Detroit – By the first play of the second quarter Sunday at Ford Field, Aaron Rodgers’ miserable afternoon already had become an internet meme.
And it would only get worse from there, as a disastrous season for Green Bay reached a new low with a 15-9 loss to the last-place Lions, leaving Rodgers — the NFL’s two-time reigning MVP — looking forlorn in the visitors’ locker room.
Rodgers sat there, fully dressed in black from head to toe, for several minutes staring silently into space in front of his corner stall before heading into a postgame press conference where he was asked to assess not just his poor play but also the Packers’ painful reality this season.
With six losses in nine games, Green Bay is off to its worst start since 2005, when Rodgers was a rookie apprentice under Brett Favre and the team finished 4-12. And on a day that began with Rodgers throwing a pair of brutal red-zone interceptions on the Packers’ first two possessions — and ended with him throwing four straight incompletions on a final desperate drive, the last one landing nowhere near a white jersey — there was no hiding the disgust.
The Fox TV cameras caught Rodgers slamming a sideline phone in anger after his second interception — a woefully-short, off-balance toss to his pal David Bakhtiari on a fourth-and-goal, tackle-eligible play that was picked off by Aidan Hutchinson in the end zone — and social media predictably rejoiced along with the Lions’ defense.
He’d react with more histrionics later on as the frustration mounted along with all the injuries and incompletions for the Packers, who’ve now lost five in a row for the first time since Rodgers’ first season as a starter in 2008.
“I’m sure he’s extremely frustrated, as we all are,” said head coach Matt LaFleur, trying his best to sound diplomatic amid all the disarray Sunday. “I know in my time here, we haven’t been in this situation. And I don’t think he’s been in this situation too many times throughout his career, obviously. And it is disappointing and frustrating. But, yeah, I think we could all probably do a better job of controlling that frustration.”
Rodgers threw three interceptions in all Sunday, marking the first time he’d done that in five years and only the fifth time in 236 starts in his legendary career.
“Yeah, I had some (expletive) throws, for sure,” said Rodgers, who’d thrown only two interceptions in his previous 10 starts against the Lions and none in his last four against Detroit.
And among all the undercurrents swirling Sunday as the Packers’ fading postseason hopes all but vanished, that last part seemed particularly galling.
It was one thing to lose like this, but another to lose like this to Detroit, which entered Sunday’s game on a five-game skid of its own and with the league’s 32nd-ranked defense. A unit that’d been torched a week earlier by Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa, prompting head coach Dan Campbell to fire his defensive backs coach, Aubrey Pleasant.
“Can’t lose a game like that against that team,” Rodgers grumbled. “So that’s gonna hurt for a while.”
And for Lions fans who certainly haven’t gotten a fair return on their investment this season — financially or emotionally — that probably was worth the price of admission Sunday. Nothing can make up for the last 15 years of torture at Rodgers’ hands, but watching him flail like this — as a get-right game went terribly wrong — had to feel good.
Rifling passes off a linebacker’s helmet or six rows into the stands. Tossing three interceptions deep in Detroit territory, all of them landing in the hands of rookies. And getting an earful from Lions cornerback Jerry Jacobs — “Stop trying me,” he playfully scolded him — as he headed to the locker room at halftime.
Rodgers finished his day just 23-of-43 for 291 yards and a lone touchdown, recording the seventh-worst passer rating (53.5) of his career. And after all the offseason drama that didn’t really end when the 39-year-old Rodgers signed a whopping three-year, $150 million extension in March, how’s this for awkward: Moments after LaFleur was asked if he’d considered benching his four-time MVP quarterback Sunday, Rodgers was asked if he regretted not retiring last winter.
“When I decided to come back it was all-in,” he replied, “and I don’t make decisions and then in hindsight have regrets about big decisions like that.”
Yet on a day like this, there were all sorts of regrettable decisions to talk about, and not just the ones made on the field.
Earlier in the week, the Packers surprised many by standing pat at the trade deadline, failing in their attempts to bring in another veteran receiver for Rodgers. (The team reportedly offered a first-rounder for Carolina’s D.J. Moore and a second-rounder for Pittsburgh’s Chase Claypool, who instead ended up in Chicago.)
That’s after years of front-office decisions that rankled Rodgers, from drafting Jordan Love as his successor to an offseason trade of his No. 1 target, Davante Adams. On Sunday, Adams had nine catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns at halftime for the Raiders at Jacksonville, while the Packers’ entire receiving corps finished Sunday’s loss with 10 catches for 172 yards. And while it’s clear Rodgers has little confidence in any of his young receivers, it’s also apparent that opponents have noticed.
Among other things, when the Packers got inside the 5-yard line Sunday, the Lions sent six defensive linemen out on the field.
“Credit to Detroit: They dared us to throw the football,” LaFleur said. “We’ve got to do something different, obviously. Because we’re not throwing and catching to the level that is conducive to winning football.”
And for a team that’s done that with alarming consistency — LaFleur went 13-3, 13-3 and 13-4 the last three regular seasons — that was almost incomprehensible. And you could tell not just by the way they played, but by the way they talked about it afterward.
None more so than Mr. Rodgers, who no longer rules this neighborhood.
“Yeah, pretty disappointed,” he said Sunday, shrugging. “That about sums it up. Just disappointed.”