Tom Brady once said: “Every quarterback can throw a ball; every running back can run; every receiver is fast, but that mental toughness that you talk about translates into competitiveness.” When skillsets are so evenly matched, the game is won between the ears.
Aaron Rodgers might concur with the legendary Brady after the Green Bay Packers continued their slump in form which has virtually ended any hope of the playoffs. After another defeat against the Commanders back in October, Rodgers admitted on the Pat McAfee Show that there were far too many “mental errors and mistakes”. It was the language of a team that is not clicking into place. Solving the jigsaw looks as puzzling as the slump.
Even a change of scenery hasn’t helped. Despite being the most viewed international series game ever on the NFL Network, the Packers went down to the Giants in London to kickstart the slump.
Mental resilience and making the right calls are what separate the good from the great. Former English rugby union coach and World Cup winner Sir Clive Woodward had an acronym T-CUP: Thinking Correctly Under Pressure. The Packers have not been abiding by that directive on virtually every key metric.
The NFL, like rugby, is won in the physical battle where heart and soul educate and inform what happens next. During yet another defeat, New York Jets coach Robert Saleh essentially questioned the Green Bay Packers’ courage when he shared a half-time speech: “Just keep giving them [the Packers] body blow after body blow and keep hitting them in the mouth. We felt like if we can just keep taking them down to deeper water they’ll find out they can’t swim.”
There has been much talk about this being Rodgers’ last season and his revelation that he has played from week 5 onwards with a broken thumb just adds to the feeling that this could be a swansong for his Green and Gold ambitions.
There has been a distinct lack of fluidity about the approach and confusion about whether to run it or throw it. Rodgers clearly does not have confidence in his offensive line and receivers. He has gone so far as to put it on the record that those who are not making plays should be benched. Does this curt analysis include himself?
There have been too many inaccurate throws, and too many dropped passes and the 13-time NFL champions own one of the worst stats in the concession of penalties. As Woodward would tell you, giving away too many soft and unnecessary transgressions is a surefire way of showing an inherent in-game mental weakness.
Brady is still playing top-level football in his mid-forties. Rodgers is a mere stripling at the age of 38. However, there are worrying signs that internal strife and low team morale are breaking the bond that is so crucial in successful professional sports. Without unity, Green Bay are just a collection of talented individuals. That never won anything.