And with that, the Packers are toast. Green Bay lost to the Vikings 24-17 on Sunday night and now sits at 4-6-1 and in third place in the NFC North. The Packers have the same record as the Browns.
Aaron Rodgers and Co. have just a 6 percent chance of making the playoffs per FiveThirtyEight and a 9 percent chance per The New York Times. They will almost certainly miss the playoffs for the second consecutive season, the first time the Packers have done so in back-to-back years since 2005 and 2006.
Just what the hell happened here? Oddsmakers thought the Packers would win 10 games this year—hell, Vegas gave the team third-best odds of winning the Super Bowl. There’s no clear place to point the finger, either. Rodgers has been hobbled by a left knee injury for much of the season, but even as he’s gotten healthier, he hasn’t played better. Now the Packers are losers of four of their past five, and fans can look toward the draft.
But first, let’s do an early autopsy of a lost season for the Packers. Here are four possible explanations for how the Packers season went so sideways so fast:
The NFL Has Passed Mike McCarthy By
My Ringer colleague Robert Mays already laid out in early October how the Packers head coach is wasting the team’s legendary quarterback. The offense has stagnated, and much of that can be attributed to McCarthy. Green Bay runs an old-school offense that doesn’t make the most of its playmakers’ skills, and half the time McCarthy doesn’t seem to know who the team’s best playmakers even are—it took a year and a half (and Rodgers’s persistent lobbying) before the dynamic and exciting Aaron Jones won the team’s starting running back spot.
McCarthy added more head-scratching decisions against the Vikings on Sunday night, starting with this fourth-down play-call in the third quarter:
This cannot be your play call on 4th and inches when you have Aaron Freaking Rodgers. By bunching everyone close together, McCarthy is choosing to run into a 10-man box. This is a choice. pic.twitter.com/qBZD5JbMwe— Riley McAtee (@Riley_McAtee) November 26, 2018
By putting every player up near the football, McCarthy has crafted a numerical disadvantage for his team on this play: Jones can’t block for himself, and Rodgers isn’t a blocker, so the Packers have nine blockers to deal with 10 Vikings defenders. They did not convert. Running from a jumbo set might sound great in that you put as many blockers as you can out there at once, but it doesn’t matter how many blockers you have if it’s fewer than the defense has tacklers. Don’t run into 10-man boxes, even when you only have to gain a few inches. This is simple stuff.
This decision came on the heels of McCarthy’s decision to punt on a late fourth-and-2 last week against the Seahawks:
The Packers never saw the ball again in that game and lost 27-24.
McCarthy has increasingly failed to put the Packers in the best position to win. That’s literally the job of a coach—McCarthy is holding the team back.
Rodgers Is Washed
Of course, not everything can be blamed on McCarthy, and anyone watching the Packers knows that Rodgers isn’t playing like himself. In fact, he hasn’t looked like “himself” in four years. Since his 2014 MVP season, Rodgers is 13th in the league in adjusted net yards per attempt and seventh in passer rating. He’s still one of the league’s better quarterbacks, but he’s hardly been the world-destroying force he was from 2011 to 2014, when he ranked first in both those categories by a mile.
You might think Rodgers’s Week 1 injury has brought his level of play down, but he’s looked healthy for weeks and his play hasn’t bounced back. Just look at Sunday night’s game, in which Rodgers completed 17 of 28 passes for 198 yards and one touchdown. Rodgers—or any QB—shouldn’t miss this throw:
Davante Adams should sue Aaron Rodgers for wasting this beautiful route.pic.twitter.com/LnCDxFvjqC— Sporting News (@sportingnews) November 26, 2018
Or not find Jimmy Graham here:
Or drive this gimme pass into the turf:
Back-to-back bad throws by Rodgers. Don't usually see him miss these (especially the one to Adams) pic.twitter.com/Ubt1jUAhuf— #FreePhillipDorsett (@ftbeard_17) November 26, 2018
This wasn’t a one-night fluke, either. As recently as two weeks ago, Rodgers ranked fifth in off-target throws. It’s likely he’s only ascended on that list in the weeks since.
Before this season, I wanted to believe that Rodgers was still the legendary passer we all remember—believe me. Plenty of players have down years or down stretches in their careers, but it’s looking more and more like Rodgers has exited his prime.
Rodgers Is Secretly Tanking
But maybe there’s a different explanation for Rodgers’s decline: He wants to make the back half of his 30s as productive as possible, and to do that, Rodgers realizes he needs to part ways with McCarthy. In order to get McCarthy off the Packers, Rodgers has to throw one season in the dumpster. Rodgers is tanking.
It’s the perfect explanation for why Rodgers has missed so many passes that would normally be routine for him, plus he definitely seems to have a bone to pick with the Packers. Rodgers was reportedly frustrated with how the team handled the offseason. He even hinted as much with several passive-aggressive comments, saying it was an “interesting decision” of the Packers to not retain quarterback coach Alex Van Pelt without consulting Rodgers and said it was “the way they want it” when asked about the front office’s decision to cut Jordy Nelson. These issues haven’t healed as the season has gone along, either—in October, CBS’s Jason La Canfora reported that tension was mounting between Rodgers and the staff.
Rodgers’s plan to tank the season away would also explain why he played through so much pain when his knee was injured—if he missed half the season recovering, there’s no doubt McCarthy would be given another chance to come back in 2019 when Rodgers was healthy. For Rodgers to get the coaching change he wants, he had to play.
After all, guess what Rodgers said in April about the Packers’ offseason moves: “You’ve got to trust the process.” Folks, it’s a smoking gun.
Green Bay Is Cursed
All right, a player intentionally throwing games would be wild. If that explanation isn’t your cup of tea, I have another compelling theory to offer: Rodgers made a deal with the devil at halftime of Week 1 to heal his knee. The deal allowed him to deliver a Week 1 classic over the Bears and stay on the field for the remainder of the season. It also sent the team straight to the twilight zone. Just look at the evidence:
- In Week 2 against the Vikings, Clay Matthews got called for a ticky-tacky roughing-the-passer penalty that kept Minnesota’s drive alive, ultimately helping the Vikings tie the game.
- In Week 5 against the Lions, longtime kicker Mason Crosby had the worst game of his career, missing four field goals and an extra point that cost the Packers 13 points. Green Bay lost by eight.
- In Week 8 against the Rams, Ty Montgomery fumbled a late kickoff return that he was never even supposed to take out of the end zone, effectively snuffing any chance the Packers had of a comeback.
- In Week 9 against the Patriots, Aaron Jones fumbled on the first play of the fourth quarter with the game tied at 17. New England scored a touchdown on the ensuing possession and never relinquished the lead.
- And on Sunday night, late in the fourth quarter with the Packers down 10, Tramon Williams did this:
When Rodgers came back in Week 1 to win a game on one leg, we all thought it was a miracle. It was actually a curse.