As it turned out, when Aaron Rodgers went down with a broken collarbone injury in week six against the Vikings, the Green Bay Packers season was over.
The Packers capped off their season with a 35-11 loss to the Detroit Lions at Ford Field, Rodgers backup, Brett Hundley went 3-6 in games that he started in place of Rodgers, 3-7 if you count the game that he played in after Rodgers was injured.
The Packers finished the year 7-9, their first losing season since 2008. They were swept in their season-series with Detroit for the first time since 1991.
Brett Hundley threw just one touchdown pass over the last two games, once the Packers were officially out of the playoffs.
The Packers looked like a demoralized bunch on Sunday. In fact, there were signs that was the case even prior to Sunday as Brett Hundley continued to struggle, week after week.
When Mike McCarthy was asked after Sunday’s game if he sensed his players were demoralized, the coach snapped back.
“I don’t. And it’s not apparent,” said McCarthy. “And if anybody tells you so, he’s full of (expletive). We don’t have that nonsense in our culture. The kid works hard. He’s a fine young man. If you could see us practice, the way we practice, everything, that part of its right.”
McCarthy did point out that the Packers didn’t catch the ball very well for Hundley (6 drops) and he’s right. He also said Hundley made mistakes and wasn’t perfect.
McCarthy has always taken the approach to not judge his players in the media, especially after a game. But Packers Nation is hoping McCarthy is simply being loyal in public and will do the right thing when analyzing the quarterback position.
It’s become clear that the Packers will add quarterback help to back up Aaron Rodgers, or at the very least, add competition for the backup job moving forward. Without Rodgers, it became clear that Hundley wasn’t good enough to help the Packers get into the playoffs.
But the problems go beyond Hundley. It was also clear that the Packers lacked enough talent on the defensive side of the ball to help cushion the blow once Rodgers went down.
The Packers started the game with an onside kick, recovered by Jermaine Whitehead. But the ensuing drive ended when Hundley tossed an interception. The ball wasn’t perfect but could have been caught by running back Jamaal Williams. The Packers finished with six drops for the game.
Hundley also ended a drive by fumbling. He tossed his second touchdown in the second half.
Several reports suggest the Packers will not bring defensive coordinator Dom Capers back for another season, so there is at least some change ahead. But does it stop there, or will the Packers go deeper in trying to solve the many issues they have?
With or without Capers, the Packers need to improve their defense and it needs to start with pass rush help. It’s something the Packers lacked, making life even more difficult on the injury-depleted secondary.
Some feel the answer reaches as far as general manager Ted Thompson. It doesn’t appear Thompson is ready to step down any time soon, so that means team president Mark Murphy needs to step in and take action. The problem with that is Murphy has indicated previously that the job is Thompson’s for as long as he wants it. That statement came last summer. We’ll see if Murphy has changed his mind since then.
Thompson ignored pass rush help until the fourth round when he picked Vince Biegel out of Wisconsin. But Biegel suffered a broken foot in May and he never reached a level upon his return midway through the season where he could be of help.
The Packers did sign wide receiver Davante Adams and center Corey Linsley to contract extensions, helping solidify the teams corp. Extending Aaron Rodgers deal is still coming.
The Packers will have to decide whether Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson will both be a part of the team moving forward. Cobb and Nelson are both entering the final year of their contracts and one or both may be asked to restructure their deals.
Injuries were certainly a factor, but not an excuse. Several NFL teams had injuries that were just as severe as the Packers, including teams that lost key players and still managed to reach the playoffs.
And the coaching staff has to take a good look in the mirror too. With one of the NFL’s top quarterbacks in Aaron Rodgers, McCarthy has made the offense all about Rodgers and that’s natural. But with Rodgers, the Packers running game takes a back seat.
With Rodgers sidelined, the Packers were forced to develop a running attack and at times, were very successful. But when Rodgers returned for one game against Carolina, the running game was forgotten. Rodgers has the ability to change run calls to passes and did so on several occasions in that game. It left the Packers with fewer rushing opportunities than even Mike McCarthy had hoped for.
If there was ever a time, with Aaron Rodgers returning from a broken collarbone, to mix the offensive load and run the ball more, it was then. Rodgers is a quarterback. He wants to throw the ball and given the opportunity to make that call, he’s naturally going to go with the passing option.
Aaron Jones had runs of 23 and 20 yards, yet ran just one other time. How can you ignore that? But that’s what happened.
But Mike McCarthy is the head coach. He needs to protect Aaron Rodgers from Aaron Rodgers. McCarthy didn’t do that. He allowed Rodgers to call his shots and the Packers would go on to lose to the Panthers, ending their playoff hopes and Rodgers season.
Ted Thompson messed up when he didn’t bring Micah Hyde back. Hyde went on to become a Pro Bowl safety in Buffalo. He elected not to resign Jared Cook, going with Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks instead. That also blew up in his face.
The only free agent move that stood out in Thompson’s favor was the addition of right guard Jahri Evans.
Bottom line is the Packers have to draft better, they have to make better personnel decisions, they need to coach better and they players need to perform better. How they get there will be the key to returning to Super Bowl contention or once again, falling short.