There was no doubt that before the Green Bay Packers laid the wood to the Houston Texans' top-ranked defense in a 42-24 road win on Sunday night, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers had not been at his best. Green Bay's offense had been sporadic as a result, and Rodgers put the blame on himself more than anyone else.
"[I've] been making just some mistakes I'm not used to making," Rodgers told ESPN Wisconsin's Jason Wilde in his weekly radio show last week. "Throwing the ball to the other team — I've done that four times already. I'm fortunate [Chicago Bears linebacker Lance] Briggs dropped one against Chicago as well. Just uncharacteristic of the way I've played. [I've also] made some checks that have been unproductive, missed some throws I'm accustomed to hitting. Haven't played the way of the standard I've set."
Rodgers turned that around on Sunday night with one of the best performances of his career. Against a Texans pass defense that had been very tough for opponents to solve, he completed 24 passes in 37 attempts for 338 yards and six touchdowns.
Still, before that game, pundits were eager to analyze what was wrong with the defending NFL MVP, whether their analysis had any basis in fact or not. CBS's Shannon Sharpe led the charge with some pretty bizarre stuff in the network's Sunday pregame coverage.
Per Awful Announcing, Sharpe's comments before Rodgers' beatdown of the Texans:
"I think they have some deeper issues, but let's get to the surface issues right now. They can't run the football, so that puts a lot of pressure on Aaron Rodgers and that poor offensive line. Aaron Rodgers doesn't always do a great job of getting rid of the football on rhythm. So now he's taking some unnecessary sacks. But what I see is a lot of finger-pointing by Aaron Rodgers. I don't really know Aaron Rodgers, haven't been around him. But he strikes me as a guy that, it's always someone else's fault other than his own. I'm not so sure, I'm not so sure, that deep down inside, how well his receiving corps really likes Aaron Rodgers.
"I tell you what else, just because you're a great quarterback and an MVP quarterback that doesn't make you a great person. There is a difference between the two."
If there's one thing I've learned in the last 10 years of covering sports at any level, it's that if you are going to question the effort or character of any athlete, you'd best have either seen something yourself, or have talked to those around the athlete who don't have an axe to grind, before making such assertions. Sharpe's criticism of Rodgers goes far beyond the field, and as he said, he doesn't know Rodgers. Clearly, he was throwing stuff against the wall to see what might stick.
In his return to his show with Wilde, Rodgers fired back with the same accuracy he showed at Reliant Stadium:
"I didn't hear some of it until after the game, to be honest with you. In this country, I think freedom of speech is a very important part of our culture. That being said, anybody can have an opinion about anything regardless of how stupid it might be, or uninformed. There are often stories out there that have very little truth to them; that are based on feelings or images that you want to conjure up or situations that you think you understand when you really don't. I think more than anything this week, one reminder that [Packers head coach] Mike [McCarthy] and I talked about was just controlling the things that you can control. We've had a lot of adversity around here in my fifth year starting.
"And I think that's one thing that sometimes is easy to forget but it's a good reminder, that there's always going to be distractions and opinions and things going on that are outside of your control. In this case there was. It's easy to criticize. Maybe some of these people have been waiting to criticize us after the success we've had, whether they have personal vendettas against myself, or Mike or our team. A team failing that is supposed to win is a lot easier of a story to write than a team that's supposed to win that is meeting expectations. Teams that aren't meeting expectations and teams that aren't playing as well as pundits have picked them to be, it's easier to jump on them. It's the easy road for those people and they decide to jump on it."
Hopefully, Sharpe will provide a mea culpa this Sunday, and hopefully, he'll do it as loudly as he did when he was making stuff up.