a complete no-show against Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who carved up Chicago. The Bears’ defense — minus lineman Akiem Hicks — failed to stop the run, pressure Rodgers (zero sacks, zero hits) or cover open Green Bay receivers downfield. At one point in the second quarter, the Packers’ offense had 15 first downs and were 5-of-5 on third down. The lone time the Bears stopped Green Bay on third down, the Packers went for it on fourth down — and converted. Go figure.

Speaking of the Bears’ offense, not much has improved there, either, as the team’s losing streak reached five games.

Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky’s return produced the results most expected — average-to-slightly-below-average play and nowhere close to special.

Trubisky appeared to establish a rhythm within the offense at times but committed three costly turnovers, including a fumble that Green Bay scooped up and returned for a touchdown.

What cannot be ignored is on another day when Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes dazzled the nation (462 passing yards, three touchdowns), Trubisky cruelly reminded everyone the Bears have no long-term solution at quarterback. What happened in the 2017 NFL draft (trading up for Trubisky over Mahomes and Deshaun Watson) cannot be undone.

Because of that singular blunder, there is no clear path to unseat the Packers. There is no obvious plan of attack to a playoff berth in 2021. Who’s the quarterback? Who’s the head coach? Who’s the general manager? Who’s the playcaller?

The entire organization needs to be reexamined when the season comes to a close.

We know who the owner is. That may be the problem, but that’s up to the McCaskeys to fix.

 

The number 12 personality

Sam Borden:

IT IS 2010. Aaron Rodgers is going into his third season as the starting quarterback for the Green Bay Packers. He is a Pro Bowler, a superstar on the rise. Graham Harrell is new to the Packers, signed to be the third-stringer. Harrell is a friendly, fast-talking Texan from Brownwood, and he develops a real rapport with Rodgers. The banter between the two starts right away and never stops.

One day, Rodgers tells Harrell he thinks they are basically fraternity brothers. This becomes a running joke. The pair bro-talk constantly, and very quickly Harrell becomes amazed at the depth of Rodgers’ investment in this (completely imaginary) universe. The Packers’ other quarterback, Matt Flynn, is now in an “enemy fraternity,” Rodgers tells Harrell, and whenever Harrell does well in a drill, Rodgers compliments him by saying, “It’s about time you did something for the brothers.” Likewise, if Flynn is better than Harrell on a particular day, Rodgers laughs and tell Harrell, “Bro, you’re getting paddled when we get back to the house.”

Rodgers even names their fraternity: Tau Kappa Epsilon, or TKE.

All of this is going along fine until one afternoon at Packers training camp, which is held on the campus of nearby St. Norbert College. During drills, one of the ball boys overhears the banter between Harrell and Rodgers. “Hey, what fraternity are you guys in?” the ball boy asks Harrell after practice ends. After weighing whether to come clean about how he and the Packers’ franchise player have created an elaborate fictitious scenario involving two 20-something men being in a fraternity, Harrell simply says, “Oh, uh … we’re TKEs?” He hopes that will end the conversation.

It does not end the conversation.

“No way, I’m a TKE!” the ball boy erupts. Harrell is stunned. “Yeah, uh … TKEs, man,” he says weakly, looking around helplessly. Rodgers is giddy. The ball boy’s smile is ripping his own face apart.

The ball boy invites Harrell and Rodgers to a mixer that the St. Norbert chapter of TKE is hosting that fall. The mixer is known as the “Carnation Crush,” because it also involves the women of Delta Phi Epsilon, one of the college’s sororities. Harrell is certain this is where they will draw the line and explain that they’re not, you know, actually TKEs, but Rodgers is defiant. “There is no way in the world we’re missing this,” he tells Harrell.

They go to the mixer. It is like most college parties. Rodgers and Harrell sit with the fraternity’s president, Stephen Schumacher, and some of the brothers. Schumacher asks everyone at the party to respect that Rodgers and Harrell just want to hang out and not to take cellphone photos or videos. Somehow, everyone listens. Inside, Rodgers asks lots of questions about the fraternity and is very interested in all the small details. Schumacher, who is a Packers fan, tries to keep his heart from exploding out of his chest. As they talk, Schumacher notices that Rodgers and Harrell are eyeing a table where flip cup is being played. He asks if they want to play. Rodgers and Harrell jump up.

Flip cup involves two teams of multiple players flipping plastic cups in order. Rodgers and Harrell are on a team with Schumacher and some other brothers. They play against a team of women from one of the school’s social clubs. Schumacher and the brothers are very skilled. The women are even better. Rodgers isn’t very good, but he finally gets his cup over. Harrell is a complete disaster. He is struggling to find the sweet spot between weakly knocking his cup down and overflipping it four times in the air. The TKE team loses. Rodgers is frustrated. He tells Harrell he needs to “be better,” but then he brightens when a ceremony begins during which one of the sorority sisters will be crowned as a queen.

