A week ago, a vintage fourth-quarter performance from Aaron Rodgers appeared to have saved the Green Bay Packers' season. A far more lackluster performance against the Tennessee Titans on Thursday night should have the 4-7 Packers wondering exactly what their future at quarterback looks like.
Against the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday, Rodgers—aided heavily by emerging rookie wideout Christian Watson—helped erase a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit and delivered an overtime victory.
In the 27-17 loss to Tennessee, Rodgers erased Green Bay's hopes of making the postseason.
This is a loss that largely falls on Rodgers' shoulders. The Packers did a respectable job against Derrick Henry and the Titans rushing attack (88 rushing yards allowed), and while Ryan Tannehill (333 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) torched the Green Bay secondary, the Packers had their chances.
Rodgers failed to capitalize on them.
Green Bay never trailed by more than 11 points, and it had four chances during the fourth quarter. They finished that period with a pair of punts and two failed fourth-down conversions.
Rodgers finished 24-of-39 for 227 yards with two touchdowns. Green Bay managed just 15 first downs and scored fewer than 20 points for the sixth time this season. Yes, the defense played poorly (408 yards surrendered), and the ground game contributed little (2.9 yards per carry).
However, Rodgers should have been able to carry the Packers against a Titans defense that came in ranked 31st against the pass. He didn't do that, and Rodgers—once one of the NFL's great escape artists—was particularly bad under pressure.
Thursday's loss in front of a national audience may have opened a few eyes to Rodgers' struggles in 2022. The stats show that the reigning MVP hasn't been great—he came in with a passer rating of just 93.0 and has now gone 16 games with fewer than 300 passing yards, the longest streak of his career (including the postseason), per CBS Sports.
Of course, it was easy to find excuses. Green Bay traded away Rodgers' top target, Davante Adams, in the offseason. Before Watson's Week 10 breakout (107 yards, 3 TDs), it seemed like the Packers would never replace him.
The Packers lost offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett in the offseason, who left to take the Denver Broncos head coaching gig. They've also been hampered by offensive injuries, as key players like Watson, Randall Cobb, David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins have all missed time this season.
None of these factors explain what we saw from Rodgers on Thursday. He missed some open receivers, lacked the proper timing with others and tossed up a couple of complete head-scratchers.
Rodgers' misses were particularly frustrating because he occasionally showed signs of being the elite quarterback we're accustomed to seeing—like this beauty to Watson late in the first quarter:
It's clear, however, that Rodgers just isn't an MVP-caliber quarterback right now. Perhaps the 38-year-old has finally hit the proverbial cliff. Perhaps he really doesn't have the right receiving talent. Maybe his thumb injury is bothering him more than he's letting on.
An argument could be made that with Adams out of town and a fat three-year, $150.8 million extension in his pocket, Rodgers has simply checked out.
Whatever the reason, the Packers are left with a lot of uncertainty at quarterback.
Rodgers' contract is part of the problem. He'll have $99.8 million in dead money remaining on his deal after this season, so cutting him isn't an option. Trading him could prove extremely difficult, too, given his inconsistent play. The fact that Russell Wilson is floundering in Denver after that blockbuster deal could further scare teams away from bidding on Rodgers.
Green Bay isn't likely to get multiple first-round picks for this version of Rodgers, and they're certainly not going to convince a team to take on the guaranteed balance of his contract.
Like it or not, Green Bay is likely saddled with Rodgers for another season at least—his guaranteed money dips to $24.5 million after 2023. But what do the Packers do after Rodgers is done?
Green Bay used a 2020 first-round pick on Utah State product Jordan Love, but his chances behind Rodgers have been few and far between.
The 24-year-old has only made one start, thrown 71 passes and has a career 71.6 quarterback rating. That's not much of a résumé, and the Packers have to decide this offseason whether to exercise Love's fifth-year option.
That won't be an easy decision. On one hand, Love has spent two-and-a-half years behind an all-time great. On the other, the Packers don't know if he can perform as a long-term starter.
"I think we see it every day, so we've got a pretty good indication," Packers head coach Matt LaFleur said, per ESPN's Rob Demovsky. "There's nothing like getting in the game and getting those live reps, but he continues to show improvement on a daily basis."
Green Bay needs to figure out what it has in Love quickly A) because of the looming option decision and B) because the 2023 draft is fast approaching.
If the season ended right now, the Packers would hold the 12th overall pick. That might be too low for a prospect like C.J. Stroud or Bryce Young, but quarterbacks like Will Levis and Anthony Richardson could be available.
If the Packers aren't sold on Love, they need to seriously consider using their top pick on another quarterback. The end may be coming sooner than many expected for Rodgers, who openly admitted that he wasn't good enough on Thursday.
"I've got to throw the ball better than I did tonight," he told reporters after the game. "... I just didn't have the same type of consistent grip."
Green Bay has largely been spoiled by the consecutive tenures of Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, but a Packers team without an elite quarterback is no longer some distant, mythical entity clouded by NFC North dominance. It has already arrived, and with or without Rodgers, a sizeable rebuild could be looming.
It may behoove the Packers to give Love some starting experience down the stretch this season because if he isn't the quarterback to lead Green Bay through a potentially lengthy rebuild, it must find a new franchise signal-caller.
For the first time since he took over as the starter in 2008, Rodgers isn't that quarterback.
*Contract information via Spotrac.