Sports

Aaron Rodgers’s “Last Dance” Begins With Two Left Feet

It was supposed to be The Last Dance in Green Bay. If you’re comfortable with Instagram inferences, that is.

Back in July, after more than an offseason’s worth of drama in Green Bay between reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers and GM Brian Gutekunst, Rodgers and star WR Davante Adams—who was himself embroiled in a contract negotiation with Green Bay—posted the same photo to their personal Instagram accounts.

This photo of Chicago Bulls stars Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen was shared as promotional material for the hit documentary The Last Dance, which detailed the story of Jordan and Pippen’s final season with the Bulls, in which they won a championship—and then immediately left an organization they felt was being poorly run.

Jordan and Pippen got their message across with the championship; Rodgers and Adams’s season is off to a shakier start.

The Packers face-planted spectacularly in their season opener against the New Orleans Saints, losing 38-3 in a game that the Saints dominated from pole to pole. Rodgers finished the day with 15 completions for 133 yards on 28 attempts, including two picks and a sack. His 36.8 passer rating on the day was tied for the fourth-worst mark of his 198-game career. And that may not have even been the ugliest performance for Green Bay, as new DC Joe Barry’s squad allowed the Saints’ rushing offense to rack up 141 yards on 24 carries in the first half and sit on the ball for 22 minutes. By the time Rodgers even got the ball for his third drive, the Packers had 1:07 on the clock in the second quarter and a 17-point deficit to bridge.

Rodgers just looked off. His first pick was an uncharacteristically careless throw on a scramble drill in the red zone—his first red-zone pick in almost two calendar years—and his second came from poor post-snap processing, as he threw right into the teeth of a weakside safety poaching the deep post.

It takes a team effort to lose a game by 35 points, and the consummate badness of the Packers’ performance makes it easy to believe they’ll be better than this—it would be tough to be much worse. And Rodgers has defied early-season overreactions before. Rodgers famously told reporters to “R-E-L-A-X” following a 1-2 start to the 2014 season. He had two games with completion percentages under 60 percent and yardage totals under 200; he’d taken nine total sacks. Packers fans concocted theories explaining Rodgers’s sudden decline, from his recent collarbone injury to his relationship with Olivia Munn. (Just wait until they find out Rodgers’s relationship status from this offseason.)

But Rodgers was right. It was the Packers’ third consecutive 1-2 start, and for the sixth consecutive year, they made the playoffs. Not only that, the team made the NFC championship game and Rodgers won MVP honors. That 2014 team was a hallmark squad for the Rodgers-era Packers. Eddie Lacy was a 1,000-yard rusher; Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb were 1,000-yard receivers.

Rodgers had a similar take on Sunday after the game. In his postgame press conference, he admitted that he “played bad,” but also reminded observers that “it’s just one game. … We got 16 to go.” But this feels different, and that’s because it is different. The league at large was afforded a rare, unobstructed peek behind the curtain in Green Bay when Rodgers publicly aired his grievances with the organization. At a training camp press conference, he listed a series of players he believed were mistreated as departing veterans, including 2014 mainstays like Nelson, Cobb, Julius Peppers, Clay Matthews III, TJ Lang, Bryan Bulaga, and John Kuhn. He lamented the lack of input the organization gave him on personnel decisions and coaching hires. He admitted that, over the summer, he considered retirement.

We don’t know to what degree these frustrations were with Rodgers back in 2014 during the heyday of the McCarthy era. But we know they’re here now, even after consecutive NFC Championship game berths under HC Mike LaFleur and GM Brian Gutekunst. Rodgers isn’t happy with the Packers’ brass, and wasn’t confident he’d be back after 2020—let alone after 2021.

So the Saints game was a weird one, but a regular team would expect to settle down from here. For the 2021 Packers, things might only get weirder.

Veteran teams with playoff experience typically bring battle-hardened toughness when faced with adversity. They can pull themselves out of the muck. Those descriptors would apply to the Packers team under typical conditions, but their proverbial captain is very publicly at odds with the decision-makers of the organization. Faith in the Packers to rally and rise is accordingly a bit tougher to muster.

Rodgers was also clear in his training camp tell-all that he takes what he does for his teammates and the locker room seriously. He can work to steady the locker room and rally the troops without it serving as an endorsement of the front office—he certainly had no problem winning for the team last year, when many of the same problems surely persisted. And Rodgers is an authentic and unapologetic guy. If he didn’t want to be playing for the Green Bay Packers in 2021, I don’t think he would be—and one loss to open the season doesn’t change that.

So everything is probably fine. The freshness of Week 1 invites overreactions: Josh Allen is bad now; the Niners should start Jimmy Garoppolo forever; Lasik Jameis is a top-five QB; the Packers are doomed. In reality, the Packers and Rodgers were good last year; they’re probably going to be good this year, too.

But even as we adhere to logic and brush aside this Week 1 disaster as an aberration, an outlier … man, it still feels weird. Rodgers and the Packers had a very peculiar offseason, and now they’ve had a very peculiar season opener. Rodgers’s last dance is starting on the wrong foot, and there’s immediate pressure on Green Bay to prove that the drama of the offseason won’t leak into the regular season, lest the regular season get real peculiar, too.



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