As part of the ritual, all of the brothers in attendance get down on a knee and sing a song while holding up one hand, as if offering the queen a flower. Harrell has no idea what is going on. He spins around and realizes he is suddenly surrounded by a bunch of teenage boys kneeling and shouting verses to a teenage girl who is up on a stage, and he assumes that now, surely now, is the moment when he and Rodgers — two professional football players who are, again, grown men — will finally make their exit.

Except then he looks to his right and sees Rodgers down on one knee with his hand up.

“This isn’t even real life, bro,” Harrell says to Rodgers, who gestures wildly for Harrell to get down beside him. Harrell sighs and kneels next to Rodgers. They raise their hands. They mouth words to a song they do not know. The queen is crowned.

Shouts and cheers ring out from all corners of the room. The queen beams. Rodgers giggles uncontrollably.

Harrell has never seen him happier.

IF HARRELL’S STORY about Rodgers and their (pretend) fraternity seems weird, well, fair enough — it definitely is. But the truth is that it is also squarely in character for Rodgers, whose athletic prowess has always been rooted in an equally intense desire to push and prod and challenge and question. To take things to such a degree as to be, at times, uncomfortable.

For Rodgers, nothing is irrelevant and everything is subject to review. He wants to know about people and places and things. He wants to understand motivations. While almost every high-level athlete is ambitious and determined to kick down doors, Rodgers is among the few who also want to know why the door was closed in the first place and, while they’re at it, where the hinges came from.

Now, it should be said: Plenty of that unconventionality is channeled toward Rodgers’ actual job. His ability to scramble out of plays, to see throwing lanes that aren’t there, is fabled. He has passed for nearly 50,000 yards and 377 touchdowns (including 13 so far this season). There are scads of highlights showcasing his ingenuity — the miracle Hail Mary against the Lions in 2015, the roll-left-throw-back 48-yarder to win the game against the Bears in 2013, among many others — and the magic is absolutely an everyday thing.

Joe Callahan, who was a rookie quarterback in 2016, recalls an otherwise nondescript drill from early that year that has always stuck with him. It was a quick drop drill, Callahan says, and Rodgers backpedaled. He saw two defenders blanketing the tight end from both sides. Instead of chucking the ball away, Rodgers simply dropped his elbow and unleashed a wicked 15-yard pass that curved in the air like a golfer hitting an intentional slice around a tree. The ball bent at an angle, then dived sharply into the tight end’s belly.

Callahan was slack-jawed by the play and even now shakes his head as he describes it. “Coach [Mike] McCarthy turns to us and he’s like, ‘You need multiple MVPs to be able to make that throw,'” Callahan says. “I’m still not sure how he was able to pull it off.”

Extrapolate that out — a seemingly obvious conclusion to throw the ball away, completely unpacked and turned on its head. That is what it’s like being around Rodgers, Callahan says. Often this would happen on subjects unrelated to football: Rodgers is unabashed about his belief in the existence of UFOs, for example, and frequently engages with teammates in long, drawn-out discussions about who actually built the Egyptian pyramids. (“We can’t reveal what we know,” Callahan says when I inquire about any conclusions.)

Brett Hundley, who was a Packers backup from 2015 to 2018, also had discussions about UFOs with Rodgers, as well as the existence of aliens. “His brain is just always processing so much information,” Hundley says. And then there was the time in 2013 when Rodgers stopped in the middle of practice, pulled aside then-backup Seneca Wallace and pointed to an airplane that was flying overhead.

“‘What do you think all that stuff is flying behind that jet stream?'” Wallace recalls Rodgers asking. “‘Do you think that has anything to do with maybe why everybody’s getting cancer?'”

Wallace snorts. Rodgers “marches to the beat of his own drum,” he says, “always looking for loopholes” or things that “set people apart.”

Bizarrely, many of these potpourri discussions actually originate from a football staple: the weekly quarterback scouting tests. Each week, as happens on many clubs, one of the backups is responsible for putting together a 45-minute exam for the starter and the other backup to take.

Naturally, Rodgers’ instructions about the exam are pointed: There should be questions that cover strategy related to Green Bay’s upcoming opponent (Sample: What is the correct audible if the Bears come with an all-out blitz?), but there must also be a lengthy section devoted to pretty much anything else (Who really assassinated President Kennedy?).

