The Packers had an opportunity 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 of it on Thursday night.
After the game, quarterback Aaron Rodgers faced a stream of pointed questions about the team’s disappointing performance — starting with his own.
“I missed a couple of throws, for sure,” Rodgers told reporters. “I definitely missed a couple throws.”
Indeed he did. It became the most obvious in the fourth quarter, as the Packers tried to carve into a 10-point deficit. On one drive, after a Rasul Douglas interception of Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill held the score at 27-17, Rodgers badly missed a wide-open Sammy Watkins on third and 12. On the next drive, Rodgers sailed a throw over the outstretched arms of Allen Lazard on third and three.
Both outcomes sparked a smattering of boos from the crowd at Lambeau Field. Rodgers was asked how it felt hear that reaction from Packers fans.
“Interesting,” he said after a long pause. “That’s the best I can give you.”
It’s hard to know whether Rodgers is truly able to give his best on the field, due to a thumb injury that dates back to their loss to the Giants in London. He said he won’t make excuses based on the lingering issue, but he added that he “didn’t have a consistent grip” against the Titans, and that he “threw a lot of wobblers.”
At one point, he was asked, “Where do you go from here?”
“Home,” he said.
The literal response carried a potentially unintended meaning. At 4-7, they’re teetering on the brink of going home, as it relates to their shrinking postseason hopes.
There was still a flicker of optimism from the two-time defending league MVP.
“If we play up to our potential, we can win the next six games,” Rodgers said.
The problem is that they haven’t been playing up to 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 at large about the chances of turning it around.
On Sunday, they showed what they can do. But they need to do it consistently. They could run the ball against the Cowboys. They couldn’t run it against the Titans.
That’s the basic reality for every NFL team. The talent gap among the franchises isn’t as big as it once was. In every game, both teams are hoping to play to their potential. If one does, the other one necessarily doesn’t.
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 get to the playoffs, each additional loss at this point will close the door a little bit more.
At some point, they may need to admit that it’s just not going to happen. Maybe that’s when Rodgers heads to injured reserve, Jordan Love gets some reps in preparation for 2023, and one of the best quarterbacks of all time sees his career end with a whimper, not a bang.
That possibility remains several games away. With Rodgers at the helm, they’re capable of catching fire, of putting a string of victories together.
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. Then 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.
The seventeenth game keeps hope alive a little longer for every team. Prior to 2021, the Packers possibly would already be done, at 4-7. A loss to Philly in Week 12 likely will mean that they’d need 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 could be time to start thinking about turning the page to 2023, which also could mean finally closing the book on the Aaron Rodgers era in Green Bay.
Again, it’s not over. Not by a long shot. After one of these upcoming games, however, when Rodgers is asked where he goes from here and he says “home,” it could have a far greater sense of permanence.