Packers' Comeback Problems Run Deep

Rodgers (Andrew Weber - USA Today Sports)

With two late-game failures in three weeks, you've probably heard that Aaron Rodgers is 9-26 with a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter. No matter coach Mike McCarthy's spin on the subject, that record is a problem that starts with the quarterback but runs much deeper.

The Green Bay Packers have a problem, no matter how coach Mike McCarthy views it.

When trailing by one score in the fourth quarter during the Aaron Rodgers era, the Packers are 6-25, according to data compiled by FootballOutsiders.com's Scott Kacsmar. Most of that futility falls under the watch of Rodgers, who is 5-23 since becoming the starter in 2008 and 5-24 when you include his comeback at Dallas in 2007. (Matt Flynn was 1-2.) The Packers are 0-2 in those situations this season, including a 34-30 loss at Cincinnati on Sunday.

"Yeah, we have examined it. We looked at it in the offseason," McCarthy said on Monday. "But I think you have to be very careful when you take studies that have a lot of different teams, different circumstances, different variables, players involved. Trust me, we have a director of research and development in Mike Eayrs that I'd put up against anybody. We feel like we're in tune with what we need to work on and the things we need to get better at. You can throw a bunch of numbers into a can and sort them different ways and come up with strengths and weaknesses and you can believe what you want to believe."

That 5-24 record — and 9-26 when games that are tied or go to overtime are included — is a festering wound on the resume of Rodgers. Such a stat shouldn't be pinned on one player — even if it's the highest-paid quarterback in NFL history — but such is life in today's NFL when quarterbacks get too much credit and too much blame. It is a team game, after all. On one hand, Rodgers has thrown a couple key interceptions and failed to make the necessary plays in several games. On the other hand, Rodgers hasn't yielded a long kick return, missed a field goal, given up a sack or blown coverage.

So, Packer Report put all of 35 of those games in "a can" to find the truth about the comeback record that's been put around Rodgers' neck. Our game-by-game breakdowns CAN BE FOUND HERE.

By Packer Report's estimation, which certainly is subject to different viewpoints, five of the 26 losses are the fault of the defense, three of the losses can be blamed on the offense and defense and all three phases can be blamed for four more losses. The special teams coughed up one game, shared the blame with the offense in one game and shared the blame with the defense in another.

The finger can be pointed at the offense on 11 occasions, either for its inability to score earlier in the fourth quarter or to tie the game or take the lead on the final possession.

There have been some colossal meltdowns after Rodgers and his teammates on offense did the job. Seven times, Rodgers drove the Packers in front, only for the team to lose, including to San Francisco in Week 1.

Rodgers, of course, isn't the only quarterback victimized by a lost comeback.

"Consider that Joe Montana had eight such games in his career, but still retired with a 31-29 record at fourth-quarter comeback opportunities," Kacsmar said. "That's always the big difference. All quarterbacks have losses decided heavily by another element of the team, but they still have more wins than Rodgers too."

When the Packers went 0-7 in games decided by four points or less in 2008, Rodgers drove the offense to late field goals to take the lead against Carolina and Jacksonville, only for the defense to give up touchdowns. There also was the 2009 shootout at Pittsburgh, when Rodgers' go-ahead touchdown was answered by Ben Roethlisberger's game-winning touchdown on the final play. Against Seattle and Indianapolis last year and San Francisco this year, Rodgers put the Packers in front midway through the fourth quarter but the defense couldn't close the deal.

Plus, kicker Mason Crosby missed long field goals that would have won two games — 52 yards at Minnesota in 2008 and 53 yards at Washington in 2010 — and a third potential game-winner was blocked at Chicago in 2008. A 51-yarder at Indianapolis last year would have forced overtime.

Still, more often than not, the offense hasn't gotten the job done at crunch time. To be sure, it's not all on Rodgers, but as the quarterback, he's a major piece of the equation.

During the train wreck that was 2008, Rodgers threw a pick-six when down by two at Tampa Bay. He got the ball with a chance to win the game in regulation at Tennessee. A drive stalled at the 1 against Carolina, leaving the door open for the Panthers to win on a long kickoff return and long completion. Rodgers put the Packers in position for the go-ahead field goal against Houston, only to be turned back on holding and a sack. Needing a touchdown after the defense surrendered the lead against Jacksonville, Rodgers was picked off.

There was plenty of blame to go around for the 2009 playoff loss at Arizona, but Rodgers — who was sensational in leading an all-time rally — could have won the game in overtime had he not overthrown Jennings a few plays before the season-ending sack/fumble.

In 2010 at Chicago, Rodgers' 3-yard touchdown run put the Packers back in front at 17-14 after Devin Hester's 62-yard score on a punt return. The Bears tied the game on the next possession. With Green Bay trying to get into position for a game-winning field goal, James Jones fumbled. Chicago took advantage to kick the winning field goal.

In losses later that season against Miami and Atlanta, Rodgers scored on a fourth-down sneak in the final seconds to force overtime against the Dolphins, and he threw a touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson in the final minute to tie the Falcons. Those were clutch drives but they go into the books as losses. Against Miami, both teams had a shot with the ball in overtime before the Dolphins booted the winning field goal. Against Atlanta, the Falcons took over near midfield with 49 seconds to play and won on the last play.

The losses this season were tough to swallow. When the 49ers recaptured the lead in Week 1, the offense meekly went three-and-out. In Week 3 at Cincinnati, Rodgers dinked-and-dunked his way into scoring range, only for the Bengals to get wise to the Packers' attack and bat down passes on third and fourth down to finish off Green Bay's fourth-quarter collapse.

Rodgers' defenders will point to breakdowns on defense and special teams. They're right, but only partially so, because all quarterbacks have seen their late-game heroics stolen by their counterpart. McCarthy can spin things however he wants but the comeback record is a blight — not just on Rodgers but on McCarthy and his team. According to Kacsmar, only Cam Newton (2-16; .111 winning percentage) is worse among current starters in the fourth quarter of games within one score. Even John Skelton, a quarterback so lightly regarded by teams that he's out of the league, posted four fourth-quarter comebacks and six game-winning drives in 2011 alone.

It's possible to win a championship without any late-game fireworks. When the 2010 Packers won the Super Bowl, they didn't trail in the fourth quarter for even 1 second in any of their 14 wins. That, however, is unprecedented. For the Packers to get back in the playoffs and make another championship charge, they'll need Rodgers — and his 52 teammates — to play like champions in clutch situations.

 


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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