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.”
Never forget that in 13 years coaching in Green Bay, with Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers playing quarterback, Mike McCarthy led the Packers to one Super Bowl appearance.
One. That’s 1. He and Rodgers won it all in 2010.
McCarthy is now coaching Dak Prescott, a solid NFL quarterback. Favre and Rodgers were transcendent and at different points in their careers were candidates to be the best QBs of all time.
Should we be surprised the Cowboys are off to a pathetic 1-3 start? Jerry Jones made a very bad hire this offseason.
In a Week 1 loss to the Rams, McCarthy turned down a chip-shot field goal that would have tied the game with 11 minutes to play in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys instead went for it on fourth-and-3 and failed.
On Sunday, trailing the Browns by three points with nearly four minutes on the clock and two timeouts in his pocket, McCarthy attempted an onside kick rather than kicking it deep.
It’s the dumbest decision I’ve seen this year. I could be talked into believing it’s one of the dumbest decisions in recent NFL history. Hell, it might be the dumbest decision in football history. Please tell me a dumber one.
Cleveland’s offense was sputtering. Baker Mayfield was leaking oil. Cleveland had blown a 41-14 advantage. On its previous possession, Mayfield overthrew Odell Beckham Jr., who was wide open.
Since the safety rule changes, no one recovers onside kicks anymore. McCarthy bizarrely set the Browns up at midfield. Cleveland smartly turned aggressive, giving OBJ the ball on a reverse. OBJ ran 50 yards into the end zone, icing the game.
What McCarthy did is fireable and unforgivable. His decision-making the first four weeks has been baffling. He’s trying way too hard to prove he’s a great coach.
The Mike McCarthy-Aaron Rodgers divorce is the opposite of the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady divorce. The coach moved on. Rodgers is winning the divorce in a landslide. So far, Belichick and Brady both seem to be happy with their new lives.
The Packers’ bye week is this week. But as always the Packers can still make news, here reported by Ryan Glasspiegel:
Every once in a while, you come across the perfect headline, and Aaron Rodgers delivered just such a one for me today in his description of the media. On his weekly spot on the Pat McAfee Show, Rodgers was asked by McAfee about a snippet last week that was taken wildly out of context. Rodgers answered:
“Is anybody surprised? All the fucking media does is write stories to get clicks. So it didn’t matter. I can give a long answer about something, they can take a blip of it, and write a story about it that has nothing to do with what I was saying. Nobody’s gonna take the time — unless you’re watching this live — to listen to the entire interview. They’re gonna take pieces of it. If I’m not doing this in person, you can’t see facial expressions. Or if you’re not listening to it, you’re just reading a transcript. You can’t hear voice inflection and tone and inference. So, that’s just the way it is. That’s why I love doing this. Because I have a platform with you guys and the boys to say whatever I want, to speak the truth. Shit like that’s gonna happen. It doesn’t matter. I don’t spend any extra time [thinking] about it. I find it comical because then we can bring it up and be like ‘this is what we were talking about. Here it is.’”
AJ Hawk, Rodgers’ former teammate, followed up by asking him how he determines what to believe when reading stories online.
“I don’t know. You just have to be skeptical in general. I think that’s having an open mind, is being skeptical and not just believing everything at face value or believing everything that your Twitter or social media tells you. I think people need to remember there’s a lot of interesting documentaries about this stuff. Cambridge Analytica, if you watched that documentary about the 2016 election, and you understand how many data points there are out there about us. We are being constantly fed things that confirm our own bias already. It’s called confirmation bias. It’s when they feed information to you that hits you in the areas that you like and just continues to further the things you believe. And you think that you’re learning, but you’re actually being fed information that keeps you on one side. And that’s the division that’s created. And I’m not a fan of it. I think you should read both sides of stories, read books, you know, that tackle both sides of issues. You should be very skeptical of the things that you read and do your own research, and not just listen because somebody told you — some blue checkmark on Twitter told you to believe something. You should have an open mind and do your own research. And feel into what you think is the truth.”
As weird a year as this is, pro sports is still taking place.
That means it’s time for one of the most cherished Presteblog traditions, making fun of Packers’ vanquished opponents through their own media.
The Packers unexpectedly (at least to me) opened their season Sunday by overwhelming the Viking kitties …
The Minneapolis Star Tribune begins with Packers–Vikings history:
Since the Vikings thumped a 23-year-old Brett Favre and denied the upstart Packers a playoff berth with a 27-7 win in the 1992 season finale, the buildings on the corner of Chicago Ave. and 4th Street have been the site of more harrowing experiences than two Green Bay MVP quarterbacks would care to count.
Favre won four of his last five games against the Vikings in the Metrodome, breaking Dan Marino’s all-time passing TD record in 2007, but went 6-10 in the building while he was the Packers QB, losing nine of his first 11 in its tympanum-ratting environment.
Aaron Rodgers feasted on feeble Vikings defenses during the Metrodome’s final years, and won twice in the Vikings’ two years at TCF Bank Stadium. But his first three trips to U.S. Bank Stadium included three losses — none of which saw the Packers QB throw for more than 216 yards — and one broken collarbone.
The Packers left the building to chants of “Go Pack Go” last December, though, after beating the Vikings to claim their first NFC North title since U.S. Bank Stadium’s opening year. And on a surreal Sunday afternoon, in a building where the Vikings were once able to construct their home-field advantage with the help of sensory overload, Rodgers enjoyed something Favre could have only wished for during all those years: near-total serenity in a 43-34 Packers win.
The 36-year-old quarterback operated his offense in front of only the two teams and just under 500 cardboard cutouts that fans had purchased in the west end zone, with the stadium closed to spectators for at least the first two games of the season.
Rodgers didn’t have to worry about the Vikings’ pass rush, either, with Danielle Hunter on injured reserve for at least three weeks. He wasn’t sacked, was pressured infrequently and had plenty of time overall to test a remade Vikings secondary that was trying to coalesce without the benefit of a preseason.
Sunday’s end result doesn’t figure to define a Vikings team that will be a work in progress this season. But it does represent a jarring opening to the season for a defense that had enjoyed six years of battling Rodgers to a virtual stalemate.
Green Bay hadn’t gained more than 383 yards in a single game against the Vikings; it posted 524 on Sunday, more than any team had gained against a Zimmer-led Vikings team other than the Rams’ 556-yard day in 2018.
The Packers held the ball for more than 40 minutes. Rodgers became just the fifth QB to surpass 350 passing yards against a Zimmer-led defense, with 364 and four touchdowns. And Green Bay’s 43 points (with the help of a safety on a Jaire Alexander sack) were the most the Vikings had allowed since Zimmer took over in 2014.
