The fallout from the Niners game left a clear division of fans: the pro-Aaron and the anti-Aaron groups – with the anti’s being particularly distressed and vocal.
Fans who are never satisfied with less than perfection found a ready scapegoat: “Rodgers hasn‘t been elite for years,” “we should never have signed him to a long-term contract,” “Rodgers just proved he’s a fraud.” Et cetera.
The truth is: Rodgers delivered two fine postseason passing performances.
After all that talk about timing being off, Aaron went out against the Seahawks and put on a show of precision passing. For the most part, the eleven of his 27 passes that misconnected were throw-aways or were directed toward receivers who were covered. Aaron threw six passes over ten yards down the field, and he connected on every one of them. Has he ever done that before?
Aaron and Davante Adams certainly have no timing problem. He found his ace receiver eight out of 11 times, usually hitting him in full stride, which led to lots of yards after catch. And when the pressure was the greatest, on those two third downs as Green Bay desperately tried to keep from putting the ball back in Russell Wilson’s hands, Aaron, despite strong rushes, got the ball first to Davante and then to Jimmy.
Aaron’s passer rating in the game was 113.7, which eclipsed Russell Wilson’s 106.5. The only quibble I had following this win is his year-long bad throwing mechanics on his short passes in the flats – he keeps misfiring on his easiest of throws.
Against the 49ers, Aaron was even more accurate than he was against the Seahawks. This time he was 9 of 11 when targeting Davante, and again for big yardage: 160 and then 138. His 65-yard completion to Davante near game’s end was as pretty a deep throw and catch as you’ll ever see.
Rodgers’ timing on this day was equally good, including when he targeted his much-maligned supporting cast of receivers. Cumulatively, he went 10 of 12, for a whopping 138 yards, when throwing to Jimmy Graham, Allen Lazard, Jake Kumerow, Tyler Ervin, and Jace Sternberger. On the day, Aaron completed 79.5 percent of his passes.
Again, Aaron was off-target on a bunch of those short throws, though his receivers made up for it with some nice catches. In fact, did any Packers’ receiver drop a ball in either playoff game?
Despite the one-sidedness of the game, these games served as proof that there’s nothing wrong with Aaron’s 36-year-old right arm. Though the final passer rating was 97.2, until that last desperation interception, I think he was upwards of a 110 rating. Garoppolo in his meager eight throws recorded a 104.7.
What makes this extra impressive is that the 49ers had far and away the league’s best pass defense during the regular season, yielding just under 170 yards per game. Despite the fact that the Niners D was finally back to full health for this matchup, Aaron threw for 326 yards – a number he only exceeded twice in the regular season.
The numbers are irrefutable: Rodgers had one of his best throwing days of the year on the big stage of the conference championship, and against the league’s toughest pass defense.
The Trouble Was. . .
Uncharacteristically, however, Aaron had one of his worst ball security games. Three fumbles, one lost; two interceptions (though I don’t count his late desperation heave as a mistake). The timing of these errors couldn’t have been worse. During the regular season the Packers had the second fewest turnovers (13), while the Niners had 23 giveaways. On Sunday, however, the Packers lost the turnover game, 3-0.
On the botched snap from center, the Packers had a fine 5-play drive of 50 yards going, and appeared to be about to narrow the 17-point scoring gap. The first interception came with only a minute left in the half and Green Bay back on their own 22-yard line. Not only was Geronimo Allison surrounded by defenders, he never even knew the ball was coming his way. Given the field position and time remaining, throwing that ball had to be Aaron’s worst decision of the season. San Francisco pounced on the opportunity, finding the end zone three plays and fifteen seconds later.
Leaving aside the quarterback play for a moment, can someone tell me why the Packers would help out the Niners by calling two timeouts in the final minute of the half – at a time that San Francisco had the ball and was driving for a score that would put the game out of reach? LaFleur made this same mistake a number of times this season.
Criticizing Rodgers for the awful turnovers is completely warranted. But it was the mismatch of the Packers defense against the speedy 49er offense, and not the quarterback play, that sent the Packers packing.
The fact is, and the numbers show, that Rodgers got his passing mojo back in these two high-pressure postseason games – and that bodes well for next season.