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Despite frustration, ‘This has been one of the more satisfying years that I’ve had,’ Aaron Rodgers says

November 25, 2018

MINNEAPOLIS — Late last summer, Aaron Rodgers inched forward in an oversized chair in the living room of a house near Lambeau Field. The armrests were a bit too high for the Green Bay Packers quarterback’s liking, but that wasn’t the reason for his shift toward the front of his seat.

Rather, Rodgers was attempting to emphasize a point about how sometimes, at age 34 and in his 14th NFL season, his frustrations can get the best of him — whether that’s barking at a young receiver for running an imprecise route or making an incorrect adjustment (as would happen several times this season), or publicly questioning coach Mike McCarthy’s offensive game plan (as he would do after the team’s Week 4 win over Buffalo, about a month after the conversation).

“Sometimes you feel like holding up a sign that says, ‘I just want to win,’” Rodgers said that afternoon. “I just care about winning.”

That’s something that — much to Rodgers’ irritation — the Packers, at 4-5-1 entering their Sunday Night Football game with the 5-4-1 Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium, have not done enough this season. They’ve yet to do it on the road (0-5), and if they don’t beat the Vikings, their chances of making the playoffs will be next to nil.

A second consecutive playoff-less season — this time with Rodgers starting every game, as opposed to last year, when he missed nine-plus games with a broken right collarbone — will likely lead to a coaching change as well.

Whatever happens to the Packers the rest of this year, they won’t have won enough to accomplish Rodgers’ annual goal for the regular season (earn homefield advantage in the playoffs, having never played an NFC Championship Game at home in his previous 10 seasons as the starter) and he won’t have played well enough to put them in better position.

At the same time, Rodgers told the State Journal at midweek, the disappointment of how the season has unfolded so far hasn’t prevented him from appreciating one important reality: Despite the painful left knee injury he suffered in the season opener against Chicago — before rallying his team for a 24-23 victory after facing a 20-point third-quarter deficit — he’s made every start and been there for his team, even with the mixed results.

“This has been one of the more satisfying years that I’ve had as far as pride in my performance,” Rodgers said. “Now, I mean that in that the pain and the discomfort I was in for a seven- or eight- week stretch, I’m glad I played through it. Because one of the regrets I have is not putting my body on the line for the team in a situation where I feel like something special could come out of it. So in that way, I’m very proud that I’ve started the first 10 games and not missed any time.”

At the same time, Rodgers acknowledges that even with the injury, which forced him to wear a protective brace for much of the year, he hasn’t played as well as he needed to. He says he’s “always trying to play the perfect game,” and at times this season, that’s exactly what the Packers have needed from him. When he hasn’t delivered at that level, the results have been predictable.

Rodgers enters Sunday night’s game having completed 238 of 385 passes (61.8 percent) for 3,073 yards with 19 touchdowns and just one interception (102.2 rating). While those numbers look good on paper — even the completion percentage, which was 1.2 percent lower two weeks ago, leading to questions about Rodgers’ accuracy — there are some other more troublesome numbers that explain the offense’s inconsistency: A 38.4 percent third-down success rate, which ranks 19th in the NFL, and a 59.4 percent touchdown rate in the red zone, which ranks 14th.

Rodgers can point to moments in each of the Packers’ past three losses — 29-27 at the Los Angeles Rams on Oct. 28, 31-17 at New England on Nov. 4, and 27-24 at Seattle on Nov. 15 — when the offense had the ball in the fourth quarter with the lead or the game tied and went three-and-out, leading directly to defeat.

“What’s been frustrating is the execution. Because the two things we always pride ourselves on — myself and our offense — is situational football: Being great on third down and great in the red zone. And we just haven’t been this year,” Rodgers said. “That’s been the most frustrating thing.

“If we score 30 points a game, our record looks a lot different. And we’ve had opportunities where we’ve settled for field goals or not converted third downs to keep drives alive. We had multiple games where, we get to 30, we win. We get 30, we beat Minnesota. We get 30, we beat L.A. You know? We convert opportunities against Detroit, we win that game. So that’s been the most frustrating thing.”

The Packers rank a middling 13th in scoring at 24.7 points per game, while the New Orleans Saints, Kansas City Chiefs and the Rams are all averaging more than 35 points a game.