After the game, Zimmer lamented mistakes, lack of pressure from the defensive line and a handful of false-start penalties on third and short.
“We didn’t cover them very good,” he said.
Rodgers spent much of the day looking for Pro Bowl receiver Davante Adams, who caught 14 passes for 156 yards and two scores, but tested the Vikings’ young corners with deep shots to Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who caught four passes for 96 yards and dropped another deep ball from Rodgers.
“It’s frustrating,” safety Harrison Smith said. “It’s not what we’re used to here.”
After Kirk Cousins threw behind Adam Thielen for an interception in the final minute of the first half, Valdes-Scantling got a step on rookie cornerback Cameron Dantzler hauling in a 45-yard touchdown from Rodgers to give Green Bay a 22-7 lead.
The lead grew to 29-10 entering the fourth quarter, when Cousins connected with Thielen for a 37-yard touchdown with 13:53 left in the game. The Vikings scored three fourth-quarter touchdowns, but could not keep the Packers out of the end zone to complete a comeback.
The fourth-quarter surge helped Cousins amass 259 yards on 19 of 25 passing, but in the first half had only five passing attempts, completing three.
The Vikings had the ball for only 7 minutes 15 seconds in the first half, and the Packers dominated time of possession overall, 41:16-18:44.
“We didn’t have the ball. We didn’t control the ball,” Zimmer said.
A day after signing a lucrative contract extension, Dalvin Cook rushed for 50 yards and two touchdowns in 12 carries.
Let’s see, $63 million divided by five years divided by 16 games equals $787,500 per regular-season game. That is $15,750 per yard Sunday.
The Strib’s Chip Scoggins:
The Vikings approached their 2020 season with a palpable sense of optimism about their offense and their rebuilt defense.
Yeah, good talk.
Green Bay 43, Vikings 34.
It was a lot worse than the final score might suggest.
Mike Zimmer’s defense had a disastrous debut, and the offense didn’t do much of anything until garbage time before 70,000 empty seats at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Based on first impressions, Zimmer has a lot of work on his hands to make that statement hold up. His defense’s performance was beyond bad Sunday. The Vikings had no chance against Aaron Rodgers who made it look easy in dissecting Zimmer’s young secondary.
The Vikings gave up big pass plays. They had trouble containing the run. They got zero pressure on Rodgers without injured Danielle Hunter. And they had two offsides penalties on third down that gave the Packets a fresh set of downs.
The whole thing was a mess.
Here are three things that caught my eye …
- Sloppy tackling
The Vikings missed two tackles on the Packers opening drive and more after that, which highlighted the lack of preseason games. Teams rarely tackle in training camp so that area figured to be a little sloppy early in the season.
- Offense sleepy until late
Kirk Cousins and the offense made some plays in the fourth quarter, but it was too little too late. The offense couldn’t sustain anything in the first half, causing the time of possession to become lopsided in favor of Green Bay.
- Weird play call
Vikings offense coordinator Gary Kubiak had a strange play call at a key moment in the second half. Trailing 22-10 late in the third quarter, the Vikings faced fourth-and-3 at the Packers’ 39. After a timeout, Cousins threw a deep pass down the sideline to Tajae Sharpe, their No. 4 wide receiver.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer told the NFL Network last month that he’s “never had a bad defense.” Well, he’s got some work to do now.
In Sunday’s season opener at U.S. Bank Stadium, Green Bay shredded the Vikings’ once-vaunted defense to win 43-34. It was the most points ever scored against a Zimmer team in his seven seasons as Vikings’ head coach. The previous most came in the Packers’ 42-10 rout in 2014 at Lambeau Field.
With no fans allowed inside the stadium because of the coronavirus pandemic, it made for an eerie atmosphere. The Vikings did have one very impressive defensive showing on a goal-line stand early in the second quarter, when they led 7-3, but there were no fans to urge them on and perhaps shift momentum.
A few plays later, after the Vikings took possession of the ball at their own 1-yard line, Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander tackled quarterback Kirk Cousins in the end zone for a safety and they reeled off 19 straight points for a 22-7. The Vikings did get within 22-10 at halftime, but the second half provided few worries for the Packers.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer likely did not recognize his team as the normally strong defense looked absolutely atrocious. Nobody expected this defense to be great from Day 1, considering all the changes it has undergone, but the Vikings were a mess on that side of the ball. Some thoughts and observations from the Vikings’ 43-34 loss to the Packers.
- The 43 points against were the most a Zimmer-coached defense has given up since he took the job in 2014. The Packers had the previous high of 42 against the Vikings on Oct. 2, 2014 at Lambeau Field. That was Zimmer’s first season, this is his seventh and these were all of his guys.
- The Vikings gave up 522 yards (364 passing, 158 rushing), the second-most by a Zimmer-coached defense in Minnesota behind the 556 yards (456 passing, 100 rushing) the Rams accumulated in a 38-31 victory on Sept. 27, 2018 in Los Angeles.
- Jeff Gladney, the Vikings’ second first-round pick in April, was not part of the cornerback rotation that had Mike Hughes and Holton Hill starting and Cameron Dantzler outside, with Hughes going inside, in the nickel. Either Gladney really disappointed Zimmer in training camp or the Vikings still have concerns about the meniscus surgery he had in the spring.
- That rotation of corners all got picked on by Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers at different times and looked awful. Rodgers looked like the Rodgers of old — in part because the Vikings defense looked like it did before Zimmer arrived — and completed 32 of 44 passes for 364 yards and four touchdowns. Wide receiver Davante Adams had 14 receptions, on 17 targets, for 156 yards and two touchdowns.
- It should come as no surprise that the Vikings had issues protecting quarterback Kirk Cousins and in the third quarter the veteran decided to do something about it. On back-to-back plays, he ran for 16 and 14 yard gains. Cousins talked about using his feet more often this season and on those two plays he did exactly that.
- Cousins threw his first pick of the season late in the second quarter on a poorly thrown ball behind Adam Thielen that cornerback Jaire Alexander picked off at the Vikings 45-yard line. That led to this …
- The Packers took a 22-7 lead with 21 seconds left in the quarter on a 45-yard TD pass from Rodgers to Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Dantzler was running stride-for-stride with Valdes-Scantling but Rodgers made a perfect throw to the front corner of the end zone and Dantzler is, well, a rookie.
- Valdes-Scantling also caught a 39-yard pass from Rodgers on a third-quarter play in which Hughes was beaten. That put the ball at the 1-yard line and Rodgers threw a touchdown pass to Adams to give Green Bay a 29-10 lead.
- The key point in this game might have come in the second quarter when the Vikings defense stopped the Packers on fourth-and-goal from the Minnesota 1. The Vikings led 7-3 and had a chance to grab any momentum that might have existed. But that didn’t last long as Cousins was sacked on a corner blitz by Alexander for a safety. The Packers got a 43-yard field goal from Mason Crosby on the ensuing drive to take a one-point lead.
