Aaron Rodgers reaches another milestone, but offensive effort in second half leaves bittersweet taste in his mouth
GREEN BAY - In 2020, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has stockpiled milestones on his quest to win the league’s MVP award. Seventh quarterback in NFL history to throw 400 touchdown passes and the fastest to do so. First quarterback in NFL history to throw more than 39 touchdown passes with fewer than five interceptions in the first 13 games of a season.
In the Packers’ 24-16 victory over the Carolina Panthers, Rodgers collected another one — he became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw at least 40 touchdowns in three seasons.
Rodgers accomplished something no quarterback has done before. Still, he called the milestone “bittersweet.”
“As fun as the first couple quarters were,” Rodgers said, “It's not gonna be the easiest night of sleep thinking about the second half.”
The milestone may have tasted sweeter had the Packers' offense sprinkled in some consistency heading into the second half. After scoring three straight touchdowns and going up 21-3 in the second quarter, the offense fizzled and failed to produce for the remainder of the night. The once high-powered scoring offense averaging 31.5 points per game lost its charge.
“I'm not a big believer in teams lightening up or losing focus,” Rodgers said. “It just comes down to execution and we didn't execute starting the second half. That's why they got back in the game.”
Execution becomes impossible when the quarterback gets clobbered behind the line of scrimmage. The Panthers sacked Rodgers five times, a season-high and the most since the Packers’ Week 6 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when he took four. Three of the Panthers’ five sacks came in the second half.
Because the Packers found themselves in long yardage situations so often, they struggled to convert on third down. After going 4-of-6 on third down in the first half, the Packers offense only converted a single third down on six more attempts in the second half, bringing their final conversion rate to 42 percent.
“There was more pressure on our quarterback tonight than we've seen probably since the Tampa Bay game,” head coach Matt LaFleur said. “It seemed like once it started to snowball, we could just never get out of the rut.”
The Panthers defense allowed just 49 yards in the second half. Running back Aaron Jones took the brunt of the Panthers’ adjustments coming out of halftime. In the first half, Jones collected 114 rushing yards, including a 46-yard gain that set the Packers up for their first touchdown.
In the second half, he only accrued 31 rushing yards.
“They just had pretty much everybody in the box,” Jones said. “They made a change at corner, I believe. Rasul Douglas, he came in and he was filling the hole pretty hard when he got in there. So it gave it a little different look as well. You could tell they were playing with a little bit more effort in the second half.”
LaFleur concluded that the Panthers picked up on what the Packers were trying to accomplish in the run game. The Packers found success early on running into the boundary to the tight end’s side, but the Panthers eventually found a way to limit Jones.
“They battled, but I'm sure they got a little bit of a bead on what we were trying to get done,” LaFleur said. “We've got to make sure that we have the counters off of everything.”
Meanwhile, wide receiver Davante Adams finished the night with seven catches for 42 yards, his least productive game since Week 2 against the Detroit Lions when he left the game early with an ankle injury (3 receptions, 36 yards). According to Rodgers, Adams faced single coverage just “one or two plays the entire game.”
“Even though we were obviously very efficient running the football, we need to keep finding ways to get Davante involved because he's such a difference-maker,” Rodgers said. “I didn't feel like we got where we could get get him the ball a whole lot tonight.
“But we've got to keep finding ways to get him the ball because he's just so dynamic.”
Kicker Mason Crosby was the only Packer to score in the second half when he made a 51-yard field goal. Scoring three points through two quarters was enough to hold off the 4-10 Panthers, who have lost eight games this season by a score or less. But come time for the playoffs, LaFleur said the Packers offense needs to play their best football.
“I don't think anybody on offense is particularly happy, especially with the second half,” LaFleur said. “But we're happy we won. We're 11-3 and it's always good. You'd rather come out of this with a win and have stuff to clean up than on the other side of this thing. You'd feel really, really crappy then.”