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Two-interception game 'is an anomaly' for Aaron Rodgers

Ryan Wood
Packers News

Here was Aaron Rodgers, MVP frontrunner, future Hall of Famer, holder of the greatest touchdown-to-interception ratio in NFL history. If there’s anything you know about this quarterback, it’s that this quarterback does not throw passes to the wrong team. He entered Sunday’s showdown against Tom Brady with 13 touchdowns and no interceptions this season. 

In a word, ridiculous. 

As Rodgers dropped back early in Sunday’s second quarter, there was something else you might have known about the Green Bay Packers quarterback. It’s not just that Rodgers rarely throws interceptions. When he does, they practically never get returned for touchdowns. Rodgers had thrown just two pick-sixes in his career entering the game at Tampa Bay, his personal house of horrors. One came in this same town, inside Raymond James Stadium, back in 2009. The other, the only other time a defender had housed an Aaron Rodgers interception in his career, was against the Cincinnati Bengals in the third game of 2017. 

So as Rodgers released his pass to Davante Adams, very few things in 2020 seemed like absolutes. That Rodgers’ pass wouldn’t be a pick-six was one of them. There’s a certain level of shock accepted with unscripted sports.

Even still, the shock the Packers experienced when their quarterback who played almost flawlessly to that point in the season threw a pass Buccaneers cornerback Jamel Dean returned 32 yards to the opposite end zone was off the charts. 

“That (expletive) happens,” Rodgers said, trying to shrug off the shock factor after the game. “It’s part of the (game). I haven’t had a lot of those over the years.” 

No, this (expletive) doesn’t happen. Not to Rodgers. While the Packers disintegrated on both sides of the ball in their 38-10 blowout loss to the Buccaneers on Sunday, it was their pristine quarterback who started the avalanche. He did it with a throw so startling unlike Rodgers, it was jaw dropping. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Jamel Dean (35, right) heads for the endzone after intercepting a pass by Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and returning it for a score during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, in Tampa, Fla.

Rodgers referenced the wind in the stadium. Indeed, gusts that reached almost 20 mph wreaked havoc on Rodgers’ accuracy. He missed a touchdown pass deep down the middle of the field to tight end Marcedes Lewis, who the Buccaneers did not cover. It should have been a layup, but instead the football bounced off Lewis’ outstretched right arm. 

On the pick-six, Rodgers said, the wind again played a factor. Yes, he saw Dean crouching behind Adams, but his pass was not supposed to go behind Adams. The wind instead blew Rodgers’ pass there, directing it to the defender on an out route. Exactly the type of route a quarterback fears leaving a pass too far inside. 

There was nobody on the Packers offense to even slow down Dean on his way to the end zone.  

“The wind was blowing pretty good right to left,” Rodgers said, “and I felt good about the spot. I knew it was tight, we’ve hit throws like that, but I missed on my spot by probably a foot or so. And the kid made a good play.” 

If it stopped there, the shock confined to only the third pick-six of Rodgers’ career, who knows how Sunday’s game ends. It was a game-changing play, but the Packers still held 10-7 lead. They had the ball. They cruised through the first quarter, dominating time of possession and hitting chunk plays in the pass game, including a pair of third-and-long conversions. 

The shock did not stop there. 

Because the quarterback who threw 25 touchdown passes and only two interceptions through the 2018 season – there was talk last week if Rodgers could actually make it through a full year without a pick – tossed his second in as many drives. This time, Rodgers’ pass to Adams was deflected, and Bucs safety Mike Edwards caught the ricochet. Edwards did not take this pick to the end zone. His 37-yard return ended 2 yards short of the goal line. 

The Bucs pounded in a 2-yard touchdown run with tailback Ronald Jones II on the next play, taking a 14-10 lead. It was part of 38 unanswered points for the Bucs. 

“It changed really fast, momentum changed,” safety Adrian Amos said. “They obviously grabbed it. That’s one of those times where, as a defense, got to step up and help the offense. We didn’t come out and execute the way we wanted to, and grab that momentum back.”

It was the first time Rodgers had thrown interceptions on consecutive drives since his final game of 2017, when he returned from a broken collarbone at the Carolina Panthers. His second pick Sunday appeared to be bad luck more than anything, but it was doomed from the start. The Packers were in the wrong formation, coach Matt LaFleur said. They lined up before the snap in a bunched look, something this offense used to confuse defenses throughout the first four games. This play, however, was supposed to be run at full width.

Sometimes teams are the author of their own bad luck. 

“Probably should have popped a timeout,” LaFleur said. “It didn’t look right. Sure enough, the ball got batted around there, and the ball got picked, and those were a significant part of the game.” 

If not for Super Bowl LV currently being scheduled for Raymond James Stadium in February, Rodgers might never want to play in Tampa ever again. Sunday was just his fourth trip to the Bucs' home. The best news is Sunday’s visit didn’t end with him on the injury report. Rodgers injured a shoulder in 2008, his first visit, and tore a calf muscle in 2014. The second injury plagued him through the playoffs, up to that year’s NFC title game. 

Rodgers, who entered Sunday completing 70 percent of his passes, was 16-of-35 for 160 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions and a 35.4 passer rating. That his miserable day came in Tampa might help Rodgers move on quicker. For Rodgers, nothing good seems to happen in southwest Florida.  

He might also find some solace learning the last time he had a passer rating worse than Sunday’s came late in the 2014 season, when Rodgers had a 34.3 rating at the Buffalo Bills. That season, of course, ended with Rodgers being named MVP. 

“I feel good about the team,” Rodgers said. “Might need to add an extra finger to the scotch, but I do feel good about the team. I’ve played for so longer, you’re going to have a couple stinkers. 

“This, I believe, is an anomaly, not the beginning of a trend. And we’ve got a chance to prove me right next week.”