Should Opponents Still Fear the Reign of Aaron Rodgers?
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
He’s a powerhouse on the field. But by some measures, Rodgers is falling behind.
By Matt Foley
Ideally, opening night of the NFL centennial was not supposed to result in 13 total points and 769 total punt yards, but Week 1’s Thursday night matchup between the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers was a competitive start to the season nonetheless. In the end it was Green Bay who earned a 10-3 win on the road against its NFC North rivals — on the way to a 2-0 start after Sunday’s win. The Bears were a three-point favorite heading into that first evening, but perhaps we should have known better.
With future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers under center, Green Bay is now 18-5 against Chicago.
That statistic is enough to make even an iron-stomached Bears fan hurl. So is this: On a night when Chicago’s defense sacked Rodgers five times and held the QB to 166 net yards and just one touchdown, the Bears offense was so futile that it converted just three of 15 third downs, made only one red zone visit and scored three points. And yet, Chicago had ample opportunities to win late in the game. Ultimately, Chicago quarterback Mitch Trubisky threw an interception to seal a Green Bay victory. With even the slightest bit of improved execution, the Bears could have put the pressure on Rodgers late in the game. Surprisingly, that’s not always a spot where the well-regarded Rodgers thrives:
When trailing by more than a point in the fourth quarter to a team with a winning record, Rodgers is 0-37 for his career.
I know what you’re thinking: While interesting, that stat might be a bit misleading. For instance, last season, Rodgers led Green Bay to a Week 1 comeback win (24-23) after trailing Chicago 20-3 to begin the fourth quarter. Of course, Chicago’s 0-0 record at the time means that comeback doesn’t count toward this prickly criteria. With 14 career fourth-quarter comebacks and a success rate of 29 percent, according to Pro Football Focus, Rodgers ranks behind the likes of Joe Flacco, Ryan Tannehill and Derek Carr. Both Carr and Tannehill were enrolled in college when Rodgers, a 14-year veteran, won his only Super Bowl ring in 2010. Tom Brady (35), Drew Brees (34) and Ben Roethlisberger (31) lead all active quarterbacks in fourth-quarter comebacks, and the only elite peers with similar comeback success rates as Rodgers are Troy Aikman (15 total comebacks at 27.6 percent), Kurt Warner (7 total at 21.2 percent) and Rodgers’ predecessor in Green Bay, Brett Favre (28 total for 26.2 percent).
“There are very few quarterbacks of this era that you’d want to have with the ball late in a game more than Aaron Rodgers,” says 2002 NFL MVP and current CBS football analyst Rich Gannon. “Obviously, you want to convert more of those late-game situations into wins. But Rodgers has single-handedly won that team a ton of games.”
As a fan, the feeling of watching Rodgers take the field with a chance to take the lead against your team late in the game is the opposite of confidence. Few QBs in the league can boast Rodgers’ combination of athleticism, intelligence, precision under pressure and big-game experience. Some signal-callers — Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger included — possess most of those traits. The creeping dread that comes from knowing that Rodgers is about to beat your team is a unique feeling only encountered in sports. And yet, Rodgers frequently fails to deliver.
So, is he held on too high of a pedestal?
Not only is Rodgers 0-37 when trailing teams with a winning record in the fourth quarter, he’s also tied — with Trent Dilfer — for 75th with 14 career fourth-quarter comebacks. That figure ranks 15th among active NFL quarterbacks. Additionally, Rodgers is 5-23 against winning teams since 2012 — the same record as Kirk Cousins. Comparatively, Russell Wilson (Seattle Seahawks) is 26-21 against winning teams since 2012. Marcus Mariota (Tennessee Titans) is 12-11 since 2015; and Andy Dalton (Cincinnati Bengals) is 21-31-1 since 2011.
“There are a lot of ways to twist the numbers and come up with stats that make a player look better or worse,” says former NFL receiver and CBS football analyst Nate Burleson. “Not many quarterbacks have Rodgers’ track record as a Super Bowl champ and a division winner.”
Burleson’s right. Logic dictates that quarterbacks would have worse records against winning teams. The best teams beat up on the worst ones. Plus, from 2011 to 2016, Rodgers led Green Bay to five (including four straight) NFC North titles. Rodgers led 10 fourth-quarter comebacks during that stretch, but that number surely would have been higher were the Packers playing from behind more often. Last season, when Green Bay went 6-9-1 and Chicago won the division, Rodgers led three fourth-quarter comeback wins.
This year, Rodgers will have ample opportunity for quality. Between Green Bay, Chicago and the Minnesota Vikings, the NFC North is a toss-up. The Packers beat the Vikings on Sunday, 21-16, thanks mostly to a hot start from Rodgers — not a blazing finish. Green Bay is tied for the 14th toughest schedule in the NFL. With out-of-division games against Philadelphia, Dallas, San Diego, Kansas City and Carolina in the first 10 weeks, the Pack should be in several close games against playoff teams.
The question, then, is whether an aging Rodgers and Green Bay’s new offensive scheme can produce with limited offensive firepower surrounding the quarterback. Rodgers is entering a pivotal point in his career that could ultimately define his legacy. After a soured relationship between the QB and coach Mike McCarthy led to the now-former Green Bay coach being driven out of town, will Rodgers click with new head coach Matt LaFleur? So far, all signs point to “yes,” and there’s reason to believe that Rodgers will thrive in LaFleur’s innovative offense. But outside wide receiver DeVante Adams, Green Bay lacks firepower on offense. After one week (against Mitch Trubisky), the defense looks like a unit that could wreak havoc on the league. They’ll keep Green Bay in games.
Now Aaron Rodgers has to prove that he’s still the preeminent grim reaper for opposing fans.