Rodgers has high standards for the tests, and Hundley conceded that his exams “went from a B-minus to an A-plus” when he began focusing his off-field questions around conspiracy theories. Rodgers is also a trivia freak, and he appreciates a quarterback who can hew to a strong theme. Geographic questions about the team’s next road trip can be fertile ground for the test composer, as can pop culture.

“He’s good at history, good at music, good at movies,” Harrell says. But it’s possible to stump him by leaning into extremely niche subject areas. Rodgers — despite his famous championship-belt celebration — is actually weak on professional wrestling knowledge, for instance, so Harrell, who is a die-hard WWE fan, would enrage Rodgers by constantly peppering his tests with questions about, say, WrestleMania V.

As an alternative for those who prefer to avoid challenging Rodgers’ general knowledge acumen, Rodgers allows the second part of the quiz to also feature tongue-in-cheek “questions” about top opposing players, as long as there is some component to the question that Rodgers might be able to use on the field. Like everything else, Rodgers wants to challenge the traditional notion of trash-talking — give me something different I can use, he tells the test makers. Find me something new.

That can be difficult too, though, particularly because Rodgers has played for so long. There are only so many embarrassing photos of Matt Stafford to be found, Callahan says, meaning that often “you had to go deep back into the mid-2000s to find some old MySpace picture that they still have floating around.”

Callahan shrugs. With Rodgers, originality is prized above almost all else, so the pressure to learn the offensive scheme in any given week is frequently overshadowed by the pressure to dig up a new, entertaining nugget about Kirk Cousins. “We got pretty good at searching the internet for funny pictures of opposing teams,” Callahan says.

EARLIER THIS YEAR, the Packers used their first-round draft pick on Jordan Love, a quarterback seen as a strong contender to be Rodgers’ eventual successor. Many wondered whether Rodgers would be offended — Wallace suggested Rodgers might have been “a little butt-hurt about it” — and speculated that the selection could have led Rodgers to become overly competitive.

For those who have been in the position of backing up Rodgers before, the notion that the selection would change anything about the way Rodgers approaches his job is absurd. It isn’t about competitiveness (after all, Rodgers is already plenty competitive) — it is, once again, pushing back on the idea that has been accepted. Putting in work on something that seems decided. Rodgers is not simply going to cede his place because it seems that the Packers might have decided the time is coming.

So there will still be tests. There will still be trivia. There will still be moments of extreme social discomfort, like when Callahan was a rookie and Rodgers invited him and the other quarterbacks over for a friendly hang and then brought out his own personal karaoke machine, which tracked and rated each participant. Suddenly, Callahan found himself being forced to try to hit the high notes of Adam Levine on Maroon Five’s “She Will Be Loved” (it didn’t go well), while Rodgers cackled and then selected a song for himself with a much more reasonable range.

“You could definitely tell that he practiced,” Callahan says. “I would also definitely double-check the calibration on that microphone because his score seemed a little too high that day.”

Not all quarterbacks would assert their superiority through karaoke contests or authoritatively answering questions about the population density of the greater Houston area (Harrell learned all about that before a Texans game once). But what Love will find, the former backups say, is that those experiences are intensely valuable, if only because they put on display a critical part of what makes Rodgers the star that he is. Thinking counterintuitively is a skill that can be honed just like a seven-step drop, and so whether or not you personally believe that airplanes cause cancer or that there are residents of Mars who are longtime Packers fans, the simple act of pondering — even for a second — the possibility that those things might be true uses roughly the same muscle that Rodgers uses when he looks at a disintegrated offensive line and still sees a way to make a play.

Making our brains more elastic, more open to things that are not exactly the way we assume them to be, is the most basic path to creativity. And for Rodgers, creativity is his light.

“He loves seeing guys get outside their comfort zone,” Wallace says, “and pushing them to a point where it’s, ‘Oh, man, I don’t do this so well.’ Then he wants to see what happens.”

That is definitely what took place with Wallace and Hundley in the testing room and Callahan at the karaoke party and Harrell at the Carnation Crush. It is what will happen, over and over, with Love. Rodgers might be deeply cerebral (if not deeply weird), but he is also deeply talented, and there is no doubt those things are connected.

Will being around that help Love’s development? Will it change the way he sees the quarterback position? Will it affect his perspective on how to run an offense?

It is difficult to see how it won’t. And, knowing Rodgers, it is also difficult to imagine Rodgers not pushing to make Love’s learning period last for as long as possible.

“He’ll learn,” Hundley says. “But I’ll tell you what: Jordan is going to be sitting for a while.”

Hundley laughs. “Aaron’s not going to give up that position, that’s for sure.”