I Want Aaron Rodgers' Bad Days

Aaron Rodgers' definition of a Bad Day probably isn't the same as what we'd consider a bad day. But it is that high level of expectation that fuels a team to a win, even when it isn't hitting on all cylinders.

Ever have a bad day?  You know, those lowest of the low days, where nothing seems to go right, and everything you try along the way to fix it ends up just making things worse?

I’ve had those days.  In fact, all of us, at one point or another, have had those days.  Even Aaron Rodgers has had one of those days.

Today.

“I’m just frustrated,” Rodgers said. “I didn’t throw the ball very well. I’m not trying to be ridiculously humble right now, I’m just frustrated. The ball wasn’t coming out the way I wanted it to today.”

In today’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, you would expect that Rodgers must have had a pretty pitiful game.  Perhaps he threw an interception or had a fumble in overtime.  Perhaps he was misfiring all day, missing his receivers left and right.

And most certainly, it sounds like the Packers must have lost the game, ending the spectacular streak of undefeatedness the team has enjoyed over the past year or so.  But alas, the Packers were victorious, with a convincing final score of 35-26.  They are still 10-0, and riding the tide into the Throwdown in Motown against the Jekyll/Hyde Lions on Thanksgiving.

In the end, Rodgers’ miserable numbers shaped up like this: 23-for-34 (67% completion percentage).  299 yards through the air.  Three passing touchdowns.  And, another 28 yards on five scrambles.  Oh, and an interception.

Yes, this is what qualifies as a Bad Day when your name is Aaron Charles Rodgers.  A day when your passing efficiency rating is a “miserable” 112.3 sends Rodgers (and to a degree, his fans) into a dark period of self-examination and reflection.

But, this is a man who has redefined the quarterback position, especially in the minds of Packer fans.  Once upon a time, Green Bay treasured a quarterback that played improv in the backfield, generating endless drama and histrionics...knowing that each pass could either be a spectacular play or a heartbreaking turnover.

Now, we have truly become spoiled, expecting flawless play from the man under center.

The good news is that, apparently, Rodgers expects that of himself, too.  Could you imagine Packer fans building expectations for Brett Favre (or God forbid, Randy Wright) to come out of each game with an 80% completion percentage?  Could you imagine a time when Packer fans were disappointed when the quarterback’s efficiency rating wasn't at least 130 points?

Come on.  Even in Favre’s best years, hitting triple-digits in the efficiency rating was a treat.  And the fact that we are shocked to hear the words “Rodgers” and “interception” in the same sentence (and not accompanied by “off the receiver’s hands”) should be a telling sign of exactly what kind of performance we expect.

Rodgers’ Bad Day is like the salesman who hits a home run with every customer, month in and month out... actually missing  out on one sale on one day.  It’s the politician who gets 100% of the vote in every election, facing the one day he only gets 90%.  It’s the day trader who comes out smelling like a rose every time the market closes, only to have one day out of a hundred where he breaks even.

Now, if I were to become a salesman, I’d be pretty happy if I got a buyer about 50% of the time.  If I were a politician, I’d be thrilled with getting 51% of the vote.  And don’t even get me started on the stock market.  The people I’ve described previously are almost unrealistically successful, so much so that what we consider a good day would be a disappointment for them.

But let’s also be fully aware of what Aaron Rodgers actually is doing with all of those gaudy numbers.  He’s still on pace to break  records, but he’s doing it in an amazing way.  Think about that 72% completion percentage he now holds, enough to break the season record held by Drew Brees just two years ago. Also look at that 28-3 TD/INT ratio he now holds, still just enough to edge Tom Brady’s 9-1 ratio record set last year.

There are several kinds of quarterbacks, great quarterbacks that have littered NFL history, and made their way into the Hall of Fame.  When I think of those high percentage passers, I think of guys like Joe Montana or Bart Starr.  I often put those two at the top of my list of best quarterbacks of all time, but both were fantastic at putting the ball where the defenders weren’t.  Starr was the master of finding the open man and getting it to him safely.  Montana was the innovator of the West Coast Offense in the NFL, nickeling and diming defenses with high-percentage passes that allowed them to run after the catch.

Neither, however, had howitzer arms, and neither attempted to spray the ball all over the field.

On the other side of the coin are the gunslingers who lived to throw the ball all over the field, and defied defenders who might be in the way.  Favre and Dan Marino powered their way downfield, and often put the ball in harm’s way, threading needles that might occasionally be two small to get through.  Interceptions were acceptable risks when contrasted with the rewards a great game would bring the team.

Brady, Brees, and Peyton Manning have been the new definition of quarterback, combining both the high percentage passes with an ability to put it anywhere.  And today, Aaron Rodgers is setting that standard above and beyond.  It’s one thing to complete 80% of your passes.  It’s another thing completely to put those passes in tight coverage in the only pinpoint spot where the receiver can catch it, and that is something that Rodgers has done with regularity.

