SEATTLE - Russell Wilson outplayed Aaron Rodgers.
The Green Bay Packers’ 27-24 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday night really was that simple.
Rodgers’ 128.8 rating says he had a good game, better than Wilson’s 110.3. But anyone who watched knows that wasn’t the case. This game was there for the taking, and as has happened several times this year, when Rodgers and coach Mike McCarthy had the chance to take it by putting points on the board, they didn’t come through.
In fact, one stunning play Thursday night summed up the Packers’ 2018 season as well as anything that’s happened through 10 games. On a huge third-and-2 inside five minutes left on what could have been a game-winning drive, Rodgers had Marquez Valdes-Scantling open on a quick out to keep the chains moving. And he threw it in the dirt. Rodgers has been off a lot this season, but that really was beyond belief.
“I could do that a hundred times and probably not do that again,” Rodgers said. “It was a gimme. It was a gimme out there. It stuck to my hand.”
So just what is going on here? Rodgers simply isn’t playing well, and while his injured left knee has been a factor at times, he said it was fine Thursday night.
In fact, there was a fleeting sign or two that the old Aaron Rodgers might be back. As his knee has improved he’s been scrambling more and more, but those scrambles haven’t been the weapon they were in the past. Instead of back-breaking completions on the move, he’s mostly just run for a couple yards here or there, or more often, just thrown the ball away.
Then late in the first quarter Thursday, the old Rodgers returned. He broke the pocket to his right, saw tight end Robert Tonyan open downfield against one-on-one coverage, and heaved the ball across his body while on the move. Tonyan made the catch for a remarkable 54-yard touchdown, and you wondered if it was the start of something, if the MVP Rodgers was back just in time.
But that was it. There were no more scramble throws the rest of the night. And despite getting plenty of opportunities to widen the lead in the second and third quarters, Rodgers and McCarthy put up only 10 points the rest of the way.
That’s the reason this team is 4-5-1. Against the Los Angeles Rams, against the New England Patriots and again Thursday night, the Packers had great shots at pulling off big wins on the road. But in each, Rodgers couldn’t make the plays for the crucial score.
Something clearly is off, and it’s not just the knee. Is he missing his quarterbacks coach, Alex Van Pelt, whom McCarthy let go after his contract expired last offseason? Does he not like the offense? Is it something else?
Whatever it is, the quarterback and coach simply aren’t working well together, and that can’t help but permeate through the team. Watching Rodgers, it’s hard not to wonder, where’s the joy? Where’s the camaraderie?
With an exception here and there, he looks like he’s enduring games, not reveling in the competition. Far too often he just looks unhappy, pounding the ground or turning his palms upward like he’s wondering what somebody was doing.
“Winning’s a lot of fun,” Rodgers said. “We haven’t strung together too many back-to-back wins and haven’t won on the road yet. That part’s not fun. I love my teammates. I love competing. Losing, it’s not fun.”
The missed chances in this game and season have been staggering. Coordinator Mike Pettine’s defense actually is getting better as the games go on, and Thursday night it got several big stops in the second half with the Packers up by four.
But it went for naught because Rodgers and McCarthy went 0-for-3 in the third quarter and couldn’t put up enough points to win in a league where you have to keep scoring to keep the pressure on. The third-down failures Thursday night were epic (3-for-11 conversion rate). Four of the eight misses were coverage sacks where Rodgers either didn’t see or didn’t have an open receiver.
Rodgers has thrown only one interception this season, which on paper looks great. But at this point, you have to wonder if he’s actually being too careful with the ball.
“There wasn’t a lot of guys open on third down,” Rodgers said. “We’ve got to get back to getting open on our routes and being in the right space at the right time and figuring out what those best concepts are for our guys. Without Randall (Cobb), without Geronimo (Allison), we’re still learning these young receivers.”
So here the Packers are, 4-5-1 and clinging to mathematical hopes of making the playoffs. This wasn’t a must-win game for their postseason prospects, but how many times can the Packers keep blowing very winnable games and keep hope alive?
A 6-0 finish almost surely would get them into the playoffs, but what are the chances they can run the table with games at Minnesota and Chicago included in the home stretch? Maybe 5-1 gets them in at 9-6-1, but again, can they really escape the building gloom for even that kind of run?
Rodgers talked of the need for a galvanizing moment, but as he said, a moment can galvanize only if you, you know, actually win the game. Otherwise, back to square one.
So square one it is with six games to play.
“I don’t want to say there’s a lot of football left,” McCarthy said. “There’s enough football. That’s basically what I told the football team.”