GREEN BAY - Everything pointed to a big game by Aaron Rodgers on Sunday night.
The Green Bay Packers were healthy on offense and well-rested coming off the bye week. The New York Giants’ secondary was short-handed in the wake of a Monday night loss to Minnesota.
The Packers ran the ball well, which theoretically should have helped play action. The line blocked exceptionally well, giving Rodgers plenty of time to go through his progression.
There was a time the NFL’s leader in career passer rating would have carved up the Giants’ defense, completed 70% of his passes, thrown for 300-some yards and three or four touchdowns.
Not on this night.
Rodgers looked ordinary in Green Bay’s 23-16 victory at Lambeau Field. He appeared to be, at times, skittish in the pocket. He threw behind receivers, over their heads and into the ground.
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He completed 23 of 45 attempts for 259 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Those aren’t horrible numbers, but as much time as the line afforded him – on several occasions he had six or seven seconds, and he was never sacked – they should have been better.
Other than the first half against Detroit before the bye, when Rodgers led the Packers to touchdowns on their first three possessions and the team built a 31-3 lead (before holding on for a 34-27 victory), his play has been nothing special.
For the season, he has completed 78 of 139 attempts (56.1%) for 876 yards, with nine touchdowns and three interceptions. Again, decent numbers, but not what Packers fans have come to expect from a future Hall of Famer.
Rodgers did some good things against the Giants. His second touchdown pass, a 29-yarder to Davante Adams, who beat cornerback Michael Hunter down the sideline, was superb. He ran for a couple first downs.
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What would have been a third touchdown pass, 21 yards to Randall Cobb, was nullified by off-setting penalties. But on the very next play, Rodgers slightly overthrew Jordy Nelson, who reached out with one hand and deflected the ball into the arms of Giants cornerback Janoris Jenkins for an interception.
On his second interception, Rodgers scrambled to his right and tried to hit Adams but Jenkins had him blanketed and made his second pick.
On the Packers’ next series, Rodgers threw high to James Starks and then at Starks’ feet on back-to-back passes. Earlier, he threw behind Starks on a screen that might have ruptured into a big play. He also danced in the pocket several times and was fortunate the line protected so well.
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“It’s been ugly at times, but it’s tough to win in this league,” Rodgers said. “It’s all about winning. We’re our biggest critics, myself included. I’ve got to play better.”
The good news is that the Packers are 3-1 and playing outstanding defense. But one-quarter of the way through the season the Minnesota Vikings appear to be the class of the division, and the Packers must get past Dallas (4-1) at home and Atlanta (4-1) on the road before the calendar flips to November. What was supposed to be a soft schedule suddenly appears to be daunting.
“We’d like to score a few more points to help our defense out,” Rodgers said. “They’re playing so well.”
In order to do that, Rodgers is going to have to perform closer to the high standard he has set, the one Packers fans have come to expect.