Aaron Nagler of PackersNews.com talks with Detroit Lions beat writer Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press about the upcoming Lions-Packers game this Sunday.
GREEN BAY – He carried his intensity into the locker room Wednesday. His edginess. Three days of irritation.
Aaron Rodgers, answering questions like they were oncoming linebackers, vowed he doesn’t hear outside opinions. He blocks it all out. The scrutiny. The criticism. The unfamiliar doubt.
“I don't care about that,” he said.
His tone suggested otherwise.
This is a different week for a player reflexively showered in praise. Aaron Rodgers is a two-time MVP, a Super Bowl MVP, almost always above reproach.
He has had bad games before. Sunday was different. It extended a career-worst slump, a string of 14 straight games without his passer rating reaching 100. It came with a defense good enough to win, if only its quarterback could muster even an average performance.
It came with a fan base scratching its head and, yes, freaking out.
During his weekly chat with reporters, Rodgers said he walked into the locker room Wednesday knowing what to expect. He called the media “predictable” in a lengthy diatribe. He scoffed at the idea his fundamentals need work.
He also accepted blame for Sunday’s loss.
“I have to,” Rodgers said. “I have to lead by example. As a leader, you have to take the blame when it’s necessary, and even sometimes when it's not your fault. I think it's important to let those guys know that you're going to stick your body on the line, but also you're going to stand up for them when you need to in the locker room, the meeting room and the media, and take your responsibility for the way you played.
“I didn't play as well as I wanted to last week, and I turned the ball over twice, and I can't do that if we're going to win the game. So I've got to play better, and I've got to play more efficiently on offense.”
Jim Caldwell had no interest in kicking Rodgers while he’s down.
Instead, the Detroit Lions coach became the latest opponent to open a box of superlatives. It seemed forced considering the circumstances. The most recent Packers film shows Rodgers completing 55.6 percent of his passes at Minnesota, fumbling three times and throwing an interception on a potential game-saving drive.
What has Caldwell seen from the Packers' quarterback?
“Greatness,” he blurted. “That’s what I see. I know often times that people like to criticize, but let me just tell you something, the guy is phenomenal. The guy has talent coming out of his ears. He can make every throw. He can run. He’s just a great leader. What are you talking about? He’s exceptional.”
There’s a reason opponents tread lightly around Rodgers. The chip on his shoulder is legendary. He has built a career on overcoming slights.
It’s more than Rodgers’ ability to avoid mistakes that separates him from peers. It’s how he responds to bad games.
Rodgers’ passer rating dipped below 80 seven times from 2009-14, a stretch that doesn’t include his first season as a starter. Five times, his passer rating the next week exceeded 100. His average increase was 54 points. The Packers were 6-1 in those next-week games.
Statistically, something changed last season. Not only did Rodgers’ bad games spike, but his next-week responses weren’t the same. Rodgers dipped below an 80 passer rating four times in 2015. His average increase the next week was 18.1 points. He never bounced back to hit 100, and the Packers were 1-3.
Naturally, how Rodgers responds this week after dipping below an 80-point passer rating for the 16th time in 121 starts will be watched closely.
“I have great confidence in Aaron,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “I’ve never trusted a quarterback or an individual as a player more than I trust Aaron Rodgers. His work ethic is at the top of his career, the time he spends in the facility with the coaches and his teammates.
“So from that, it’s a process. We’ll all stick to the process, and from that we’ll have success.”
Peppered with several question about how to fix a broken offense, Rodgers decided he’d rather keep details to himself. He admitted the Packers’ timing was off last week. Why? Rodgers declined to say.
One reason, of course, was to not tip his hand to the Lions. What’s said publicly, read online, can be scouted by opponents.
But there was that undeniable edginess to Rodgers’ demeanor, his irritated tone.
“I feel pretty good about my fundamentals,” Rodgers said. “I'm a two-time USA All-Fundamentals teams. First team. I have the helmets at the house. True story.”
Whatever the issue, the Packers would like to see it fixed immediately. Their offense is built on Rodgers. They can only go so far without him playing like a two-time MVP, a Super Bowl MVP, a player deserving to be above reproach.
In private, Rodgers said, there were “honest” conversations about the Packers’ shortcomings this week. Maybe it would help ease tension in the fan base if those details were public. Rodgers, staring down the media, wasn’t going there.
“You guys have a job to do,” Rodgers said, “so do your job. Make your opinions and scrutinize, but we're not worried about your opinions. And we're not going back having sleepless nights worried about what you guys are saying about our offense. Because you guys don't know what plays we're running, you don't know where the execution is, you don't know where the flaws in the execution lie.”
Rodgers believes he knows. He expects to show it this Sunday. In the meantime, perhaps he can rediscover the art of erasing bad games seven days later.
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