- The Vikings scored three meaningless touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Cousins found Thielen for a 37-yard touchdown to make it 29-18, Cook scored on a 3-yard run to make it 36-26 and Thielen caught another scoring pass, this one from 19 yards, to make it 43-34. All three Vikings touchdowns followed Packers scores.
- Wide receiver Justin Jefferson, the Vikings’ first pick in the first round in April, caught his first NFL pass in the third quarter, gaining 9 yards on third-and-16. Jefferson finished with two catches for 26 yards.
- The Vikings had an issue with missed tackles, beginning early with Dantzler and linebacker Eric Wilson both failing to wrap up Packers. You would expect an NFL player to be able to tackle, but even during an ordinary season tackling can be suspect early on. In this case, with no preseason games and limited practice time, the tackling was worse than usual. Zimmer won’t be happy but it couldn’t be considered a complete surprise.
- It was a given the Vikings would lose a significant home-field advantage with no fans in U.S. Bank Stadium. The question was how much? It turned out to be huge. One of the NFL’s best rivalries had the feeling that it was a youth football game being played on a Saturday morning and at least those games have parents in attendance. The piped in noise was barely noticeable, and the Packers’ offense had zero issues operating.
Ask the Milwaukee Bucks what not playing at home and in the “bubble” instead meant.
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:
(Clearly the photo was not taken on this day in 1919. Measurable snow has never fallen in Wisconsin in August … so far.)
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…”
There have been mixed signals out of Green Bay since the team surprisingly drafted Jordan Love in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. The Packers appear to still be committed to Aaron Rodgers, for now. After examining his contract, it’s clear that Green Bay will have a window to potentially split with him after the 2021 season.
As Spotrac details, Rodgers’ contract would leave teams a (somewhat) easier out in terms of dead cap space. The 2020 season has a cap hit that’s north of $21.6 million with a dead cap number of more than $51.1 million. That dead cap number drops to slightly more than $31.5 million in 2021, then $17.204 million and $2.852 million in 2022 and 2023.
Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio tossed out the idea that the club may actually want Rodgers to possibly “ask for a divorce” at some point in the future. He cited the front office potentially seeing themselves in a similar situation that the Packers were in with Brett Favre, writing:
Again, that’s possibly precisely what the Packers want. They knew how to get Brett Favre to retire in 2008 (i.e., ask him for a firm decision in February, when they knew he’d be inclined to walk away), and they know (or at least believe they know) how to get Rodgers to be the one to ask for a divorce.
If that happens, which team would Rodgers angle for as a next destination? Perhaps no team is more equipped to thrive with Rodgers than the Denver Broncos – assuming they have an interest in making a deal down the line.
John Elway once convinced Peyton Manning to play the second-leg of his career in Denver and it worked out. Peyton won his second Super Bowl, becoming the only quarterback in NFL history to win a ring with two separate franchises.
Denver will be set up to make a similar pitch whenever Rodgers’ tenure in Green Bay is over. One big factor at the time will obviously be money and the salary cap situation, but a lot can happen over the coming seasons.
Denver added several playmakers this offseason, which makes them an appealing option for any signal-caller (including second-year quarterback Drew Lock). Melvin Gordon was brought in to join Phillip Lindsay in the backfield, for starters. They drafted tight end Noah Fant last year, and this year, in addition to wide receiver Jerry Jeudy, the Broncos drafted K.J. Hamler as another explosive wideout to go with Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton.
“We’re going to have to score points to win in our division,” Elway said (via NBC Sports’ Peter King). “Obviously at 15 we were thrilled that Jeudy still was there. And going into round two, we were focused on Hamler. He’s explosive and really tough. It’s hard to go 80 yards in this league, and we feel like we drafted two guys who can. Kansas City has those guys, and the quarterback [Patrick Mahomes] is obviously going to be great for a long time.”
As King wrote, NFL teams didn’t have a reliable 40-yard dash time for Hamler, though once they looked at the tape, it was clear that he was impressively fast.
“He had a 100-yard kick return against Michigan,” Elway said, “and so we just figured we’d time him [in a 40-yard interval] on that play. We timed him at 3.93 in the 40, but of course he had a running start. He just has a different speed than anyone else. This has become such a speed game. Watch Kansas City. We love Courtland, we love Jeudy. Get Hamler in the slot against quarters coverage, releasing upfield at 4.3 or 4.32 speed, and that’s going to put a lot of pressure on the safeties, I know that.”
As nice as the situation in Denver is, the New England Patriots can’t be counted out as a hypothetical future suitor.
The Patriots do not have a clear-cut long-term answer at quarterback on the roster. Former fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham could do his best Tom Brady impression on the field, but that’s a big TBD at this moment.
It appears the Pats will enter the 2021 offseason with a need at quarterback. They could target the NFL draft if Stidham is unable to emerge from the pack. Perhaps 68-year-old Bill Belichick would like to groom someone he can coach into his late 70s. However, bringing in a quarterback who can offer three to five years of above-average play is undoubtedly the best option for the franchise.
Will Rodgers shift over to the AFC? While there is strong competition for the conference title with teams like the Baltimore Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs, there isn’t a long list of AFC teams that appear to be perennial locks to make the playoffs. It may be an easier path than in the crowded NFC, though. Wherever Rodgers lands, he’d certainly target a home where obtaining his second Super Bowl ring is a realistic outcome from the moment he hypothetically signs.
Bob McGinn, formerly of the Green Bay Press–Gazette and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
The mere law of averages says that Love won’t have nearly the same career that Favre had and Rodgers is having. The other thing is that, in contrast to what fans of the old-style smash-mouth NFL think, running the ball first doesn’t make you an elite team anymore, in large part because running back are one of the least durable positions as far as length of NFL career.
This certainly has reverberated throughout the sports world, in part because nothing else is going on. On the one hand Rodgers is going to retire at some point. He may want to play as long as Favre did, but given his lack of durability compared with Favre that seems unrealistic. On the other hand, if this story is legitimate, the apparent arrogance of LaFleur in thinking he can replace a Hall of Fame quarterback with no problem is pretty astonishing. One season does not make LaFleur a good coach, and questions are increasing about Gutekunst after a draft where most draft experts (such a “draft expert is”) are giving the Packers F grades.
If Love can’t get the job done, well, there are plenty of candidates for GM and coach positions, and I’m sure some other team will hire Gutekunst and LaFleur for something.
The Jaguars have agreed to trade Nick Foles to the Bears, according to ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter (on Twitter). In exchange, the Bears will send a compensatory fourth-round pick to the Jags. The former Super Bowl MVP will restructure his hefty contract as part of the trade, Mike Garafolo of NFL Network tweets.
