Fit to be tied: Aaron Rodgers toughs out knee injury but result feels ‘closer to’ a Packers loss
GREEN BAY – Afterward, Aaron Rodgers wasn’t thinking about how painful his left knee, or how much a questionable roughing-the-passer call hurt his team.
No, for the Green Bay Packers quarterback, what was most excruciating about his team’s unfulfilling 29-29 tie with the Minnesota Vikings Sunday at Lambeau Field were the mistakes he’d made – the game-deciding plays that he believed he could have/should have made, even with his cumbersome knee brace and limited mobility.
That would explain why Rodgers left the stadium feeling the tie felt “closer to” a loss, and why he was lamenting the fact that the Packers, who had leads of 20-7, 23-14 and 29-21, never delivered the knockout punch on their NFC North rivals and instead settled for their second tie with the Vikings in five years – joining a 26-26 tie in 2013 while Rodgers was sidelined with a fractured collarbone.
“There were a lot of plays throughout the game where, if we just make them in those situations, it’s a two-score game and we’re up here talking about a big division win and not a tie,” Rodgers said after completing 30 of 42 passes for 281 yards and a touchdown (97.4 rating) despite being limited by the knee injury he sustained against the Chicago Bears seven days earlier.
“But there’s no relief, as you look back at the plays we had and that I had to make. If we make them, we win the game. Instead, we’re up here, 1-0-1. Doesn’t sound all that great.
“I’d feel better if we were 2-0. I’ve said to you guys (that) we’re a work in progress. And I thought today we’d take a bigger step. That’s a great defense – Mike (Zimmer) is a fantastic defensive coach, they have a lot of good players – but we had a lot of opportunities to win that game. And that’s disappointing.”
The Packers built their leads with Rodgers, who was listed as questionable entering the game and didn’t practice until Saturday, moving inside and out of the pocket more and more as the game progressed.
“In my mind I was playing all week. But I needed to feel good (Saturday),” Rodgers explained. “I just felt good that, once the adrenaline kicked in the game (and) the energy kicked in, I’d be able to get through the day.
“I was teasing with Doc (team physician Dr. Pat McKenzie) about running for 30 yards in the game. Came up a little short. … But I feel good that I was able to make it through the game. Just disappointed with the last couple plays.”
Spotted a 7-0 lead when Geronimo Allison blocked a punt and Josh Jackson recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown, Rodgers was less than thrilled that an early third-quarter touchdown pass to tight end Jimmy Graham, which would have made it 24-7, was wiped out by a ticky-tack holding penalty on Lane Taylor.
Rodgers was also displeased with a second-down red-zone throw with less than 2 minutes left in regulation, when he felt he could have put the Vikings away but couldn’t connect with Davante Adams in the end zone, when coach Mike McCarthy aggressively called a pass play. The Packers settled for Mason Crosby’s 36-yard field goal to make it 29-21 with 1:45 to play.
And while he didn’t see the play live, Rodgers did see a replay of the controversial personal foul roughing-the-passer penalty thrown on Clay Matthews on the Vikings’ first play from scrimmage after the field goal. On the play, Matthews pressured Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins into a Jaire Alexander interception that should have clinched a victory. Instead, eight plays after the 15-yard penalty gave the Vikings the ball back, Cousins hit Adam Thielen for a 22-yard touchdown and then hit Stefon Diggs for the game-tying extra point with 31 seconds left.
“I feel pretty good about that hit. You put in so much work and you hate for one play (to cost you a game),” said Matthews, who said his roughing-the-passer penalty a week early against Chicago – one that could have cost the Packers’ their comeback win – was his fault, but that this one was baffling. “That was a pivotal play. I don’t know. I don’t know what to say.”
Even so, the Packers still had a chance to win in regulation, as Rodgers hit Graham for a 27-yard gain with 7 seconds left – on a throw reminiscent of his completion to Jared Cook in the waning moments of the 2016 NFC Divisional playoffs at Dallas – and Adams for 3 yards to set Crosby up for a potential game-winning 52-yard field goal. After initially making the kick – but having it wiped out because the Vikings called timeout – Crosby missed wide left on his second try, forcing overtime.
“I was playing for a little bit of a left-to-right movement, and must’ve just held it over there left a little too much,” Crosby said.
But it was after Minnesota kicker Daniel Carlson – whose miss from 35 yards out at the end of overtime persevered the tie – missed a 49-yarder at the end of the Vikings’ first overtime possession that Rodgers had his greatest regrets.
Because of Carlson’s first OT miss, all the Packers needed to win the game was a field goal. Facing second-and-1 from Minnesota’s 37-yard line, Rodgers ran a run-pass option play where he intended to fake a handoff to running back Jamaal Williams, pull the ball back and then run – despite his bum knee – for what he thought would have been a big gain. Instead, the ball came loose – Rodgers said he didn’t hold onto the ball tightly enough to keep Williams, who didn’t know he was pulling the ball back, from dislodging it – and while Rodgers pounced on it to retain possession, the 3-yard loss left him with third-and-4 at Minnesota’s 40.
On that next play, Zimmer blitzed and Rodgers was overwhelmed by defensive end Everson Griffen and cornerback Mackensie Alexander for a 7-yard sack loss, scuttling any hope for a field-goal attempt. Rodgers said the play call was for a quick pass to Randall Cobb to the left, which he believed he could have made before the sack.
“I’m disappointed about those last two plays,” Rodgers said. “We fought hard, we had some plays go our way, some plays didn’t. The holding call on (Graham’s) touchdown, I had a chance to Davante on the second-to-last drive there of regulation to put the game away, didn’t get it. And then we put something together there in the last 31 seconds to give ourselves (a chance).
“So disappointing, because we had a lot of chances to win that game. Better to be standing here with a T instead of an L, though.”
Not by much.