“If you’re scoring 24.7 points a game and other teams are scoring 35, there’s a disparity there,” offensive coordinator Joe Phlibin said. “As I said to the team, we kind of established 30 points as a goal. And we showed them the whole season on a little graph (how) we’ve got to find a way, in these next six weeks, to get above that. We’ve only done it twice and we won both those games and we’ve been in an awful lot of close games. It’s not that far.

“I have a lot of faith and confidence that we can get there. But obviously, time is ticking. It’s late November and we’ve got a very important game against a good opponent. But we’ve got to score more points. Period.”

Why hasn’t it happened? Ask No. 1 wide receiver Davante Adams that question, and he ticks off several obvious answers, from Rodgers’ knee injury reducing his mobility to No. 2 and No. 3 receivers Randall Cobb (hamstring) and Geronimo Allison (concussion, hamstring, sports hernia) missing multiple games, forcing rookies Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Equanimeous St. Brown and J’Mon Moore to play more than the team would prefer.

“He’s put up with a lot this season,” Adams said of Rodgers. “Week 1, he got hurt — and it’s a significant injury, not only for his position, but his play style. So he’s had to battle through that, being limited in his mobility — which he’s not a fan of. He likes to escape and be able to extend plays, so he’s had to deal with that. And two, he’s had his guys go down — Cobb having the hammy, G-Mo getting hurt as well, getting new guys in there in the middle of the season. It’s difficult. He’s been trying to learn these guys on the fly as well do everything else. He’s got a lot on his plate.”

Asked if Rodgers owns his own mistakes, Adams replied, “He can be real with himself, and you can see in his body language when he’s upset with himself as opposed to with another guy. He does a good job of making sure he takes his ownership and his accountability. He’s accountable and he wants his guys to be accountable as well.”

Asked if it’s easy to tell the difference in Rodgers’ body language when he’s upset with himself instead of someone else, Adams smiled and said simply, “One hundred percent. I won’t put in the article why or how, but it’s clear.”

Adams then offered another explanation: Missing Jordy Nelson, Rodgers’ longtime teammate and friend who was released during the offseason.

While struggling to connect with his young receivers, Rodgers was seemingly always on the same wavelength with Nelson, who Adams said would have far better numbers than what he’s put up in Oakland (25 receptions, 353 yards, three TDs) with the scuffling Raiders. Would having Nelson as a security blanket made a difference this season?

“My answer would be yes, for sure,” Adams said. “That’s not to take anything away from ‘83’ (Valdes-Scantling), ‘19’ (St. Brown) or ‘82’ (Moore). But where they are in their careers compared to where he is — especially with his connection with 12? I mean, obviously that’s a favorable matchup.

“You know, they say Jordy’s lost a step or whatever, but you can’t take back what they’ve put in for years at this point. So that speaks for itself.”

For his part, Rodgers didn’t address how much of a difference having Nelson might’ve had on the Packers’ offense this season, as he made his feelings abundantly clear when first-year general manager Brian Gutekunst cut Nelson in March.

Instead, Rodgers said, it’s up to him to get the offense going and get this team to the postseason, whatever it takes.

“I’m always trying to play the perfect game,” Rodgers said. “I’ve got to be great with my checks, and I’ve got to continue to find the open guy. You know, it’s been a disjointed year at times with our personnel. Then you’re trying to fit the ball in spots from time to time. But I’ve got to trust the progressions, I’ve got to get the ball to the open guy and I’ve got to get us playing a little faster.

“The energy and the tempo starts with me in practice and in the game and guys need to feel that even more. So I’ve got to amp up my level during the game and get us playing faster. We can’t be having to take timeouts because we’re not getting in the huddle, we’re not getting out of the huddle. So I’ve got to bring it with the tempo and obviously play like I want to play. I want to play a close to perfect game.”

Perry placed on IR

Nick Perry was put on injured reserve Saturday with a knee injury, ending the veteran outside linebacker’s season.

Rookie defensive end James Looney, a seventh-round pick out of California, was signed from the practice squad to take Perry’s spot on the roster ahead of Sunday night’s game.

Perry finishes the season with 24 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks.

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