Aaron Rodgers comes up shockingly small in Packers’ stunning playoff exit

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Aaron Rodgers will almost certainly win his fourth NFL MVP award in a couple of weeks, but he won’t be preparing to play a football game when he receives the award — he’ll be contemplating his future, both in the game and in Green Bay, after he played one of the worst playoff games of his decorated career and dipped out of the postseason in the divisional round with nothing more than a whimper.

The box score numbers from Saturday’s 13-10 loss to the San Francisco 49ers weren’t shockingly bad; Rodgers completed 20 of 29 passes for 225 yards, zero touchdowns and zero interceptions. But the expected MVP came up shockingly small to open what was imagined to be a defining stretch of playoff games both for his legacy in the sport and as the quarterback of the Packers in a place called “Titletown.”

Instead, Rodgers managed just two scoring drives in 10 possessions and only three total points in three-and-a-half quarters after leading the Packers to an opening drive touchdown, and his team — the top seed in the NFC for the second straight year — exited the playoffs in the divisional round, well short of the Super Bowl.

After a late three-and-out with the game tied, the 49ers drove the field and set up Robbie Gould’s game-winning field goal as time expired. As was the case 11 years ago, the top-seeded Packers lost to the No. 6 seed after enjoying a first-round bye and departed the playoffs with a dreadful performance in the cold at Lambeau Field.

Asked about his part in the stunning defeat, Rodgers was willing to take on much of the blame.

“Yeah, a lot. I didn’t have a great night tonight,” Rodgers said. “They did a good job of getting me off the spot, and better job of taking away some of the quick game we had going the last time we played them.”

Rodgers said he missed a few reads and throws and should have been more aggressive attacking the sideline against some Cover-2 look.

The Packers punted six times, including back-to-back three-and-outs to end the game. His final throw, a deep heave to Davante Adams into double coverage on 3rd-and-11, fell harmlessly incomplete with Allen Lazard streaking wide open underneath. Rodgers bemoaned missing the open receiver after the contest. It could have changed the game.

“If I hit Allen on that deep in on the last drive, that gets us to midfield, and then we’re a couple first downs away from field goal range. Definitely disappointed in some of the decisions I had tonight. I definitely take my fair share of blame tonight,” Rodgers said.

It was a stunning miss. The 49ers had bracketed coverage on Adams and didn’t hide it pre-snap. The Packers had the ideal play called to attack the coverage on the other side, but Rodgers – for whatever reason – either pre-determined his throw to Adams or completely misread the coverage, both pre-snap and post-snap. The result was another punt, and the 49ers took advantage.

A drive earlier, another three-and-out meant Corey Bojorquez was punting from the shadow of his own goalposts, and the 49ers blocked the kick and returned it for a game-tying touchdown. On the drive, Rodgers missed Adams against single coverage from Josh Norman, who entered the game because of injury. A play later, he took an 11-yard sack on third down.

Under intense pressure, Rodgers took five sacks and completed passes to only four different receivers. Outside of 18 completions to Adams and Aaron Jones, Rodgers produced only two completions for six yards to other targets.

Of Rodgers’ 225 passing yards, 75 came on an improvised play to Jones right before the half. He averaged 5.4 yards per attempt on his other 28 attempts. The team’s only other completion over 20 yards was a 25-yard connection to Adams, who caught three passes on the opening scoring drive but was mostly contained the rest of the way.

The 49ers finished with six quarterback hits. Rodgers, who led the NFL in passer rating from clean pockets in 2021, rarely had time. And when he did, rhythm wasn’t established in the passing game and the ball wasn’t coming out decisively.

“The pass rush was formidable. I just wasn’t able to get into that rhythm like the last time we played them,” Rodgers said.

Including the sacks, the Packers averaged 5.8 yards per pass play. Rodgers’ passer rating was 91.9, but his QBR finished at 19.3, the lowest of his career by a good margin.

After scoring 30 or more points in six of the final seven games, the Packers managed only one touchdown and one field goal.

“You score 10 points, you’re not going to win many of those games,” Rodgers said.

The Packers led 7-0 for nearly the entire first half and had numerous opportunities to take an overwhelming advantage early. Even after the 49ers cut the lead to 7-3 to open the second half, the Packers could only manage one field goal drive the rest of the way.

The offense was 1-for-3 scoring touchdowns in the red zone and 5-for-12 on third down. Overall, the Packers averaged only 4.9 yards per play and gained just 14 first downs in 10 possessions. Four came on the opening drive.

For as bad as the special teams performed, and it was a nightmare, the offense had opportunity after opportunity to make sure the third phase wouldn’t matter in the outcome. And time after time, they came up empty.

Now, after failing to get back to the Super Bowl once again, Rodgers and the Packers enter an offseason of uncertainty two or three weeks before most — including Rodgers — were expecting. Everything could look different in Green Bay in 2022, including the starter at quarterback.

Brett Favre’s final pass as the quarterback of the Packers was an interception to Corey Webster that sent the Giants to the Super Bowl. Rodgers’ final toss could be his third-down prayer to Adams with the game tied and a chance to advance still alive. For Rodgers, the miss was a fitting end to a night filled with missed opportunities for the No. 1 seed and the likely MVP quarterback.

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