Tuesday, November 5, 2013
No Aaron Rodgers? Count Packers out
By Kevin Seifert
Aaron Rodgers left Monday's game after being sacked on the opening drive. He did not return.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The charmed existence of Titletown, circa 2009-13, might well have shattered Monday night.
The Green Bay Packers, after all, have built four postseason appearances, two consecutive NFC North titles and one Super Bowl victory around the most elite quarterback play imaginable. The Packers without Aaron Rodgers? Oh no. Oh no. Oh no. Oh no, no no no no no no no.
They've already lost one game without him, a 27-20 defeat to the Chicago Bears on Monday, and quite frankly, the Packers face a difficult road to the playoffs if his injured left shoulder sidelines him for a significant time.
Rodgers suffered the injury on the final play of the game's opening possession, and backup Seneca Wallace produced the Packers' worst passing performance since 2008. Now 5-3, the Packers are tied with the Bears and Detroit Lions atop the NFC North, with games remaining at the home stadiums of both division rivals. An optimist might cling to the Packers' schematic infrastructure and offensive track record, but that's nothing more than blind faith. Rodgers is the centerpiece of both.
"He's the best quarterback in the league," defensive tackle B.J. Raji said. "Take what you want from that."
As of late Monday night, there was nothing official about Rodgers' status. However, league sources told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter that Rodgers could miss three weeks after initial tests showed a small fracture in the quarterback's collarbone.
Coach Mike McCarthy refused to speculate on the nature or severity of the injury, insisting that more tests were necessary. I suppose it's possible the Packers will give an all-clear Tuesday. Again, however, that seems more like blind faith. McCarthy's pursed postgame lips and snappy responses suggested genuine concern.
At the very least, a short turnaround to Week 10 makes Wallace the likely starter in Sunday's game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Wallace, of course, is the backup merely because he was available when the Packers decided in early September that neither Graham Harrell nor Vince Young were up to the job. He was out of football last season, has lost seven of eight starts since the start of 2009 and on Monday night provided a wholly underwhelming relief performance for a veteran backup who should be comfortable in emergency relief.
"Seneca, he needs to perform better, and he'll definitely do that with a week of practice," McCarthy said, seemingly tipping his hand for Sunday.
Indeed, Wallace managed 114 passing yards, and the Packers' net of 113 passing yards was their lowest in a game since Week 10 of 2008, according to ESPN Stats & Information. They converted only 1 of 9 third-down opportunities, and the score wouldn't have been close were it not for their 199 rushing yards.
"I've been in this situation before," Wallace said. "It definitely will get better."
Perhaps, but let's not belabor Wallace's aptitude for the job. For all I know, the Packers are already making plans to claim former backup Matt Flynn on waivers. It doesn't matter. Yes, the Packers might finally rue their afterthought approach to the No. 2 quarterback job, but in truth there are few if any backups in the league who could save them.
Like Peyton Manning, Rodgers is a pseudo-offensive coordinator on the field. The loss of a player with that much responsibility leaves nothing but a shell on the field. Injury-plagued throughout this five-year run, the Packers plowed through because Rodgers carried them. An extended absence almost certainly will confirm that assessment.
Just a week ago, Packers players and coaches were crediting Rodgers' audibles and checks for the sudden success of their running game. And as we saw in his masterful performance against the Minnesota Vikings, Rodgers routinely makes throws that most quarterbacks don't try. Ask Vikings cornerback Josh Robinson, who had perfect position against receiver Jordy Nelson in the end zone. Rodgers whipped a pass by his ear hole and into Nelson's hands anyway.
Rodgers doesn't just run the Packers' scheme at an elite level. He is the Packers' scheme. They can't run it without him. Since 2008, he has a QBR of 74.0 and also has scored 18 rushing touchdowns, both second among all NFL quarterbacks.
I mean no offense to McCarthy, whom I like and think highly of. But players make the scheme, not the other way around, and if McCarthy and offensive coordinator Tom Clements can gear down and find a winning formula without Rodgers, we should consider it the coaching job of the decade.
Monday night, we got a glimpse of what could be the Packers' future: designed runs on 28 of 55 plays, a rare 50-50 ratio. Running backs Eddie Lacy and James Starks combined for 190 yards on 28 carries, but, as can happen in run-based schemes, it led to only 20 points. How many teams left on their schedule will the Packers beat with a low-scoring offense and a still-shaky defense? Three? Four? Neither is likely to clinch a playoff berth.
Nothing lasts forever, but the Packers departed Lambeau Field early Tuesday morning hoping that somehow, someway, they can extend their magic a little longer. I don't blame them. The alternative might be too frightening to face.