Aaron Rodgers
How did Aaron Rodgers go from MVP to mediocre in 11 months?
Aaron Rodgers

How did Aaron Rodgers go from MVP to mediocre in 11 months?

Published Nov. 15, 2016 2:12 p.m. ET

Aaron Rodgers is off to the worst start of his illustrious career and, if one respected football metric is to be believed, he's been the worst quarterback in all the NFL so far this season. Added to his mediocre finish to 2015 and there's a problem in Green Bay. What is it? When did it start? And how can it be fixed?

Last year, on the morning of Oct. 18, the Green Bay Packers were 6-0 and seemingly on their way to making another deep run into January, perhaps culminating with the team's second Super Bowl title in the Aaron Rodgers/Mike McCarthy era. The quarterback, coming off an MVP season, was his usual self, throwing for nearly 1,500 yards in the team's first six games with a 68.13 percent completion rate, 15 TDs and two interceptions. All was well in Green Bay. And then the Packers went to Denver for a heavily hyped battle of the undefeateds. Their offense hasn't been the same since.

On that night, Rodgers had the second-fewest passing yards of his career (77) and led a woeful offense that scored a single touchdown thanks to an interception that was nullified by a defensive offsides. At the final whistle, the future Super Bowl champs had a 29-10 win. Whether that performance sent the team into a funk or it's just coincidental is irrelevant. Green Bay's offense has been barely recognizable since.

The next week against Carolina, the Packers were down 37-14 late in the game before two garbage-time touchdowns made the score, and Rodgers' stat line, look respectable. In a huge Week 16 game against the Cardinals (the team that would end the Packers' season three weeks later), Green Bay was down 31-0 before trading meaningless touchdowns late. Then, in the de facto NFC North title game the next week, a possible Packers comeback (gifted on a kickoff fumble by Minnesota's Cordarrelle Patterson) fell short when Rodgers threw a red-zone interception with a chance to tie late. The Vikings won the division with a 20-13 victory, holding Rodgers' offense to one touchdown.


Green Bay finished the year 10-6 (it was a 4-6 finish to a 6-0 start), but had its season salvaged by a wild-card win in Washington and theoretically ended the year on a high note with Rodgers' last-minute heroics in the divisional playoffs against Arizona. (He converted a fourth-and-20 from his own 4-yard line then connected on his second Hail Mary TD of the season to push the game into overtime.) The Packers might have had a rough holiday season but, in the end, an overtime road loss in the divisional playoffs is nothing to hang your head over. They entered 2016 as the overwhelming favorite to win the NFC.

But there were issues bubbling under the surface in that last playoff loss, the kind you overlook when an MVP quarterback faces a stout defense. Prior to the last drive, in which he incongruously had 101 yards passing (Packers penalties made for a longer field) and a touchdown, Rodgers was a less-than-mediocre 22-for-39 for 160 yards, 1 TD and 1 interception. Green Bay had only 13 points. It was a performance that was getting to be the norm in big games -- starting in Denver, the Pack had lost four of five "big" games, with the win in Washington serving as the only victory. Worse than that, they were barely competitive in any of them.

Jump to this season. Rodgers and the Packers are 1-1, winning a tight Week 1 battle against the Jacksonville Jaguars that appeared respectable at the time but seems less so after getting worked over in Week 2. Then, back in Minnesota on Sunday night (this time at the team's new stadium), the Packers scored early in the fourth quarter to cut the Vikings lead to 17-14. Twice in the final 10 minutes, Green Bay got the ball with a chance to tie or go ahead. On the first of those possessions, Rodgers lost a fumble on first-and-10 with the Packers just outside field-goal range. On the second, with plenty of time still remaining, Rodgers was picked off by Trae Waynes.

Rodgers' stats are frightening to anyone who's ever worn a piece of cheese on their head. The all-time leader in single-season passer rating (122.5) and career passer rating (104.1) hasn't broken into the 100s in 14 straight games. The last two times he threw for more than 300 yards were the first two games after last year's Denver debacle, and it took Rodgers 48 and 61 attempts to get there. He's had days of 212, 202, 204, 151, 210, 199 and 213 passing yards scattered among the last 14 games. He's averaging 206 yards in the first two games of 2016 -- 27th out of the 30 quarterbacks who started in Weeks 1 and 2. In a year in which more than half of NFL quarterbacks have ratings above 90, Rodgers is at 82.6, looking up at Dak Prescott.

The passing yards are down. The touchdowns are down. The yards-per pass are down. The wins are down. The team is 29th in the NFL in total yards after finishing 23rd last year -- which was its worst showing since before Brett Favre and his Wranglers sauntered into town. (Green Bay had been in the top 10 in total offense in 16 of the previous 21 years and was sixth in 2014.) The entire Green Bay Packers offense, the one that's had the "high-powered" prefix attached to it for the past two decades, is down. It's not that Aaron Rodgers is playing bad football, but he's a two-time MVP who won't be 33 until December and is miles away from where he was one year ago. What's the deal?

Ask 10 people you'll get 10 different answers. Jordy Nelson is hurt, which is technically true but a horrible excuse -- Jordy Nelson is always hurt. (And anyway, he's been back for the last two games and nothing seems to have changed.) The guys at the other skill positions are struggling. OK, but the Packers won a Super Bowl in a year in which their top three runners were Brandon Jackson (703 yards), Rodgers (356 yards) and John Kuhn (281 yards), and then they had to force the ball to James Starks in the playoffs. Perhaps Rodgers is being more reckless, a result of feeling he has to do it alone and/or watching Favre do it for three years. Maybe it has to do with coach McCarthy firing himself as play caller at the start of 2015 and then rehiring himself in the middle (just after the offense started to slip).

Turns out there's no good answer as to why Rodgers turned from the best quarterback in the league to one who's almost average. There's no easy fix, either. The Packers have two options. They can ride it out, hoping Rodgers and McCarthy self-correct and waiting for players to step up on that side of the ball. Or, they can make the drastic changes that are almost never made in Titletown USA. Rodgers and McCarthy have never been particularly chummy, and it got to the point last year where their iciness had to be addressed with interviews through gritted teeth about how a little tension never hurt anyone. McCarthy is one of the highest-paid coaches in the league and signed through 2018 but has been under a microscope for years with a sometimes mismanaged offense, a tendency to play it safe and an inability to adapt to opposing defenses.

We're almost at a full season of the Green Bay Packers having an average offense. Meanwhile, the clock on Aaron Rodgers' prime keeps ticking. They say not to change for the sake of change, but sometimes, like we saw with Andy Reid in Philadelphia, it's a move that's best for all parties. Green Bay needs change. Maybe that involves McCarthy handing over the play-calling reins again. Maybe it means getting midseason help at a skill position. Maybe it means something more drastic.

Aaron Rodgers should never get outplayed by Sam Bradford. He should never go 11 games without getting more than 300 yards or two touchdowns. He was once the best quarterback in football. Will he ever be again?


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