Aaron Rodgers was sprawled out, face planted in the turf, defeat washing over him. Tom Brady stood with hands on his hips and his head staring down at his cleats, the picture of frustration and failure.
Two no-need-for-debate Hall of Famers, two pathetic losses in a season where that’s become the norm and Super Bowl dreams are becoming a fantasy.
Both teams are 3-4 in a conference that now looks to run through Philadelphia, New York or Minnesota, not these two. Rodgers is 38 years old. Brady is 45. Both are playing to win Super Bowls, not just hoping they can find something so far unseen in their teams in order to squeak, somehow, into the playoffs.
Last week, the two looked animated and even angry — Brady notably screaming at his offensive line. Sunday felt more like bitter resignation had begun to set in.
They mumbled under their breath. They stood passively on the sideline. They looked out of answers, if not out of energy to find them. Rodgers still talked a good game — “I’m not worried about this squad.” Brady didn’t seem capable of mustering the effort.
“No one feels good about where we are at,” Brady said. “Nobody feels good about how we played or how we are doing.”
Their teams aren’t good. Their teammates aren’t good. And neither, if both are honest, are good either, at least not good enough to lift these rosters into anything. Surrounded by a ton of talent — the kind Brady sought in Tampa Bay when he left New England in 2020 — they might still be able to do something. Neither is, though.
Tampa Bay’s only saving grace for the season is that even at 3-4, it is tied for first in the dreadful NFC South. Even then, Brady isn’t here to somehow back into the playoffs at 8-9 and get crushed. The man has seven Super Bowl titles and a New York Post full of off-field issues to deal with.
On Sunday the league’s greatest winner lost to a team that had fired its head coach, traded its best player, dropped 12 of its previous 13 games … and was starting at quarterback an undrafted free agent out of Temple with two career touchdowns.
And it wasn’t close.
The Packers, meanwhile, are a full 3.5 games behind the Vikings in the NFC North, to whom they lost in Week 1. They still have to visit Buffalo and Philly, among other parts of a challenging schedule. Rodgers may not be as old as Brady, an outlier in longevity, but he’s hitting the age when quarterbacks generally fade from effectiveness.
Yet perhaps in need of help, he doesn’t have Davante Adams or much talent at receiver (four drops against Washington). His offensive line is a mess (only one starter Sunday started the week prior in the same position). The run game is almost non-existent (38 yards on Sunday). Rodgers had just 47 passing yards in the first half and zero third-down conversions against Washington.
“It’s not winning football,” Rodgers said.
If there is one thing these two know about, it’s winning football.
In seasons as the starting quarterback, Brady has never had a losing season and put up at least 10 victories in 19 of his 20 campaigns. Rodgers has had just two, one of which was his first year as a starter. It’s a major part in what makes this so stunning. It’s not just that the NFL is used to seeing these two compete deep into January and February, these dual towers of consistent excellence. It’s that they almost never look bad or overmatched.
In this case, it’s worse. What fixes are possible? And even if both somehow rally to go 6-4 or 7-3 the rest of the way, is that good enough for what they are playing for, which is everything?
Tampa Bay can’t run the ball — 46 yards against the Panthers. It can’t protect Brady in the pocket, and he can’t scramble. There is no speed on the outside. It has scored more than 21 points just once this season.
Meanwhile Green Bay is headed to Buffalo as a 10.5-point underdog, the biggest margin ever for Rodgers in the NFL.
“This might be the best thing for us this week,” Rodgers offered, hoping the “no expectations” card will somehow help.
Except this is Green Bay. And Tampa Bay. This is Rodgers and Brady. There will always be expectations. There will always be a spotlight. Losing streaks that don’t happen to them, are happening to them. It’s open season on them.
Old and upset, they both appear to be flailing about in end-of-career struggles that maybe neither ever imagined could happen to them.