I just watched Coach LaFleur’s post-game presser. You gotta hand it to him: he could spot some good in a nuclear plant explosion.
I’d like to be wired that way, but I’m just not. Yes there were some fine and inspiring moments, but the impressions I can’t get out of my head are two incredible lowlights.
Play 1. with 16 seconds remaining in the half, the Packers are at the Chicago 31-yard line. It’s third and four, they are just within field goal range, and they have one timeout left. Rodgers takes the snap, fades back behind the 40, can’t find a receiver, the pocket collapses, and while going down he attempts a pass which fails to reach the of scrimmage. The call is intentional grounding, and a ten-yard penalty is assessed – taking the Packers out of field goal range. Instead of a 10-3 lead, the Packers hit the locker room with only a 7-3 margin.
Play 2. With just over six minutes remaining in the game, and with the team clinging to an 8-point (one score) lead, Green Bay has a third down and four to go at the Chicago 27. As six Bears defenders clearly signify an all-out blitz, Aaron calmly fades back and is overwhelmed before he barely looks downfield for a receiver or gets his feet set. The 11-yard resulting sack put the ball on the 38, too far to attempt a field goal in this weather. A made field goal would have made the score 24-13 – or a two-score lead with a little over four minutes remaining.
As an educational service, I’m going to start compiling an NFL “Never List.” Here’s as good an entry as any to start with: on third down, when a field goal would be meaningful, and an offense is within field goal range, NEVER take a risk of being moved back beyond that range.
Both of the above plays violated this precept – and it could easily have cost Green Bay the win. Now, I understand that sometimes this occurs due to a holding penalty or the like – that’s unfortunate, but it’s not an inexcusable error.
But when your quarterback allows this to happen, or when your play caller dials up a play that opens up a real risk of winding up out of field goal range, that’s reprehensible. As to the second play, I don’t know what play was called, but the fact Rodgers started fading back tells me it was a play that took time to develop. The only pass call to make in this situation is a quick, short pass. Regardless of the call, a QB should not run out of field goal range or take a deep sack – throw the ball at some receiver’s feet, or even go to the ground if necessary.
It’s possible that Rodgers was trying to suck the blitzers in and then throw a screen, but he never even got his feet and body set to throw as he went straight backwards. Even a five-yard sack would have left open the possibility of a presumptive game-sealing field goal.
That Aaron Rodgers, an elite 16-year veteran and future NFL Hall of Famer, would commit such a blunder is remarkable. That he did so twice in less than half a game is astounding.
Not too long ago, TP’s Jason said that Aaron’s performance difficulties are mental, not a result of the aging process. I completely agree – any physical performance decline we’re seeing in Rodgers (who just turned 36) to date would be minor.
The Playoffs Await
Heartiest congratulations to the Packers, who my iPad is just telling me that, due to the Rams loss, is assured of making the playoffs. Though most observers don’t think Green Bay has a roster with enough talent to go far, it’s a significant achievement for first-year head coach Matt LaFleur.
After watching the Packers-Bears tussle, I’m more worried about mental errors and lack of discipline than I am about the team’s athletic ability.