The Packers had a chance to win their second home game in less than a week, four days after upsetting the Cowboys. Because as much as Green Bay looked against Dallas on Sunday, they were the exact opposite on Thursday night.
After the game, quarterback Aaron Rodgers faced a flurry of pointed questions about the team’s underwhelming performance—starting with his own.
“I definitely missed a few pitches,” Rodgers told reporters. “I definitely missed a few pitches.”
Indeed he did. It became most obvious in the fourth quarter, as the Packers attempted to close a 10-point deficit. On one drive, after an interception by Rasul Douglas of Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill, he held the lead at 27-17, Rodgers missing a wide open Sammy Watkins on third and 12. On the next drive, Rodgers sailed a pitch over the outstretched arms of Allen Lazard on third and three.
Both outcomes led to a bit of boos from the crowd at Lambeau Field. Rodgers was asked how it felt to hear that response from Packers fans.
“Interesting,” he said after a long silence. “That’s the best I can give you.”
It’s hard to say if Rodgers is really able to give his best on the field, due to a thumb injury dating back to their loss to the Giants in London. He said he won’t make excuses based on the ongoing problem, but added that he “didn’t have a consistent grip” on the Titans and that he was “throwing a lot of wobblers.”
At one point he was asked, “Where are you going from here?”
“Home,” he said.
The literal response had a possibly unintended meaning. At 4-7, they are about to go home as it relates to their dwindling hopes in the postseason.
There was still a glimmer of optimism from the two-time defensive league MVP.
“If we use our potential, we can win the next six games,” said Rodgers.
The problem is that they haven’t reached their potential for most of the year. He said it will take more than him and the rest of the team captains to get the message to the locker room about the chances of turning it around.
On Sunday they showed what they can do. But they have to do it consistently. They could run the ball against the Cowboys. They couldn’t take on the Titans.
That’s the basic reality for any NFL team. The talent gap between the franchises isn’t as wide as it once was. In every game, both teams hope to play to their potential. If one does, the other doesn’t have to.
Seven of the eleven times this year, the Packers have not. While it’s not impossible to think they can go six for six and make the playoffs, any additional loss at this point will close the door a bit further.
At some point, they may have to admit that it’s just not going to happen. Maybe then Rodgers will go to injured reserve, Jordan Love will get some reps in preparation for 2023, and see one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time finish his career with a whimper, not a bang.
That option is missing for several games. With Rodgers at the helm, they are able to catch fire and rack up a string of victories.
The next chance will come in 10 days, when they face the Eagles in Philadelphia Sunday night football. Then the Packers go to Chicago. Then comes a goodbye, 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.
The seventeenth game keeps hope alive for each team a little longer. Before 2021, the Packers might already be done, at 4-7. A loss to Philly in Week 12 probably means they have to go 5-0 and hope for help to reach the playoffs with a 9-8 record.
So basically, the Packers playoffs begin next Sunday night. If they lose to the Eagles, it could be time to think about turning the page to 2023, which could also mean finally closing the book on the Aaron Rodgers era in Green Bay.
Again, it’s not over yet. Not by a long shot. However, if Rodgers is asked where he’s going from after one of these upcoming games and he says “home,” it could have a much greater sense of permanence.