Maybe Aaron Rodgers is just washed. Two collarbone injuries, a serious, nagging knee injury — they all caught up with Rodgers because not even one of the all-time greats can defeat Father Time.
That’s one of the few times wins are a quarterback stat.
Mark Murphy and Brian Gutekunst certainly didn’t think that was the case a few months when they signed Rodgers to the richest contract the league has ever seen. Rodgers drew oo’s and aah’s from fans and media who saw him in training camp (remember when there was a worry about his interceptions?), writing about how focused he was, how determined he looked to right the wrongs of the 2017 season.
Without knowing how much the knee has bothered him or how much faith he truly has in his receivers and the gameplan, it’s impossible to pin down exactly what went wrong for Rodgers this season. No doubt the knee played a role. Injuries at receiver, where rookies were forced into the starting lineup hurt the continuity and consistency of the passing game. Injuries and inconsistency at offensive line exacerbated the loss of Rodgers’ usual mobility. All of this comes before the issues with play design and playcalling, an essential reason Mike McCarthy no longer works at 1265 Lombardi Ave.
There are reasons to believe 2018 will end up an aberration for Rodgers. For starters, he’s unlikely to sustain a historically low interception rate, but he’s also unlikely to play with such an inexperienced group of receivers again. The head coaching search will undoubtedly feature a revamping of outdated offenses concepts and philosophy. And Green Bay simply won’t keep losing one-score games (six of their eight losses this season) at this rate. Those numbers tend to ebb and flow over time.
But wait, there’s more.
A look at historical quarterback data reveals a bizarre pattern: year 14 has been the bug-a-boo for all-time great quarterbacks of recent vintage. Let’s examine that.
Tom Brady 2013 (Age 36): 60.5% 25 TDs 11 INTs 6.9 YPA 87.3 Rating
Do those look like Tom Brady numbers to you? Since then, he has won an MVP, helped the Patriots win two Super Bowls, and returned to being one of the best quarterbacks in the game. But ‘13 was Brady’s worst completion percentage since 2004, his fewest TDs since 2006, tied for lowest YPA since 2006, and his worst rating since his 2008 season, when he tore his ACL in week one.
Those look like Derek Carr numbers, not one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL and one of the greatest ever. Much like with Rodgers, the factors that season were myriad, but the Patriots still managed to go 12-4 and make a run because they’re the Patriots and have Bill Belichick.
Drew Brees 2014 (Age 35): 69.2% 4952 33 TDs 17 INT
This doesn’t look quite as wonky for Brees, but consider that this number was Brees’ most INTs since 2012 when he led the league in picks. It was his worst INT % and lowest rating since that same season and worst YPA since 2010. Since then, he’s been Drew Brees again.
Year 14 also started a streak of losing seasons for the Saints, where they won just seven games three seasons in a row. Along with 2012, it was four in five years.
A killer draft in 2017 buoyed them back to an 11-win season and right now, they might just be the Super Bowl favorite. This didn’t require a coaching change or a mechanical cure-all. The Saints needed a little more talent and some more luck.
Peyton Manning 2011 (Age 35): Missed entire season with neck injury
This seals the oddity of the Year 14 season jinx. Manning missed the entire season, then left Indianapolis and helped lead the Broncos to a pair of Super Bowl trips along with a record-shattering MVP season.
There are no other quarterbacks of Rodgers’ quality worth mentioning with this group over the last decade. Yet all of them had down years in Year 14, and all of them came back to be if not better than ever, something close to it. Manning and Brady each won Super Bowls and made more than one appearance in that big game.
Brees could make it three-for-three this year.
It’s possible this is the beginning of the end. If it is, the final stretch of the 2016 season will be the aberration and the decline will have begun in 2015. We won’t know until Rodgers comes back next season with a new coach and a healthy team. For the Packers, that would preferably happen with a new starting right guard and a better plan behind Bryan Bulaga. But every quarterback of recent vintage whom most would consider in the same sphere as Aaron Rodgers has bounced back from a mini-swoon late in their careers.
Green Bay needs to do everything in its power this offseason to ensure Rodgers makes it four-for-four.