Aaron Rodgers walked into the Green Bay Packers’ media auditorium on Sunday for his postgame press conference with a somber look on his face.
“I’m just frustrated,” Rodgers said. “I didn’t throw the ball very well.
“I’m not going to speak for anybody else, but personally I just didn’t play my best game, so I’ve got to look at myself first. I’ve got to play better.”
This more than anything is an indication of how good the Packers have become. They put up five offensive touchdowns in a 35-26 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lambeau Field and boosted their record to 10-0, yet Rodgers looked like he had just lost the game.
So what is his idea of an off day?
“The ball wasn’t coming off the way I wanted it to today,” he said. “(There’s) some throws I usually hit that I didn’t hit today.”
Despite his genuine disappointment, Rodgers completed 23 of 34 passes (68 percent) for 299 yards, three touchdowns and one interception with a passer rating of 112.3.
Many NFL quarterbacks would kill for a day like that. But Rodgers is no ordinary player.
“I think he’s kind of spoiled us a little bit with the way he’s been playing lately,” guard T.J. Lang said. “When he has one incompletion, he gets upset with himself.”
Rodgers was especially frustrated when the Packers sputtered in the second half. They were forced to punt on back-to-back possessions in the third quarter, and Rodgers threw only his fourth interception of the season early in the fourth quarter.
That helped the Buccaneers rally from a 14-point first-half deficit to within two points on two occasions in the fourth quarter.
“It’s hard to be as sharp as he normally is when he’s completing 80 percent of his balls,” said receiver Jordy Nelson, who had six catches for 123 yards and two touchdowns.
“If you’re a true competitor and want to get better and try to be the best like Aaron does, he’s going to take every play personal, good or bad, and move forward and learn from it.”
Rodgers had been exceptionally sharp of late. He completed a team-record 75 percent of his passes in each of his previous three games. He also posted a 140-plus passer rating during that stretch, which had been done only once in NFL history.
So his numbers against the Buccaneers, while very good for most quarterbacks, didn’t quite measure up to Rodgers’ lofty standards. When you’re threatening to produce one of the best seasons of any quarterback in league history, anything not in the vicinity of perfection isn’t acceptable.
Still, Rodgers has posted a passer rating of 110 or higher in every game this season. That matches New England’s Tom Brady (10 in 2007) for second on the NFL’s all-time single-season list. Only San Francisco’s Steve Young (11 in 1994) has done it more times in a season, and Rodgers has six more games to overtake him.
With the Packers clinging to a 28-26 lead and 3 minutes remaining, Rodgers fired a perfect 40-yard touchdown pass to Nelson down the sideline for the clinching score on third-and-4.
“It’s nice we came up with a big drive there at the end and put them away,” said Rodgers, who sounded like that was the least he could do after missing open receivers earlier in the game.
Truth be told, Rodgers’ performance against the Buccaneers was well above average, but in his eyes it should have been better. What’s significant about his attitude is that it’s rubbing off on teammates.
“To say we’re winning games and still realize there’s a lot left out there says a lot about this football team,” Lang said.
How many NFL teams would feel sheepish about lighting up the scoreboard with 35 points? Yet Rodgers wasn’t alone in feeling unfulfilled.
“It’s just one of those things where you know your offense and how we can play, and we didn’t play to our expectations today,” tight end Jermichael Finley said. “It was all of us.”
What the Packers seem to be saying is their perfect record is nice, but it’s not good enough.
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MikeVandermause.