It’ll be new surroundings for Foles, but he’ll have plenty of familiar faces to help him adjust. Head coach Matt Nagy is among the staffers that have worked with him in the past, which will help with the learning curve.
The Bears have been exploring alternatives to former first-round pick Mitchell Trubisky this offseason, though they’re not necessarily out to replace him. Instead, Foles figures to serve as competition for the soon-to-be 26-year-old.
Trubisky showed plenty of promise in 2018 as he led the Bears to an 11-3 mark in 14 starts, a campaign that resulted in his first ever Pro Bowl nod. However, things got really rocky last year – Trubisky had just 17 touchdowns against ten interceptions and the Bears’ D couldn’t make up for the shortcomings. The Bears went 8-7 in Trubisky’s 15 starts and finished .500 on the season, leaving them short of the playoffs.
Chicago initially insisted after the year that they’d roll with Trubisky in 2020, but reports soon emerged that they were going to look for a veteran to push Trubisky. They’ve been connected to a number of signal-callers including Foles, Andy Dalton, and Teddy Bridgewater, and we heard Monday that they were focused on trading for either Foles or Dalton.
The Bears will take on the last three years of Foles’ contract, which pays a base value of $50M before the restructure. The Jaguars will be left with a substantial dead money hit of $18.75MM in 2020 and a mid-round pick. Jacksonville seems prepared to turn things over to Gardner Minshew, the sixth-rounder who went 6-6 last year as a rookie and finished the season with a top-10 interception rate.
Foles has had plenty of success at Soldier Field, as his last win as a starting quarterback was in Chicago in the wild card round of the playoffs two seasons ago in the infamous ‘double-doink’ game. While the Bears have insisted they aren’t giving up on Trubisky, it would be highly unusual to pay a backup quarterback as much money as Foles is getting, and it would be surprising if he doesn’t take over at some point.
Chicago now has even less draft capital, as they’ve already shipped out a bunch of picks in previous deals. They now have the 43rd and 50th overall selections in next month’s draft, but no other picks in the first four-rounds, Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune notes in a tweet breaking down all of their picks.
Keith Olbermann said this in the late 2000s, and now this needs updating:
So the Bears have a quarterback problem. Thus has it been for the length of the era of Rex Grossman — and the eras of Kyle Orton, Brian Griese and Jeff Blake; Chad Hutchinson, Jonathan Quinn, and Craig Krenzel; Kordell Stewart, Chris Chandler, Jim Miller, Cade McNown, Shane Matthews and happy Hank Burris. Well, that takes us all the way back to 2000.
Following Orton’s return three years after the first of his two benchings came the era of Jay Cutler … and Todd Collins, Caleb Hanie, Josh McCown, Jason Campbell, Jimmy Clausen, Matt Barkley and Brian Hoyer. That takes us from 2009 to 2017, when the Bears let Cutler leave, signed Mike Glennon and drafted Trubisky.
Bears fans wring their hands when after two games, Rex Grossman’s quarterback rating matches the speed limit. But this is one of the NFL’s great unrecognized traditions. With brief interruptions of stability from the likes of Jim McMahon and Billy Wade, the job has been unsettled since Sid Luckman retired.
Wade was the quarterback when Da Bears won the 1963 NFL title. The next season, Wade was replaced by Rudy Bukich, only to replace Bukich one season later, only to be replaced by Bukich one season after that. Bukich was out by 1967, when Jack Concannon arrived, only to be replaced by Rakestraw for two games. Bobby Douglass and Virgil Carter arrived the next season when the Bears inexplicably cut Rakestraw.
This is how Da Bears could have two Hall of Fame players — running back Gale Sayers and linebacker Dick Butkus — and end up with two winning seasons (their first, 1965, and 1967, the first and last of the Packers’ threepeat NFL titles) and zero playoff berths. (Sayers’ career ended in 1971, two years before Butkus retired.)
There has always been a Rex Grossman, he has always underperformed, and they have always been about to replace him. The Bears have had 13 starting quarterbacks in the last eight seasons and 40 in the last 47. They’ve started Moses Moreno, and Larry Rakestraw, and Doug Flutie for two games in 1986, and Peter Tom Willis — all three of him.
As compared to 13 starting quarterbacks in eight seasons a decade ago, Da Bears have done much better in the past eight seasons — nine starting QBs. Dating back to the 2010 season, when Da Bears teased their fans with an attempt at a Super Bowl run (and needed three quarterbacks to lose the 2010 NFC championship to the Packers), the count is 11 starting QBs in 10 seasons.
Moreover, once the Bears told George Blanda he was too old to do anything but kick any more. This was in 1958; he would quarterback the Raiders in the AFC Championship Game in 1970.
They drafted Bobby Layne and traded him, and they drafted Don Meredith and traded him, because who would need Don Meredith when you already had Ed Brown and Zeke Bratkowski?
So there’s no explaining this revolving door at quarterback for the Chicago Bears. But if history is any indicator, it is sending this message to Chris Leak, the Florida quarterback whom the Bears cut last month: stay in touch, your era may be next.”
A decade later, there still is no explaining this revolving door at quarterback for the Chicago Bears, which indeed remains one of the NFL’s great unrecognized traditions.
The Packers play the most pressure-packed game of the playoffs, the NFC championship, in San Francisco — that is, Santa Clara — Sunday.
The question is whether this game will be like the Packers’ NFC championship wins at San Francisco in the 1997 season or Chicago in the 2010 season, or more like the Packers’ previous NFC title game losses at Atlanta and before that Seattle. Most experts pick the 49eers to win. One who doesn’t is CBSSports.com’s Pete Prisco:
The 49ers battered and bruised the Packers in the regular season, winning 38-7 in Week 12. San Francisco’s defensive line tossed Aaron Rodgers around like a rag doll, sacking him five times. San Francisco held the Packers to 198 yards that day and Green Bay was 1 for 15 on third down.
That won’t happen here.
Yes, the 49ers are coming off an impressive victory over the Vikings last week, a game where their defense dominated, but the Green Bay offense is much better now than it was in Week 12. Rodgers, who is 0-2 against the 49ers in the playoffs, looked good against Seattle last week.
It will come down to the Packers offensive line against that dominant pass rush? Can it hold up? I think it can.
The Green Bay defense is an aggressive group that loves to play with the lead. But they’ve had issues against the run all year and San Francisco is outstanding running the ball. If the 49ers win it, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo could have an easy time of it against the Packers. The offense is keyed off that run game.
I think both offenses will have success here, but in the end I think it will come down to the better quarterback. I am going with Rodgers and the Packers.
