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Are Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady Just Down, or Are They Out?

The NFL’s two most senior quarterbacks came into this season with Super Bowl expectations. But seven games in, the Packers and Buccaneers sit at 3-4 and look hapless. Is there hope for them to turn things around? Or might this be a lost season?

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The Packers and Buccaneers came into the 2022 season with a wide range of outcomes on the table. Both had concerns on paper, of course: Green Bay lost Davante Adams during the offseason and didn’t really try to replace him; Tampa Bay lost Alex Cappa (free agency), Ryan Jensen (injury), and Rob Gronkowski and Ali Marpet (retirement), all of whom contributed to the offense’s ability to run a downfield passing attack and operate effectively. But both teams had future Hall of Fame quarterbacks in Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, and both entered the regular season as the betting favorites to win the NFC, with the Buccaneers in first and the Packers right behind them. MVP-level quarterback play can solve a lot of issues.

Seven weeks into the season, though, the NFL’s two oldest starting quarterbacks are looking less like MVP candidates and more like … well, the NFL’s two oldest starting quarterbacks. Both the Packers and Buccaneers dropped winnable games on Sunday and saw their record fall to 3-4 on the season. Rodgers and Brady are putting up fine traditional stat lines, with completion rates over 65 percent and impressive touchdown-to-interception ratios—the former is at 11-to-3 while the latter is at 8-to-1. But the underlying metrics tell a darker story. After a dreadful three-point performance in a road loss to Carolina, the Buccaneers are averaging just 17.7 points a game, which ranks 25th in the league. Brady is averaging 6.1 net yards per attempt and ranks a mediocre 14th in QBR. Rodgers, meanwhile, is having an even harder go of it, averaging 5.7 net yards per attempt and checking in with a 27th-ranked QBR, while the Packers are managing just 18.7 points a game.

As we creep closer to November, these two teams creep closer to rock bottom. Tampa Bay’s odds of winning the Super Bowl have dropped to 2 percent, according to FiveThiryEight’s prediction model. And after its third consecutive loss, the latest coming at the hands of the Taylor Heinicke–led Commanders, Green Bay’s odds have dropped below the 1 percent mark. A playoff run is still very possible for both teams: The Bucs remain atop the NFC South standings, and the Packers are just a Vikings meltdown away from the top spot in their division. Plus the expanded playoff field offers more protection, as both teams are just half a game back of a shaky Rams team for the seventh seed. But Brady and Rodgers didn’t put off retirement for another year just to scratch and claw for a playoff berth.

Across their illustrious careers, we’ve seen these two lead flailing offenses to second-half turnarounds. But this time feels different. Not only are Brady, 45, and Rodgers, 38, playing like their respective ages, there aren’t any obvious solutions to the supporting-cast issues that are raising their degree of difficulty on the field. Is there a fix available for either team? Or is this the beginning of the end for two of the best quarterbacks to ever do it?

From the 30,000-foot view, the Packers and Buccaneers offenses seem to be facing the same challenges. They both have older quarterbacks who just lost their most trusted receiving options—Rodgers when Adams reportedly turned down a massive contract offer and was traded away to Las Vegas, and Brady after Gronk retired (the tight end was well past his prime, but he remained a key figure in the Bucs passing game). And both offensive lines have been thrown into chaos due to injury. David Bakhtiari’s playing status has shifted week to week as his long rehab from a 2020 knee injury continues. And the Bucs lost center Ryan Jensen in August to a season-ending injury, leaving the line with three new starters on the interior. But that’s where the similarities end.

Let’s start in Green Bay, where the Packers have dropped three in a row to teams quarterbacked by Daniel Jones, Zach Wilson, and Taylor Heinicke—and Josh Allen’s Bills are up next on the schedule, which creates an obvious sense of urgency. While Rodgers hasn’t appeared to be having a good time on the field recently, he remained optimistic following Sunday’s loss to Washington.

“You’re goddamn right it does,” Rodgers responded when asked whether the idea of Green Bay making the playoffs seemed realistic. “I’m not worried about this squad. In fact, [the Washington loss] might be the best thing for us. This week, nobody’s going to give us a chance, going to Buffalo on Sunday Night Football, with a chance to get exposed. Shoot, this might be the best thing for us.”

It almost sounds like Rodgers is trying to convince himself that there is light at the end of this tunnel. I’m not so sure there is. Green Bay’s problems run deep, and they start with the dude making the most money on the team. Rodgers simply isn’t throwing the ball as well as he has in the recent past.

And it’s not just the more difficult throws, either. His ball placement has been off on the short stuff, as well. Per Pro-Football-Reference, Rodgers’s “on-target” throw rate is at a four-year low, while his “bad throw” rate is the lowest it’s been throughout that time. That suggests that Rodgers is generally getting the ball to his receivers, but he’s not putting it on the money. Passes that used to hit his receivers in stride, leading to more YAC, are now forcing them to make an adjustment. These aren’t obvious misses, but they limit the opportunities for explosive gains and, on Sunday, led to a few key “drops” by Packers receivers.

