The Packers had a chance to win their second home game in less than a week, four days after upsetting the Cowboys. For as good as Green Bay looked against Dallas on Sunday, they were the exact opposite on Thursday night.
After the game, quarterback Aaron Rodgers was faced with a barrage of pointed questions about the team’s disappointing performance – starting with his own.
“I missed a few shots, for sure,” Rodgers told reporters. “I definitely missed a few shots.”
Indeed, he did. It became most evident in the fourth quarter, as the Packers tried to stretch out a 10-point deficit. On a practice, after a Rasul Douglas interception of Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill held the score at 27-17, Rodgers badly missed a wide-open Sammy Watkins at third-and-12. Allen Lazard third and third.
Both results sparked a handful of boos from the crowd at Lambeau Field. Rodgers was asked how he felt hearing this reaction from Packers fans.
“Interesting,” he said after a long pause. “It’s the best I can give you.”
It’s unclear whether Rodgers is truly capable of performing at his best on the pitch, due to a thumb injury that dates back to his loss to the Giants in London. He said he wouldn’t apologize based on the ongoing issue, but added that he “didn’t have a consistent grip” against the Titans and “threw a lot of wobblers.”
At one point, he was asked, “Where do you go from here?”
“Home,” he said.
The literal answer carried a potentially unintended meaning. At 4-7, they are poised to go home, as far as their playoff hopes go.
There was still a flicker of optimism from the two-time reigning league MVP.
“If we play to our potential, we can win the next six games,” Rodgers said.
The problem is that they haven’t played to their full potential for most of the year. He said it would take more than just him and the rest of the team captains to get the message out to the locker room as a whole about the chances of turning things around.
On Sunday, they showed what they were capable of. But they have to do it regularly. They could run the ball against the Cowboys. They couldn’t face him against the Titans.
This is the basic reality for every NFL team. The talent gap between franchises isn’t as big as it once was. In every game, both teams hope to play to their potential. If one does, the other may not.
Seven out of 11 times this year, the Packers haven’t. While it’s not impossible to think they can go six-for-six and make the playoffs, each additional loss at this point will close the door a bit more.
At some point, they may have to admit that it just won’t happen. Maybe that’s when Rodgers heads to injured reserve, Jordan Love gets reps in preparation for 2023, and one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time sees his career end with a moan, not a knock.
This possibility remains several games away. With Rodgers at the helm, they are capable of catching fire, of stringing together victories.
The next chance comes in 10 days, when they face the Eagles in Philadelphia on Sunday night football. After that, the Packers go to Chicago. Next comes a bye, followed by a Monday night game against the Rams, a Christmas Day visit to Miami and season-ending home games against the Vikings and Lions.
Game seventeen keeps hope alive a little longer for each team. Before 2021, the Packers might have already finished, at 4-7. A loss to Philly in Week 12 will likely mean they have to go 5-0 and hope for help to get to the playoffs with a 9-8 record.
So basically the playoffs start for the Packers next Sunday night. If they lose to the Eagles, it might be time to start thinking about moving on to 2023, which could also mean finally closing the book on the Aaron Rodgers era in Green Bay.
Again, it’s not over. Not by far. After one of those upcoming games, though, when Rodgers is asked where he’s going from here and he says “home,” it might have a much greater sense of permanence.
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