Lombardi Avenue is split. (Which takes some guts.)
I suspect this game is going to come down to the Packers’ run defense. A cardinal rule of football is that making a team one-dimensional makes beating them easier, particularly a team that likes play-action passing. That applies to both teams Sunday. This is a different team from Rodgers’ previous teams. Rodgers is probably not going to beat teams by himself anymore, as seemed to be the case in previous seasons. But unlike previous seasons, this team has a running game and defense, and you know what defense wins.
(What does defense win? According to former Vikings coach Bud Grant, defense wins … games, while offense sells tickets.)
Fans have denigrated the Packers as the worst 13–3 team in the league (a label 27 other teams would love to have) because of all their close wins — nine by eight or fewer points including Sunday’s playoff win over Seattle — and the so-called “winning ugly” styles of those games. However, former coach Bill Parcells was fond of saying that you are what your record says you are.
They have beaten teams that were missing key players, such as the Chiefs without quarterback Patrick Mahomes. (We hope to worry about that in two weeks.) They are also 0-for-California this season. And in those nine wins they have basically done what they needed to do, and almost little more, to win. That’s either luck, which will show up with a loss Sunday, or the kind of toughness the 2010 Packers had. And you know how that season ended.
The 2014 NFC Championship Game between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks will live in infamy because of the Packers’ collapse, but the game should have been over before halftime. While Green Bay led 16-0 barely 20 minutes into the game, the margin should have been much more lopsided.
On Green Bay’s first possession, Aaron Rodgers believed he had drawn the Seahawks offside so he threw it deep to Davante Adams but was intercepted in the end zone by Richard Sherman. Moments later, the Packers took over at Seattle’s 19 on an interception by Ha Ha Clinton-Dix but the drive stalled just inside the 2 and they settled for a field goal. The Packers took over at Seattle’s 23 when Brad Jones forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff but the drive stalled at the 2 and they settled for a field goal. Leading 16-0, Green Bay took over at its 44 following another interception by Clinton-Dix but Rodgers returned the favor. In all, the Packers turned four first-half takeaways into just six points and settled for a 16-0 halftime lead.
Seattle got on the board on a fake field goal, with punter Jon Ryan throwing a 19-yard touchdown to lineman Garry Gilliam. Still, with a 19-7 lead, Green Bay appeared to clinch the victory on Morgan Burnett’s interception with 5:04 to play. Outside linebacker Julius Peppers told Burnett to get to the turf – and Burnett did, giving up a likely touchdown that would have driven a final stake into Seattle. Instead, three runs by Eddie Lacy went absolutely nowhere and the Packers punted with 4 minutes to go.
The wheels, of course, fell off from there. Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson scored from the 1, Brandon Bostick fumbled the onside kick rather than letting Jordy Nelson field it, Lynch rumbled in from 24 yards for the go-ahead score and Clinton-Dix played as if his cleats were stuck in concrete in giving up the two-point play that gave Seattle a 22-19 lead. A gimpy Rodgers drove the Packers to the tying field goal and overtime. Green Bay, however, never saw the ball in the extra period. Seattle drove 87 yards for the winning touchdown, with Wilson beating a blitz with a 35-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse against Tramon Williams.
“You feel like it’s a waste of seven, eight months,” left guard Josh Sitton said a day after the game. “What’s the point of getting this far? I’d have rather not even made the playoffs.
“We kicked their ass up and down the field all day,” Sitton continued. “And there’s no reason we shouldn’t have won the game. Literally one of 10 plays you can pick that if we get it, we win the game. It’s frustrating when you should have won the game and you’re the better team. I thought we were the better team all day except for 3 minutes.”
Added receiver Randall Cobb: “We just fell apart. You look up with 5 minutes left, you say, ‘There’s no way you can lose this game.’ And it just seems like we did everything to lose that game in that last little bit.”
A Rodgers vs. Tom Brady matchup in the Super Bowl would have been a game for the ages. Instead, the Packers wasted a chance to win a second Super Bowl in the Rodgers era. This season, with seemingly everything going Green Bay’s way, will Rodgers ever be in a better position to win a second title than he is this season?
Green Bay leads the series 20-9, including 2-1 in the playoffs. The 2003 playoff game at Lambeau Field went to overtime. Seattle won the toss and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck famously proclaimed, “We want the ball and we’re going to score.” Instead, he threw a pick-six to Al Harris.
“I was just happy I caught the ball. There’s guys who played with me who would tell you my ball skills weren’t that good,” Harris said recently.
In the 2007 playoffs, Seattle took a 14-0 lead just 4 minutes into the game before being buried alive 42-20 at snowy Lambeau Field. Ryan Grant ran for 201 yards and three touchdowns.
In Week 3 of the 2012 season, Seattle beat the Packers 14-12 on Wilson’s “Fail Mary” touchdown pass to Golden Tate that looked like a game-ending interception by M.D. Jennings. Shortly thereafter, the league struck a deal to bring its regular officials back following a contract dispute.
Green Bay has won eight consecutive home games in the series. Seattle’s last win at Lambeau Field came in 1999, a 27-7 romp in which Brett Favre threw four interceptions and Seattle won with Jon Kitna throwing for just 109 yards.
I got to see this across from where I was sitting:
As for Rodgers, Mike Tanier writes:
The more things change in Green Bay, the more Aaron Rodgers stays the same.
Over the last two years, the Packers have swapped out coaches and general managers, revamped their playbook, drastically altered their spending philosophy and completely rebuilt their defense. They’ve changed just about everything except Rodgers and his core entourage: top receiver Davante Adams, multipurpose wingman Aaron Jones, bodyguards David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga.
The massive overhaul allowed the Packers to escape four years of 10-6 (at best) doldrums to finish 13-3, placing them two games away from the Super Bowl. The organization did its part. Now it’s time for Rodgers to do Tom Brady stuff, Hall of Famer stuff, $134 million contract stuff.
The next few weeks are a chance for Rodgers to live up to his reputation after a few too many seasons of coasting on it.
Now, there are two schools of thought when it comes to Rodgers, just as there are two schools of thought about every other NFL quarterback:
The pro-Rodgers argument: He has been the league’s best pure passer and playmaker since 2011, and he has only looked ordinary for long stretches of the last three to five seasons because of stale game plans and weak supporting casts.
The anti-Rodgers argument: His accuracy and big-play capability decline incrementally each year, but he has tuned out coaches and ignored open receivers for so long and has such a huge salary and gift for passive-aggressive blame deflection that no one in Green Bay has the authority or courage to force him to adjust.
The truth about every quarterback always rests somewhere between the capes and the critics. But in this case, the anti-Rodgers camp makes a lot of valid points.
