By Chris Emma–
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) — With his team trailing and in need of heroics, Aaron Rodgers looked to the end zone and fired to Randall Cobb. He’d made the throw countless times — touchdown, Packers, followed by a Lambeau Leap.
Except this time, Rodgers missed. The ball soared over Cobb’s head. Rodgers also fumbled near the goal line later in the game. The Packers would lose 30-16 to the Cowboys last Sunday at home to fall to 3-2 on the season, and the franchise quarterback was booed.
Struggles have hit Rodgers hard during this 2016 season. Through five games, he boasts a passer rating of 88.4, the worst mark of his career as a starter and one that ranks 23rd in football. Rodgers’ 60.2 completion percentage is also his lowest in his nine years as Green Bay’s starting quarterback.
“As a leader, you’re looked at at all times — the highs and the adverse times,” Rodgers said on a teleconference Tuesday. “You’ve got to be someone who’s consistent every day at work and on the field. I’m trying my best to be that and be a good teammate and realize, hey, we’re still 3-2. We’re in the mix here. We’ve got some work to do, some stuff to clean up. But we’re not far off.”
Could Rodgers be done with his run of dominance? Probably not, but the numbers through five games would suggest that he’s at least taken a step back, now with 10 touchdowns and six turnovers (four interceptions, two fumbles lost). He’s also fumbled the football five times, which is uncharacteristic of Rodgers.
Entering Thursday’s contest against the Packers at Lambeau Field, the Bears believe that Rodgers’ demise has been greatly exaggerated. They’ve seen him at his best so many times.
“I see a great player and a pretty darn good football team,” Bears coach John Fox said.
What could benefit Rodgers and get the Packers offense in sync is a depleted Bears defense. Nose tackle Eddie Goldman remains out, linebacker Pernell McPhee is unlikely to play, edge rusher Leonard Floyd’s status is in question — and that’s just the front seven. Who’s going to guard the Packers’ receivers?
At cornerback, Kyle Fuller remains on injured reserve, Bryce Callahan has a hamstring ailment and Tracy Porter injured his knee on the Jaguars’ go-ahead touchdown last Sunday. Rookie Deiondre’ Hall had emerged but is currently dealing with an ankle injury and likely won’t play. The Bears may be lining up Jacoby Glenn, DeVante Bausby and Cre’Von LeBlanc at cornerback come Thursday night.
Perhaps a date with the Bears could bring Rodgers his slump buster. Or maybe the struggles will continue.
Oddly enough, Rodgers’ issues seem to be with confidence. He still has Cobb and Jordy Nelson, and Jared Cook was to be a dynamic weapon at tight end. Rodgers is 32 and in his ninth season as the starter. By comparison, Tom Brady is 39 and looks to be at his best through two games since coming back from a suspension.
Rodgers still boasts that strong arm, but he’s holding onto the football too long and not making the decisions that have brought him success.
On Thanksgiving night last November, the Bears pulled out a surprising 17-13 road win over the Packers. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s defense kept Rodgers in check, as he was 22-of-42 for 202 yards. He threw just one touchdown and was picked off by Porter late in the game.
With the Bears likely lining up some reserves in key positions this Thursday, Fangio will play a key role against Rodgers. He will be tasked with creating pressure on the Packers offense and putting his unproven defensive backs in the right place.
“Coach Fangio has always done a good job of really diagnosing our offensive schemes and trying to away what we do best,” Rodgers said. “It’s a sign of a great defensive coordinator. They always have great attention to detail and route recognition and formation recognition. Obviously, they’re very well prepared.”
Thursday could offer answers to the questions about Rodgers. Fittingly, it will be a team he’s owned that could reveal whether Rodgers is the same player.
The Bears won’t be lining up Charles Woodson and Deion Sanders. Rodgers has the ideal matchup to finally break out and prove he’s just fine — all he has to do is withstand the schemes of Fangio. If Rodgers’ issues are indeed mental, he can win by diagnosing Fangio’s defense.
“I still see the great quarterback that he is,” Fangio said of Rodgers, citing his strong arm and ability to create plays.
Respect is ever present for Rodgers as the Bears prepare for their trek north. Rightfully so, because he’s won this rivalry game so many times before.
Maybe this is a different Rodgers. Instead of open arms in a Lambeau Leap, he’s been showered with boos. Who could have ever imagined that?
If ever a chance for Rodgers to reassert his dominance, it’s Thursday night against the Bears.