GREEN BAY — By Monday morning, two video clips from Sunday night's 17-14 loss to the Minnesota Vikings set the Twitterverse ablaze in Green Bay and beyond. The segments captured plays in which Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers made uncharacteristic decisions, and both ended with uncharacteristically poor results.
The first took place midway through the second quarter, with the Packers facing third and 4 on their own half of the field. Rodgers faced a five-man rush. The protection was decent. But the quarterback spun backward, even though the nearest rusher was still a yard and a half away, and instead of hitting rookie Trevor Davis on a wide-open shallow cross, Rodgers hurled the pass out of bounds.
The second play sealed the Vikings’ win late in the fourth quarter, third and 14 near midfield. Rodgers faced a six-man rush with six blockers for protection, though running back James Starks was one of them. Rodgers lofted an underthrown pass to his left — he did not step into the throw — and cornerback Trae Waynes sliced in front of receiver Davante Adams for a game-clinching interception.
“You know what? I'm going to do my job,” Rodgers said Wednesday. “I mean I'm going to do it as well as I can every week, and everybody's got to do their job well. I know I've got to play better and I will.”
The aforementioned quote took place in Rodgers’ testy interview session with local reporters, three days after the defeat. On Thursday, quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt spoke to the media and, for the most part, came to his pupil’s defense.
Van Pelt said Rodgers has not been bolting the pocket too early: “No, I don’t see that at all. I see his ability to move and extend plays I think sometimes you confuse that for flushing early.”
He said all quarterbacks need periodic reminders about their fundamentals: “That happens often. I can go back to days with Drew Bledsoe (as a player in Buffalo), when he’d say, you just have to remind me every once in a while, stick my foot in the ground. It’s just second nature.”
Van Pelt said Rodgers threw quickly on the interception because of the oncoming six-man rush: “That particular play we had a free rusher and we had to get the ball out our hand early, that’s why the ball floated and came inside a little bit. Typically we get that thing blocked up and he’s drilling it. But the circumstances of that play is why the ball didn’t have the zip that you normally see from an Aaron pass. ... He knows he’s outnumbered. You’re throwing hot timing basically with an extra rusher, so your mindset is I can’t hold the ball at all here."
He said Rodgers identifies his own mistakes on film: “Tom (Clements) and I could sit in a room with him with Coach (McCarthy) and let that tape roll and not say a word, and he knows exactly what he should have done and what he shouldn’t do. You don’t want to be the master of the obvious, but at the same time you’re coaching the younger guys in the room, too. You make comments on it, but there’s no one that feels worse in the room than he did after the game the other night, and that’s the truth of the matter.”
Van Pelt said Rodgers’ three fumbles against the Vikings prompted an onslaught of ball-security drills in practice: “Two hands in the pocket at all times, two hands when you’re running it in traffic. That’s been addressed. We put him through the gauntlet today and made him do some ball security things that he was ready to do and happy to do and had a little fun with it at the same time. That’s something that we addressed and an area of emphasis this week and continuing through the season.”
In truth, Van Pelt offered very little criticism of a performance that ranks among the worst of Rodgers’ career. Perhaps that’s because he has seen Rodgers bounce back before and he’s certain he will see it again.
But the shoddy display only heightens the scrutiny under which Rodgers plays, an everlasting microscope that always seems to zoom. The obvious solution is a vintage performance Sunday against the Detroit Lions, a game that silences critics near and far.
And according to Van Pelt, such a display is not that far away.
“The beauty about Aaron is he’s just such a competitive guy,” Van Pelt said, “and my history is if he has a down day he’s going to bounce back. That’s what we’re expecting.”