Rodgers finished 12th in the NFL in passer rating this season, right between Deshaun Watson and Carson Wentz. He finished 13th in Football Outsiders DVOA, between Watson and Philip Rivers. He finished 21st in ESPN’s QBR, between Giants rookie Daniel Jones and Brady, who had a miserable season by his standards. Rodgers, fully healthy and freed from the predictable Mike McCarthy offense that allegedly held him back, had a middle-of-the-pack season by any statistical standard.
Blame Rodgers’ “lack of weapons” if you like, but he threw for fewer yards, touchdowns and a lower completion rate than Wentz, whose receivers and running backs were pulled from the Pat’s King of Steaks line after a Flyers game. Rodgers had Adams (for most of the year), Jones, a serviceable Jimmy Graham and familiar-if-ordinary receivers like Geronimo Allison and Marquez Valdes-Scantling to throw to, yet Derek Carr outperformed him statistically while throwing to a castoff Ravens tight end and a 5’10” fifth-round pick.
A deeper dive into the data makes Rodgers look even worse. Per Pro Football Reference, Rodgers led the NFL with a Bad Throw Percentage of 21.2 percent. It’s wise to be skeptical of newfangled, subjective-sounding stats like Bad Throw Percentage, but many of the names just below Rodgers on the list (Jameis Winston, Josh Allen, Jared Goff, Mason Rudolph, Old Man Brady) earned reputations this season for throwing too many gopher balls.
Rodgers finished second to Brady with 31 throwaways, per Pro Football Reference; being a veteran and giving up on a play is one thing, but doing it about twice per game when you are supposed to be one of the NFL’s best playmakers is another. And Rodgers was one of 15 qualified quarterbacks with a Dropped Pass rate of less than 5 percent: again, his targets were not to blame for his ordinary numbers.
Dig a little deeper, and some instructive trends emerge.
Rodgers’ efficiency rate in the first quarters of games was 123.5, with nine touchdowns, zero interceptions and a completion percentage of 71.0. In the second quarter, his efficiency rating plunged all the way to 77.2, with a completion rate of 54.6, before balancing out at 94.3 (passer rating) and 62.8 (completion percentage) in the second half. To clarify that heap of statistical splits: Rodgers put up Patrick Mahomes stats in the first quarter and Dwayne Haskins numbers in the second quarter before balancing out in the above-average neighborhood for the rest of the game.
Those splits jibe with what Packers fans saw on the field all year. Rodgers usually looked efficient, and sometimes spectacular, while working within the structure of Matt LaFleur’s offense on the first few Packers drives. But then he became the self-indulgent old stage actor who refused to stick to the script and began improvising. While there were few overt signs of the Rodgers-LaFleur drama some of us anticipated/worried about/licked our chops for when the 40-year-old coach replaced McCarthy, there were too many long stretches in which Rodgers turned up his nose at his initial passing options, scrambled around directing traffic, overthrew a bomb he would have completed in 2014 and scowled impatiently as he walked to the sideline.
The result of Rodgers’ Jekyll-and-Hyde season might have been another 10-6 finish (or worse) if the Packers running game and rebuilt defense didn’t lift them to victory over Washington, the Lions (twice) and the Vikings (twice).
The 36-year-old Rodgers set a Hall of Fame standard for himself from 2010 to ’14. He has fallen well short of that standard in recent seasons. The Packers spent the last two years eliminating the reasons/excuses for his decline. Now it’s time for him to perform to that standard again, because the Packers won’t be able to beat their playoff opponents by scoring 20 to 24 points and trying to squat on the lead.
That doesn’t mean Rodgers must do everything single-handedly. Just the opposite: He must evolve the way the best-of-the-best are supposed to late in their careers. Brady replaced Randy Moss rocketry with a much more surgical approach. Peyton Manning changed teams and coaches at age 36 with his trademark professionalism and reached two Super Bowls. John Elway settled into a run-oriented system at age 36 and won two Super Bowls. They all met new coaches, weapons and realities about their declining skills halfway by learning to thrive in new systems or environments.
If Rodgers cannot lead the Packers to the Super Bowl this year, they’ll likely do even more to accommodate him next year: draft a half-dozen receivers, hold closed-door grievance-airings with LaFleur, sign Antonio Brown (that would go over swell) or whatever. That’s what teams do when they have over $100 million and a decade of organizational identity invested in their quarterback.
But if Rodgers can’t take this Packers team to the Super Bowl, it really means the next thing that must soon change in Green Bay is the quarterback. And it will all be because the quarterback himself refuses to change.
I wonder if Tanier wrote this a dozen years ago about Brett Favre. Change the names of the receivers and running backs, and you could have said basically the same things.
For what it’s worth, this year’s team’s fortunes seem much more dependent on how the defense does, and I predict the defense, not Rodgers, will decide the Packers’ fate Sunday.
This is not an attack of ’80s music nostalgia.
This is about Wisconsin’s Rose Bowl trip for New Year’s Day — the 10th in UW’s history, but the seventh since Barry Alvarez arrived on campus — and the Packers’ upcoming playoffs.
Each seems to not entirely impress people. The Badgers lost twice to Ohio State (whereas everyone else the Buckeyes played until Clemson lost just once) and had a bad loss to Illinois. No other UW Rose Bowl team had a bad loss on their schedule, except the 1994 (Minnesota), 1999 (Cincinnati), 2010 (Michigan State), 2011 (ditto) and 2012 (five of them) teams. The list does not include the 1998 Badgers, who nonetheless were so unimpressive to ESPN’s Craig James that he called them the worst team to ever get to the Rose Bowl … which then made them the worst team to ever win a Rose Bowl, I guess.
UW in fact never seems to impress anyone because of its traditional plodding style, except perhaps for the Russell Wilson season. When Paul Chryst was UW’s offensive coordinator, the Badgers ran the same plays, but they were much better disguised. They appear to have gone backwards with Chryst as the coach for some reason. Jack Coan hopefully won’t be the quarterback next season (once Graham Mertz is off his redshirt), but there really is no game-breaking receiver on the roster, including Quintez Cephus. On the other hand, Chryst is so far undefeated in bowl games, so whether fans like the style or not, the substance is a lot of wins. (Remember, no one complains about boring winning offenses.)
The thing about the Rose Bowl is that it’s not just about football. The UW Marching Band is in Pasadena for the first time with new director Corey Pompey.
Pompey appears to have made improvements without getting rid of the important things.
