How much is Aaron Rodgers to blame for Packers' wasted season?

CHICAGO -- Aaron Rodgers wants to play in the Green Bay Packers' final two (meaningless) games this season.

That sounds like a punishment, not a privilege.

And unless general manager Brian Gutekunst or team president Mark Murphy tells interim coach Joe Philbin they want to see DeShone Kizer or they simply want to make sure their $134 million quarterback doesn't do anything to jeopardize his health and availability for the start of next season, it looks like Rodgers will get his wish to play next Sunday at the New York Jets. That's when the Packers will try to win their first road game of the season in their last chance to do so before closing out the season at home against the Detroit Lions.

That might be a good time for Rodgers to play like a $134 million quarterback.

Actually, the first 14 games of the season would have been the time.

For all that went wrong for the Packers in Sunday's 24-17 loss to the NFC North-clinching Chicago Bears at Soldier Field and for all that the Packers were missing in terms of key players, they could have avoided playoff elimination at least for another week had Rodgers played like the Rodgers of old -- and that's not all that long ago.

Of course, had Rodgers played that way more often this season, then perhaps they would have been in position to clinch something other than a second straight losing season.

At least Rodgers, who has career-low 54.8 Total QBR as a starter this season, admitted it.

Sort of.

Rodgers' accuracy, once the hallmark of his Hall of Fame career, suffered this season -- a premise he didn't dispute.

"Oh no, there's missed throws for sure," Rodgers said. "But some of the ones you probably think are missed throws maybe we're just not on the same page."

The reason, however, was far from clear.

"Just not being on the same page with the guys we're throwing to," Rodgers said.

Sunday's loss was just another example considering Rodgers was:

  • 4-of-12 passing 10-plus yards downfield.

  • 1-of-9 passing 20-plus yards downfield.

  • 8-of-12 for 119 yards to Davante Adams, who hit the 100-catch mark and now needs 14 catches in the final two weeks to break the single-season franchise record.

  • But just 6-of-14 for 54 yards to all other wide receivers.

Most noticeably, Rodgers overshot rookie receiver Equanimeous St. Brown on a post for what should have been a 23-yard touchdown in the first quarter.

"I missed that one a little inside, I think," Rodgers said. "He was keeping an angle pretty high; I don't think it was a bad route. It was a bad throw."

But that wasn't the only one.

On back-to-back fourth-quarter plays shortly after the Bears lost a fumble on a botched wildcat play, Rodgers overthrew Randall Cobb and Marquez Valdes-Scantling on open deep routes. Perhaps Rodgers was worried about pressure after getting sacked on the previous play, and who could blame him after the havoc Khalil Mack has wreaked this season (2.5 sacks on Sunday, 12.5 for the season)?

"I think it's a little bit of everything," Philbin said. "There were just some opportunities where things weren't quite in rhythm. Some of the throws are extended plays and moving around, and I know he's made some great plays in that in the past. He has even this year.

"But it's a little bit of everything. Sometimes it's been the protection, sometimes it's been the routes, sometimes it's been the throws. I don't know that it's just Aaron missing throws. Certainly there's some throws I'm sure he wished he had back. I think that's kind of common for a quarterback. But a little bit more function of the entire offense, I think, executing better. And some of our youth, you know we've got some young guys out there. Some of that contributes."

When the Packers signed Rodgers to the four-year, $134 million contract extension in August, they did so believing Rodgers, who turned 35 on Dec. 2, would pick up where he left off before his broken collarbone ruined the 2017 season.

His left knee injury in the season-opening win over the Bears didn't help him this season. Neither did a pulled groin on his Hail Mary attempt on the final play of the first half on Sunday.

If there's something encouraging about the situation, it's that Rodgers has been down this path before. Prior to his collarbone in Week 6 of last season, he was on a 14-game tear dating back to the 2016 season in which he threw 37 touchdowns and just five interceptions, completed 67.3 percent of his passes and had a rating 110.4. The Packers went 12-2, including the 2016 playoffs. In the 14-game stretch before that, when everyone wondered what was wrong with Rodgers, the numbers were 31 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, a 61.7 percent completion rate and a 91.7 passer rating for a 5-9 record.

In 14 games this season, Rodgers has 23 touchdowns, two interceptions, a 61.8 percent completion rate and a rating of 97.2 while the Packers sit at 5-8-1.

"I think it's close," Rodgers said of the offense. "When [Randall Cobb is] healthy, I think our offense has been different because we have a true slot guy who can make plays in the slot consistently. But he has missed a lot of games this year, and he got banged up today late. Having a slot guy like that who legitimately can get open time after time, when we need him. Obviously, I feel good about our young guys and our tight end situation moving forward, and I think we've got a supreme talent in Davante."

It will take some creative roster building by Gutekunst this offseason to bring the Packers back. The talent gap with the Bears, especially on defense, could not have been more obvious on Sunday.

A little more help from the quarterback wouldn't hurt, either.

"It's not just Aaron Rodgers," Philbin said. "I think it's unfair to say, ‘Oh geez, he has to do much better.' Well, he has to perform better. And so we have to protect better. The pass, the route concepts, the route running, it's all tied together. I don't think it's real accurate to say, ‘Hey, boy Aaron's to blame.'"