Mike Vandermause column: Packers prove to be merely average without star QB

Nov. 4, 2013
Packers-Bears analysis: Assessing Rodgers' injury
Packers-Bears analysis: Assessing Rodgers' injury: Mike Vandermause and Pete Dougherty talk about the effect of Aaron Rodgers' injury in Monday night's loss to Chicago and the Packers' chances of success during his absence. (Nov. 4, 2013)
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers watches from the sidelines in the third quarter of Monday nights' game against the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field. Rodgers was injured in the first quarter and did not return to action. Kyle Bursaw/Press-Gazette Media


The Green Bay Packers found out on Monday night just how much quarterback Aaron Rodgers means to their success.

The Packers have been virtually unbeatable at Lambeau Field in recent seasons and were an 11-point favorite against the Chicago Bears in their Monday Night Football matchup.

But when Rodgers went out with a shoulder injury less than 3 minutes into the game, the Packers faced a giant hurdle they couldn’t overcome in a 27-20 loss to the Bears.

The Packers’ much ballyhooed “next man up” philosophy works for ordinary and better-than-average starters, but when it comes to losing one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, there is no way to replace that kind of firepower.

Give the Packers credit for trying their best to make up for the void left by Rodgers’ early departure. They mounted a solid ground attack featuring Eddie Lacy and James Starks. And they produced some stellar plays on special teams, including a blocked punt and successful onside kick.

But in the end, the Packers without Rodgers proved to be an average team. They struggled to keep up with the injury-ravaged Bears, who were missing starting quarterback Jay Cutler and one of their best defensive players, Lance Briggs.

NFL history has shown that what separates excellent and average teams are one or two true difference-makers, players that can hoist a team on their shoulders and change the course of a game.

Rodgers is one of those rare players that makes everyone around him better. He brings extraordinary talent to the most important position on the field, and that has made the Packers an automatic Super Bowl contender in each of the past five seasons.

Without him, the Packers found out where they stand. They are a middle-of-the-road team in the NFC and might be no better than the third-best team in the NFC North.

This is not an indictment of the Packers’ overall talent level. It’s the reality of life in the NFL. Contending teams normally have a collection of serviceable starters but need a difference-maker or two, especially at the quarterback position.

The Denver Broncos without Peyton Manning would be in the same boat as the Packers, taking on water and trying to stay afloat. Ditto for the New Orleans Saints without Drew Brees, or the New England Patriots without Tom Brady.

There was no indication how long Rodgers will be out, but the Packers without him might be a .500 team at best.

The notion that the Packers could lose Rodgers and keep humming along as a legitimate playoff contender is naïve, if not downright foolish.

It’s one thing to subscribe to the next-man-up theory for an inside linebacker, tight end or even a talented wide receiver. It’s quite another to survive the devastating loss of an MVP-quality quarterback.

If Rodgers misses significant time, the Packers’ Super Bowl hopes will evaporate. If it’s a short-term absence the Packers, if they’re lucky, might be able to hang on by their fingernails and stay in playoff contention.

But it became apparent that with backup Seneca Wallace filling in at quarterback, the Packers will have to scratch and claw their way for every first down, and every offensive possession promises to be a struggle.

Wallace lacks the pinpoint passing ability and command of the offense that Rodgers possesses, and it showed in his spotty performance. Wallace completed 11 of 19 passes for 114 yards with a passer rating of 53.4.

The Packers have a roster loaded with solid starters, in addition to reserves that have filled in for injured players without the team missing a beat.

But the Packers’ success, first and foremost, revolves around Rodgers. Without him, the Packers are no better than ordinary. That was painfully evident against the Bears.

— mvandermause@greenbaypressgazette.com and follow him on Twitter @MikeVandermause.

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