Bow before the almighty narrative.
“The thriller Sunday at the Georgia Dome basically came down to how Rodgers would fare in the final minute,” wrote the venerable Bob McGinn, weighing in on the Packers’ disappointing loss in Atlanta.
“It’s a quarterback’s game, specifically a great quarterback’s game. That goes with the territory. They decide close games.”
Indeed they do, and if that’s how McGinn had chosen to start his column, he’d have been absolutely right. A great quarterback did decide the game, only it wasn’t Aaron Rodgers.
Matt Ryan played true to his MVP form, and his decisive touchdown pass with just over 30 seconds left proved to be just what Atlanta needed to put the Packers away.
But instead of acknowledging Ryan’s brilliance, McGinn brought his column to bear on Rodgers, deciding that “the preponderance of statistical weight shows he hasn’t been successful in the clutch when compared to his peers.”
To borrow a line from Mike McCarthy, what a polluted mindset.
McGinn is advancing a narrative that’s been percolating for some years now. Scott Kacsmar of the once-mighty Cold Hard Football Facts has pointed this out several times. Benjamin Morris has done similar work for FiveThirtyEight. Skip Bayless and Colin Cowherd have been leading a two man parade to see Aaron Rodgers run out of town seemingly since he was drafted.
The idea, in short, is that Aaron Rodgers comes up short when things matter most.
As with any conspiracy, there is a nugget of truth present. Critics can point to several high profile failures in Rodgers’ tenure, including a couple in very recent memory.
Last season, trailing by eight with two minutes left in Carolina, Rodgers threw an interception in the end zone, double clutching and missing an open Randall Cobb.
Later that year, Rodgers threw a late interception in the Week 17 game against Minnesota, giving the Vikings their first division title since 2009.
This year, too, Rodgers came up short against the Vikings, throwing a bad pick late to scuttle any comeback chances.
But for McGinn to bring this up now, after this particular loss, seems misguided at best and like grandstanding at worst. Moreover, it ignores what actually happened in the game.
Surely McGinn knows, since he was there, that Aaron Rodgers did, in fact, lead a comeback drive in yesterday’s game. Starting with 12:31 remaining, Rodgers led the Packers on an 86-yard touchdown march stretching more than eight minutes of game time, culminating with a seven yard pass to Jeff Janis. Rodgers even did the honors on the two point conversion, running it in himself.
To hang the blame on Rodgers for this defeat is just manufacturing a headline in search of a story. It’s clickbait.
Do you want a real narrative? Look at how many times Aaron Rodgers has either put the Packers in a position to win or tie, only to see the defense turn surrender the lead again. Here’s a quick rundown.
In 2008 alone, Rodgers put the Packers in enemy territory with five minutes or less four times. Twice, game-winning or game-tying kicks were missed. Twice the Packers punted from inside the 45. On two other occasions, Rodgers gave the Packers the lead or brought them even, only to see the defense give up a late score.
In 2010, Rodgers drove the Packers into field goal range against the Redskins, but Mason Crosby missed a field goal and the Packers fell in overtime. That same season, Aaron Rodgers tied a game against the Atlanta Falcons late, but the defense gave up an easy drive to Matt Ryan, allowing Atlanta to kick a game winning field goal.
In 2012, Rodgers was the victim of the Packers’ defense on three separate occasions. Against the Seahawks, Rodgers led the Packers to a go-ahead touchdown with 8:44 remaining, only to see Russell Wilson throw the game-winning interception to M.D. Jennings.
Facing the Colts in Indianapolis, Rodgers gave the Packers a 27-22 lead late, only to have Andrew Luck respond with his own touchdown drive. Starting on his own 20 with just 35 seconds left, Rodgers pushed the Packers into Colts territory, only to have Mason Crosby miss a 51-yard game winning field goal.
Finally, in Minnesota in Week 17, Rodgers manufactured a 78-yard drive to tie the game 34-34 with 2:54 left, but the Packers allowed Christian Ponder and Adrian Peterson to push down the field for the game winning field goal. Rodgers never had a chance to complete the comeback.
In 2014, Rodgers was clutch in the playoffs against Dallas because he gutted it out on a gimpy calf, but then he wasn’t clutch against Seattle because the defense couldn’t protect a 16 point lead.
Last year, he wasn’t clutch against Detroit in Green Bay because Mason Crosby shanked the game winning field goal, but then he was clutch against Detroit because of a dubious facemask call and Richard Rodgers lumbering down the field to catch a Hail Mary.
And then there’s Arizona, where Rodgers was clutch because of Jeff Janis, but then not really clutch because Damarious Randall forgot to cover a Hall of Fame receiver.
Clearly, whether Rodgers is clutch or not just depends on the week. This week, the narrative demands that he is not clutch. He’s not clutch because a receiving corps made up of a guy with a surgically reconstructed knee, a track star, a special teamer, and a practice squad promotion couldn’t get open against a defense that knew what was coming. He wasn’t clutch because he couldn’t conjure a field goal out of thin air, despite already leading a monster comeback drive.
He wasn’t clutch because Bob McGinn says so.