The second Bucky vs. Ducky Rose Bowl matchup features the Big Ten’s second best team (which is playing longer than its champion is) against a team that surprised most football observers by upsetting Utah, a team thought to be in contention for the College Football Playoff, in the Pac 12 championship game. The Ducks are 15th in the Football Bowl Subdivision in scoring offense, while Wisconsin is 10th in scoring defense. Wisconsin is 22nd in the FBS in scoring offense, while Oregon is eighth in scoring defense. However, most observers seem to believe the Big T1e4n is a better conference than the Pac 12, which struggles to have a CFP-worthy team and in fact hasn’t had one the past couple of seasons.
This will probably be the key: UW is 14th in rushing offense, while Oregon is 10th in rushing defense. Oregon is 43rd in rushing offense, while UW is eighth in rushing defense. That favors Wisconsin, unless the Badgers put the ball on the ground.
Speaking of unimpressive yet successful, there are the Packers, which had to overcome a 17–3 halftime deficit to beat the Lions on (once again) a game-winning field goal Sunday. That makes the Packers the number two seed for the upcoming NFC playoffs, giving the Packers a week off and a second-round home game against Philadelphia (which beat the Packers on a tipped interception), Seattle or San Francisco (which hammered the Packers in Santa Clara) in round two Jan. 12.
At the risk of grandiose predictions, this team sort of reminds me of the 2010 Packers, which needed to win their final two games of the regular season to get into the playoffs, and then had to win three road games to get to the Super Bowl. Teams with struggling offenses and relatively stout defenses (though there was much complaining about this year’s defense for the number of points they gave up in wins) tend to win games like Sunday’s.
The converse is the 2011 Packers, which were an offensive machine on the way to a 15–1 regular-season record, only to lose at home in their first playoff game. You’ve heard the phrase offense wins games; defense wins championships. (A more amusing take comes from former Vikings coach Bud Grant, who observed, “Defense wins games; offense sells tickets.”)
The NFC frankly is not that good this season, which makes one think any of the six playoff teams could get to the Super Bowl. Yes, that includes Green Bay. The Packers also could lose their first playoff game.
Everyone knew something had to give when the Packers went to Minnesota Monday night, given that Aaron Rodgers had never won a game at US Bank Stadium, but Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins had never won a Monday Night Football game.
Rodgers is now off the schneid thanks to a fantastic defensive performance, and the Packers are again where they belong, on top of the NFC North Division after their 23–10 win.
You can imagine how happy they are in the Twin Cities. Actually, you don’t have to imagine that, which is the theme of this blog, starting with the Minneapolis Star Tribune:
The majority of the announced 67,157 in attendance — a record for a Vikings game at U.S. Bank Stadium — had long since filed out on Monday night, save for a group of several dozen Packers fans who congregated above the tunnel in the stadium’s southwest corner. They chanted “Go Pack Go,” cheered the Green Bay players — who emerged on their way to the team bus after dispatching the Vikings 23-10 — and collected autographs from the ones who decided to stop and sign.
Not since the 2018 season (and never for the Vikings’ biggest rivals) had the stadium felt so friendly to a visitor. The Vikings entered the day as the NFL’s only undefeated team at home, facing a Packers team that hadn’t won in the building in three tries. It seemed, as the Purple faithful pushed noise levels toward 120 decibels, the perfect stage for Vikings pass rushers to badger Aaron Rodgers, for the team to stand up to a formidable opponent on a big stage and for the Vikings to make their playoff path more favorable.
Instead, the postseason path for these Vikings will consist entirely of road games after a trivial home finale against the Bears on Sunday. They will be the NFC’s No. 6 seed, learning their postseason destination through the results of other games next week, after their last, best opportunity to stand up tall in the regular season slipped through their fingers.
Despite three first-half takeaways against a Packers offense steeped in self-nullification, the Vikings’ chances for their third NFC North title in five years officially expired. They gained only 139 yards, posted seven first downs all night and held the ball for only 22 minutes, 28 seconds, placing a heavy burden on a defense that eventually broke after playing 75 plays.
Aaron Jones’ second touchdown run of the game — a 56-yard burst off the left side of the Green Bay line — closed out the scoring as the Packers scored 20 consecutive points after falling behind 10-3.
Green Bay ran for 187 yards before three Rodgers kneel-downs, taking some of the workload off its quarterback as he misfired on several passes and watched his receivers drop two others. Without Dalvin Cook, though, the Vikings could manage only 57 yards on the ground, while Kirk Cousins threw for only 122 yards and was intercepted by Kevin King for the second time this year.
The Packers clinched their first NFC North title since 2016 with the victory — their first at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“Honestly today and tomorrow, we should let it sting a little bit,” said linebacker Eric Kendricks, who left because of a quadriceps injury and missed the second half. “We should let it sting. We have to know what we did wrong, watch the film, make corrections and things like that. But we should definitely let it sting, then let it go in 24 hours or so and then get back to work. We’re blessed to be able to play again. We worked hard all season to put ourselves in this position, but we have to play better in these games for sure.”
Cousins, who fell to 0-9 on “Monday Night Football,” threaded a touchdown to Stefon Diggs on a 21-yard throw with Jaire Alexander in tight coverage to put the Vikings up 10-3, but was later picked off on a deep ball to Diggs after King — who intercepted Cousins at the end of the game between the teams in Week 2 — broke from the back side of the play.
ESPN’s cameras captured a sideline exchange between Cousins and Diggs after the play where the quarterback appeared to be saying, “I didn’t see the backside corner” on the interception.
There is something strangely appropriate about the Vikings blowing $84 million on a mediocre quarterback, after they spent $25 million on Sam Bradford, who followed Teddy Bridgewater, who followed Christian Ponder, who followed Donovan McNabb, who followed Brett Favre … you get the picture. Since Favre’s first year with the Packers, the Vikings have had 27 different starting quarterbacks … including Favre.
The other appropriate thing is that this is a metropolitan area that likes to waste money on single-purpose sports stadiums. The Twin Cities have a Vikings-only stadium, Minnesota Gophers-only football stadium (because heaven forbid that the Gophers and Vikings share a football stadium), Minnesota Timberwolves-only basketball arena, Minnesota Wild-only hockey arena, and an outdoor baseball stadium because apparently Minnesotans enjoy buying tickets for games they may not actually watch due to rain or snow. That is $2.4 billion for five stadiums used by five teams, which may be why the basketball Gophers play in a 91-year-old arena.
The Strib’s Jim Souhan:
The Vikings missed Dalvin Cook on Monday night.
They missed Kirk Cousins even more.
The Kirk Cousins who played efficiently and sometimes spectacularly since the end of September did not show up for “Monday Night Football” against the Packers. In his place stood Quirk Cousins, master of the bounce pass.
He was almost as bad as a receiver as he was as a quarterback, pratfalling on a third-down route on a trick play that shouldn’t have been necessary.
Cousins’ reputation had previously been soiled by his prime-time performances, some of which could have been excused because he was playing for the laughingstock NFL franchise in Washington.
