|ESPN.com: NFL Nation||[Print without images]|
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
|Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire|
|Tavaris Jackson finished 16-of-35 for 178 yards with a touchdown and an interception.|
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- In his first NFL start Monday night, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers completed 82 percent of his passes, accounted for two touchdowns and executed a perfect Lambeau leap.
Meanwhile, in his 15th career start, Minnesota's Tarvaris Jackson misfired on more passes (19) than he completed (16). He scrambled for a career-high 65 yards but refused to slide after any of his nine carries, inexplicably lowering his shoulder and recklessly risking injury three weeks after spraining his knee in the exact same situation. With the game on the line, it was Jackson -- not the less experienced Rodgers -- who threw a pass 10 feet over his receiver's head for an easy interception.
There are some occasions when it's simply too easy to trace a team's fortunes to its quarterback. You could, in fact, make a reasonable argument that the Packers' three biggest plays of a 24-19 victory were all executed by someone other than Rodgers. Receiver Greg Jennings snatched a 56-yard jump ball away from cornerback Charles Gordon, Will Blackmon returned a punt 76 yards for a touchdown and tailback Ryan Grant set up the game-clinching score with a 57-yard run.
From the Vikings' perspective, however, it's hard to envision how they will move forward until Jackson refines his game considerably.
It's one thing if a rookie quarterback gets his feet tangled, loses his technique and misfires on a pass. It's another when it happens to a player entering his third season in the NFL and has been entrusted to lead a veteran team with enough talent to make a deep playoff run.
Yet, that's exactly what happened Monday night to Jackson. After admirably leading an 80-yard drive to close the Packers' lead to five points, Jackson regained possession at his 31-yard line with 1:51 remaining. He moved the Vikings to their 45-yard line and still had 1:08 remaining when he spotted tight end Visanthe Shiancoe at the Packers' 45.
Jackson's pass was so high, however, that the assembled media felt obligated to ask him whether it was intended for Shiancoe or receiver Bobby Wade -- who was running a go-route 15 yards further downfield. The ball settled in between the two receivers, where Packers safety Atari Bigby grabbed it for a game-clinching interception.
"I need to check my mechanics on film to see if my footwork was messed up," Jackson said. "I can't throw it that way. That cost us a chance to win the football game."
The big buzzword in the Vikings' locker room was "consistency," a theme generated by coach Brad Childress during his postgame address.
Monday night, Jackson managed just 16 yards in the first half before piling up 162 while playing catch-up in the second.
Speaking to reporters, Childress said: "We need to be able to throw the ball a little bit better. I thought we threw it around a little better in the second half, but again you want to be consistent. You don't just want a half where you throw the ball and a half where you have 16 yards."
To be blunt, a team's consistency starts with the quarterback. Jackson is at the point in his career timeline where he should be able to put four solid quarters together against a division rival. Unfortunately, Jackson is still stuck in remedial studies.
Beyond his potential footwork lapse on the final interception, Jackson is still trying to convince himself to slide at the end of his runs. A slide doesn't simply prevent injuries; it helps a quarterback keep a clear head at a time when he needs all of his mental faculties to call and execute plays.
Even the most agile quarterbacks in NFL history learned quickly to avoid direct hits, but Monday night Jackson wouldn't do it and couldn't explain why.
"I've got to do a better job of that." Jackson said. "I guess getting hurt didn't really teach me a lesson. I've got to do a better job, point-blank."
Lowering his shoulder a few times and throwing one interception didn't cost the Vikings the game Monday night. But the quarterback sets the tone for the entire team, and it didn't take someone with a deep knowledge of football to note the Vikings played well for most of the game but had enough lapses -- most notably on the aforementioned three big plays -- to lose.
Who is to say that Rodgers' ultra-efficient performance didn't permeate the Packers? Yes, Green Bay had 12 penalties and couldn't move the ball in the second half (84 yards after halftime), but it did not commit a turnover and ultimately was the calmer team in the fourth quarter.
The Vikings could stake no such claim. Jackson has teased people with his arm strength and running ability during his career. But with his third season under way, it's time for the tease to become a rock.