Aaron Rodgers was concussed for the second time this season Sunday against Detroit, raising pressing concerns about the quarterback’s availability against New England next week and beyond.
But Rodgers’ injury—and the Packers’ subsequent no-show act—may hold more implications for the NFC playoff picture.
This much was clear Sunday: Without their Pro Bowl quarterback, the Packers look average.
Back-up Matt Flynn did an admirable job, completing 15-of-26 passes for 177 yards, but his interception in the end zone snuffed out a scoring opportunity early in the third quarter with the Packers up 3-0.
Not that the running game did its part to help out. Green Bay ran for only 66 yards on 20 carries. In fact, Rodgers was the team’s leading rusher, carrying the ball twice for 25 yards, 18 of which came on the scramble that resulted in the concussion.
Green Bay was a woeful 2-of-12 on third down and amassed only 258 yards on 61 plays, an average of just over four yards. The offense trekked into the red zone only once. The defense, itself no stranger to injuries, allowed 190 yards on the ground.
And the 7-3 win was Detroit’s first victory over a divisional opponent in more than three years, ending a skid of 19 games.
In a word, embarrassing—if not altogether crippling, in terms of playoff positioning.
Rodgers suffered a concussion against Washington in October and played the following week. But it’s too early to tell whether this latest blow to the head will have lingering effects. Green Bay has shown it can survive without Ryan Grant. Now, it may have to show similar resolve without the services of Rodgers, the conference’s second-highest-rated passer.
With Rodgers, the Packers are certainly good enough to catch the Bears. They may even be the best team in the NFC. Without him, however, if Sunday was any indication, they may have to scramble for their postseason lives.
Entering Sunday, Green Bay (8-5) stood one game behind division-leading Chicago (9-4) but within solid striking distance of a wild-card spot. It was separated from the sixth-seeded New York Giants only by winning percentage in conference contests.
Beat Detroit and the Packers establish a tie atop the division with Chicago—though the Bears would technically still lead because of a head-to-head tiebreaker. Beat Detroit and the Packers afford themselves the chance at grabbing the NFC’s sixth and final playoff position by leapfrogging the 8-4 Giants, who play Minnesota on Monday.
A win on Sunday would have also kept the pesky Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-5) at bay.
Luckily for the Packers, nothing changed in the NFC Central. The Bears were waxed at home, 36-7, by the Patriots, keeping Green Bay’s divisional hopes alive.
Prior to Sunday, the Packers’ wild card hopes were a matter of controlling destiny. Now, they need some help on top of winning two, if not all, of their final three. With the 10-3 Saints firmly in control of the fifth spot, a three-horse race comprised of Green Bay, New York and Tampa Bay will be waged for the sixth.
No matter what happens tomorrow night—oddly enough, in Detroit—between the Giants and Vikings, both New York and Tampa will have better in-conference records than the Packers, who dropped to 6-4 within the NFC. If all three teams finish the season tied, the team with the best winning percentage within the conference will win out.
Under that scenario, Sunday’s loss becomes even tougher to swallow. Then again, between now and then, anything could happen. Nevertheless, the Packers may look back and lament Sunday when they take a peek at what’s ahead.
Before ending the season with a possible division-deciding home game against Chicago, Green Bay plays on the road at New England and at Lambeau against the Giants, in a game that very well may go further in determining Green Bay’s playoff fate than the following week against the Bears.
It’s a season-ending gauntlet that Green Bay, even with Rodgers, would find treacherous. The Packers are hoping they don’t have to find out what it’s like without him.