Making matters worse, Rodgers doesn’t seem to trust his receivers to make plays for him. He’s not even trying to push the ball downfield—and as a result, the passing game consists almost entirely of quick throws to the flat and slants thrown underneath. A quarterback of Rodgers’s ability should never produce a passing map that looks like this:

After last week’s loss to the Jets, Rodgers suggested the Packers might want to “simplify” the offense. The veteran quarterback later explained that just meant not trying to do “too much,” but based on their approach Sunday, it also seemed to mean more shotgun formations and early-down RPOs that allow Rodgers to play the point guard role. While that did improve the passing results on first and second down, the running game didn’t do so hot. Getting in the gun makes it harder to attack the perimeter with Aaron Jones, which means more runs inside the tackle for the plodding AJ Dillon. It has been made abundantly clear this season that Jones is the better of the two backs—he’s averaging 5.5 yards per carry compared to Dillon’s 3.9—but the two are basically splitting carries despite the wide gap in production.

Dillon just doesn’t have enough juice to serve as the focal point of the rushing attack. As you can see in the graphic above, Jones is far more likely to break off a big run, and that’s huge for an offense that isn’t generating explosive plays in the passing game. Green Bay has tried to get both backs on the field at once, and while the effort was commendable and made sense on paper, the tactic just hasn’t been effective.

Matt LaFleur, to his credit, has molded his offense to Rodgers’s liking. But with the 38-year-old not playing his best football, it might be time for the Packers coach to do it his way. Green Bay isn’t going to find a productive passing game with Rodgers throwing short passes to the flats. It will need to unlock the intermediate parts of the field, and the best way to do that is to go under center and run some play-action. Rodgers never has been a fan of turning his back to the defense, which is required when carrying out a play-action fake from under center, but something has to change if this offense is going to get back on track and salvage this season.

The prescription is the same for Brady’s Buccaneers—even though the symptoms are quite different. Tampa Bay’s play-action passing game has been productive when utilized this season; it just hasn’t been utilized nearly enough. And the problem appears to be a psychosomatic one for the coaching staff, influenced by a terribly unproductive run game. According to, the Bucs rank dead last in EPA per run and 23rd in rushing success rate. Various statistical studies have shown that an offense doesn’t have to run often or efficiently to use play-action at a high level, but offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich seems to believe that’s the case. Brady is using play-action on just 16.3 percent of his dropbacks, which is a three-year low for him, according to TruMedia. Funny enough, his efficiency on those plays, by both EPA and success rate, has improved since last season. The Bucs just need to do it more often.

It would also be nice if the Bucs could run the ball with some measure of efficiency. Tampa Bay’s run concepts are designed to attack downhill, draw in the second level of the defense, and open up space for in-breaking routes in the passing game. It’s not the most expansive rushing attack—the Bucs are using the same one Bruce Arians deployed when he was in charge—but it’s necessary to get those throws, which served as the foundation for the entire offense over the past two seasons. We’ve rarely seen them in 2022.

Tom Brady When Throwing In-breaking Routes

Season Comp% Yards/dropback EPA/dropback Success rate aDOT Play-action rate PA EPA/dropback
Season Comp% Yards/dropback EPA/dropback Success rate aDOT Play-action rate PA EPA/dropback
2020 75.3% 10.91 0.52 69.4% 10.6 23.5% 0.33
2021 71.9% 10.46 0.41 57.3% 9.2 24.0% 0.46
2022 60.5% 5.86 0.05 46.5% 7.9 14.0% 0.43
Via TruMedia

Brady isn’t throwing them as often, and he hasn’t been nearly as effective when he has. But look at those last two columns. When he uses play-action, those routes are still bearing fruit. Those plays aren’t being called nearly enough.

If you haven’t been paying attention to the Bucs week in and week out, you might see the mediocre results and Brady’s underwhelming statline and assume that age has finally caught up to him. But that doesn’t appear to be the case. Even against Carolina on Sunday, Brady made a handful of strong throws outside the numbers, and he ripped a few passes up the seam. The old man can still play, and there are still some play-calling switches that could be flipped to get this offense back on track in time to win a bad NFC South. That could be even enough to create a realistic path for Brady to get back to the Super Bowl—and we know how those trips typically end for the GOAT.

But despite Rodgers’s defiant optimism, it’s harder to envision Green Bay turning things around. The personnel is bad, the quarterback isn’t playing well, and there’s a clear philosophical disconnect between Rodgers and LaFleur at the moment. With Minnesota off to a 5-1 start, the margin for error isn’t nearly as forgiving for the Packers, as evidenced by FiveThirtyEight giving them just a 27 percent chance to make the postseason.

During their playoff shootout last season, Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen seemed to be ushering in a changing of the QB guard. And with those two continuing to separate themselves from the rest of the pack early on in 2022, that feeling has only gotten stronger. Rodgers and Brady still have two months left to prove they can hang with this next generation, but time is running out in a hurry—on both the season, and their respective careers.