This was not that. This was Cousins leading a superior roster for a team that was undefeated at U.S. Bank Stadium and enjoying a stunning run of defensive success.
To win this game, all the Vikings needed was competent quarterback play. They didn’t get it, and unless Cousins can change the way he plays in important games, what happened on Monday night will be remembered as a badly imagined prequel to another playoff failure.
If your quarterback can’t lead in a big game, you’d better learn to be happy with the NFL’s consolation prizes — second place in a four-team division and the last of six NFC seeds.
Asked if Cousins looked shaky early in the game, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said: “You know, it’s hard for me to tell when I’m standing on the sideline. I’ll look at the tape and let you know.’’
No, he won’t.
Asked if he was surprised by Cousins’ erratic play, Zimmer said: “I’m not going to get into this ‘Kirk Cousins on Monday night’ thing. Offensively, we didn’t play as well as we could play, I’ll say that. And defensively, we could have played the run better. So there are a lot of things we need to clean up.’’
Cousins is now 0-9 on Monday nights as an NFL quarterback. That statistic can be explained away only if you didn’t watch him short-arm passes in the first quarter on this Monday night.
This season Cousins has staged a comeback against the Broncos, has beaten the Lions twice, has thrown beautiful passes against the Giants and Raiders.
This year, while leading a quality roster, he has played three games against threatening divisional opponents. He is 0-3, and his play led to all three losses.
He threw a killing, unforced interception at Green Bay in September. He looked overwhelmed against a Bears team that went in the tank as soon as the Vikings left town. And Monday, he put up numbers that would have gotten most Vikings quarterbacks — at least those without guaranteed contracts, or with promising backups — benched.
His final stat line on Monday: 16 completions on 31 attempts, 122 yards, one touchdown, one interception and five sacks. The Vikings amassed 139 yards and seven first downs, less than they would expect in a normal half.
With Cook out with dual shoulder injuries, the Vikings tried to run the ball with Mike Boone, and went nowhere. Suddenly Cousins wasn’t throwing play-action passes against tentative defenses. He would have to beat the Packers with accuracy and nerve. He lacked both.
“We’ve got to go back and look at how and why, and certainly the answers to those questions should be of some help to us going forward,’’ Cousins said.
Most NFL players after most losses speak this way: As if a little more time watching video will make all the difference. But if Cousins’ problem is an inability to perform under duress, study won’t help.
If Cousins is the Vikings’ problem in big games, their problem is incurable. Vikings fans seemed to sense that.
With the Packers ahead 23-10 with less than six minutes remaining in the game, Cousins bounced a throw to Ameer Abdullah, and boos began to rain. The boos grew louder when Zimmer decided to punt rather than going for a first down on fourth-and-24 with less than four minutes remaining.
Zimmer made the right decision. Nobody, at that point, wanted to see another Cousins pass.
The Vikings’ radio flagship, KFAN, passed on this Associated Press story:
Asked during the week about Kirk Cousins’ winless mark on Monday nights, Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer told reporters that if his team lost to Green Bay, it wouldt be because of Cousins, who’s having a career year in his second season with the Vikings.
This lackluster offensive performance might not have fallen solely on Cousins, but the $84 million quarterback was unable to pull the offense out of its lethargy against a stifling Packers n’defense in a 23-10 defeat on Monday night.
Cousins finished 16 for 31 for 122 yards, one touchdown and an interception for a 58.8 quarterback rating. Fair or not, he fell to 0-9 as a starter in his career on Monday night. Far more relevant than the time of kickoff or the day of the week was that Cousins’ two worst games of the season came against the Packers, who clinched the NFC North.
“I’m not going to get into this Kirk Cousins on Monday night thing and all this stuff,” Zimmer said after the game. “Offensively, we didn’t play as well as we could play. I’ll say that, OK. Defensively, we could play the run better. So, there’s a lot of things that we need to clean up.”
Even at home, where they were 6-0 coming into the game, the Vikings had just 139 yards of offense. Their longest drive was 31 yards, they had seven first downs on 13 possessions, and they were 4 of 15 on third down.
“When you don’t convert third downs, go three-and-out, you just don’t have that many plays,” Cousins said. “You don’t have many bites at the apple to get going. We certainly did not play well enough from start to finish tonight.”
They had prime opportunities in the first half, after three takeaways by the defense gave them the ball in Green Bay territory each time.
After Eric Kendricks returned a fumble to the 10-yard line to set up Minnesota’s first possession, Mike Boone ran for 5 yards. Then Cousins threw two incompletions to fullback C.J. Ham, the second thrown too high and hard for Ham to catch as it sailed out of bounds and the Vikings settled for a field goal.
After a rare interception by Aaron Rodgers, Cousins capitalized with a touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs for a 10-3 lead.
“They couldn’t play-action pass,” Packers defensive tackle Kenny Clark said. “That’s their bread and butter. They get easy completions for Kirk Cousins. We got a chance to get him to drop back on third down so we could do our job.”
It wasn’t the first time.
Cousins had a season-low 52.9 passer rating in a 21-16 loss at Green Bay earlier this season, including an interception by Kevin King in the end zone with 5:17 remaining when the Vikings had first-and-goal from the 8.
King intercepted Cousins in this game, too, snaring a deep pass intended for Diggs in the third quarter. The Packers then drove 53 yards in eight plays for the go-ahead touchdown.
“Just trying to bring him across the field, and the backside corner sank,” Cousins said. “So he made the play. I probably shouldn’t have brought him across the field. Either take him vertically or progress on.”
Under duress all night, sacked five times, Cousins couldn’t find many open receivers. Diggs, who’s scored in seven straight games against Green Bay, had three catches for 57 yards. Adam Thielen was held without a catch on four targets.
With the loss, Minnesota was locked into the sixth seed in the NFC playoffs.
“Certainly the Packers beat us tonight, so we’ve got to go back and look at how, why and certainly the answers to those questions, in theory, should be of some help going forward, not just if we play them again but in general,” Cousins said. “So we’ll have to study that, and that will be the silver lining is just learning from the mistakes so they get corrected. Then when games up ahead are being played, they don’t repeat themselves.”
Strangely, the St. Paul Pioneer Press’ Bob Sansevere couldn’t bring himself to be severe enough about the Vikings. He’s correct in that there is no overwhelming team in the NFC, including the Packers, but if that’s the case shouldn’t the Vikings be better than the occupants of the last NFC playoff spot?
The other question that comes to mind is this. By the Packers’ beating the Lions earlier this season and Wisconsin’s wins over Central Michigan, Michigan and Michigan State, Wisconsin owns Michigan. With UW’s win over the Gophers and the Packers’ sweep, does Wisconsin own Minnesota too?