Due to retiree traveling over the last weeks ;), I haven’t been as closely attuned to the performance of the Green and Gold as I normally would be. I was literally wowed by the bravura performance of Aaron Rodgers against the Bears in the opener; after that, although aware that the team had had its ups and downs and that there were claims that some of its difficulties arose from questionable officiating, I hadn’t really had an opportunity to again study the Packers in action until last Sunday.
Yesterday, I checked the NFC North standings and schedules. It’s still too early to think about Wild Card chances; I focused on Green Bay’s chances to win the NFC North title. If I’m reading the standings correctly, it seems overwhelmingly likely that if the team runs the table – not unheard of in the Rodgers era – it will win the Division. The Packers will play both the Bears and Vikings one more time. If Green Bay beats Minnesota and Minnesota otherwise wins out, Green Bay would prevail due to the head-to-head tie breaker. Although Chicago could survive the loss to Green Bay and win the Division if it otherwise wins out, it has to play the Vikings twice and the Rams once down the stretch; if it loses just one of those games and Green Bay does run the table, Green Bay would prevail over Chicago due to the head-to-head tie breaker.
That said, while I look to the Packers’ game tonight against the Seahawks with a bit of optimism, it’s pretty tempered. Aaron Jones certainly seems to be a growing offensive force for the team, and they have a couple of young receivers that seem able to stretch the field. The defense played well against Miami (conceding that Brock Osweiler isn’t Tom Brady or … Russell Wilson). That said, last Sunday, Aaron Rodgers didn’t look to me like … Aaron Rodgers. Realizing that this is all relative – Rodgers, even slightly off, is still one of the best in the game – he seemed … different. I felt I saw changes like those you might note in a friend that you haven’t seen for a while. It was hard to tell whether it was lack of communication with his young receivers (when he scrambles, they don’t seem to anticipate or come back to him the way Jordy Nelson did), a still-impaired leg, spotty protection (he was chased a lot), or … perhaps some loss of arm strength (he threw a couple of un-Rodgers-like floaters against Miami).
Another concern: I’ve seen a short video interview in which I didn’t detect much of the swagger that Rodgers has had in past years. I didn’t see any of the “RELAX” or “We’ll run the table” sentiments that have heralded past stretch runs.
I’ve discovered since last Sunday that my reactions aren’t unique; apparently, Bill Belichick was caught on a mic during the Green Bay-New England game questioning Rodgers’ arm strength. (I must concede that getting an impression from the TV that I later found was more or less confirmed by Scowling Bill did make me feel like a knowledgeable fan.) There are apparently other Packer fans who share the concern that Rodgers isn’t “right.”
While Green Bay may perhaps not need to run the table to secure some playoff berth, if Aaron Rodgers isn’t the Aaron Rodgers of old – even if this is a temporary condition that will resolve with rest for next year – it will be difficult for Green Bay to go anywhere. I will be watching tonight with the hope that he will play like he has in the past – which obviously gets harder and harder for him as he ages (as it does for us all). If we don’t get a good outcome tonight, I’ll start to place more focus on watching the development of what appears to be a crop of promising young players (among them, Mr. Jones; Jaire Alexander; and Marquez Valdes-Scantling) that will help us in the future.