He’s the Marino that doesn’t make mistakes.  He’s the Montana that can throw it 30 yards on a dime into coverage.  He’s the new breed of quarterback in the NFL, and as of right now, this season….Aaron Rodgers is the standard bearer of what future quarterbacks will strive to be, and what their coaches will demand of them.

And we Packers fans are witnessing this evolution first-hand, almost oblivious to what it means.  Perhaps we’ve been blinded by the amazing seasons of Manning, Brady, and Brees that we think this is the quarterback every team has.  And, maybe we’ve worked so hard to forget the struggles of Old Favre, Majkowski, and Wright that we can’t remember what it is like to have a 300-yard, 3 TD/1 INT day be the absolutely best you could hope for.

But regardless of all that, there is something amazing about that 300-yard, 3 TD/1 INT being an “off day”.  A disappointing day.  A Bad Day.  Heck, I tweeted it.  What’s wrong with Aaron today?  He’s not putting every single pass on a button just out of reach of the defender.

What is this…Madden?

In the end, this was an off-day for the entire team.  The defense missed six tackles en route to a 54-yard LeGarrette Blount run that will haunt us on NFL Network highlights for a year.  Tim Masthay saved us from disaster with a scramble that concluded with him fumbling the ball out of bounds.  Mason Crosby doinked his first missed field goal of the season off the right goalpost.  And they kept letting a desperate, inferior team get momentum and stay in the game all the way to the end.

From this game, we can learn two very important lessons about the Green Bay Packers.

First of all, the Packers are led by a quarterback that places the highest expectations on himself, even if those expectations are wildly lofty.  He is disappointed when he has merely a mortal day on the field, and doesn’t seek to blame anyone else (even though the rest of us might look pointedly at his offensive line).  Don’t doubt for a second that this attitude doesn’t rub off on the rest of the team, particularly his offense.  You can’t expect your teammates to play at a level you’re not willing to subscribe to yourself, and Rodgers more than certainly does.

Secondly, the Packers played perhaps their most inconsistent game since the last time these two teams met in 2009.  The defense was gashed, the offense spluttered at times, and the special teams had their gaffes.  The biggest difference, however, between 2009 and today is this team can take on the best another team can give them, not play their best, and still win.

It’s more than just simple execution and talent.  This team expects to win, and they find ways to do it, week in and week out...even when it seems like it isn’t their day.

And if you want to find the source of that passion, look no further than a quarterback who was cursing himself out for simply having just a good game.

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Comments (8)

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Wiscokid's picture

November 20, 2011 at 09:54 pm

My definition of a great team is one that can have an off day and still come out with a victory. I think the Packers fit that definition as well as any team in recent memory.

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ebongreen's picture

November 20, 2011 at 10:06 pm

I've been impressed with AR's play all season, for the same reasons everyone else is (at least by now) recognizing. And it was an off day - for him. Even without seeing it, I could tell from the stats and the radio broadcast from Wayne and Larry.

I know that the Lions are excited about Thursday. If AR plays better or more focused when he's angry, just think of the rebound game that's on the way. :)

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jack in jersey city's picture

November 20, 2011 at 11:39 pm

plus the lions game is indoors and AR can wear his "comfortable shoes" :)

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razor's picture

November 21, 2011 at 08:07 am

I know they have a lot of weapons, but the way they are playing, especially the defense, I don't think they put a lot of fear into their opponents. I hope our defense can play better than Carolina's did come Thursday.

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Scott W's picture

November 21, 2011 at 09:50 am

"This team expects to win, and they find ways to do it, week in and week out...even when it seems like it isn’t their day."

Exactly. The 2011 Packers have a psychology of winning...reminiscent of the 60's Packers: "We didn't lose the game, we just ran out of time."

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PackersRS's picture

November 21, 2011 at 11:24 am

Great article as always CD. I think that is the biggest difference when talking about the season Rodgers is having compared to the other seasons.

The NFL world was surprised by the great games those QBs were having, but they thought it was normal when they had 1 bad day.

With Rodgers, we think it's normal when he's having one of those great games, but we're surprised when he has a normal game.

(His current TD/INT ratio is 31/4 right now, BTW)

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c.d. angeli's picture

November 21, 2011 at 08:55 pm

And I sat there, staring at ESPN.com last night, looking at the 3 INT on Rodgers' cumulative stats thinking, "I could have sworn it was four. Could have sworn it. But when has ESPN ever been wrong?"

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Bigfog's picture

November 21, 2011 at 12:44 pm

When Aaron Rodgers starts playing bad, he stops playing bad and starts playing AWESOME. True story.

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