Can the Packers Support the Magic of Aaron Rodgers?

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistSeptember 25, 2017

Aaron Rodgers was again running for his life Sunday.
Aaron Rodgers was again running for his life Sunday.Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Aaron Rodgers is magical, and as long as he's their quarterback, the Green Bay Packers will have a shot at the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

However, it's concerning how often the Packers have relied on the 33-year-old to pull rabbits out of hats. 

That was the case again Sunday at Lambeau Field, where the Packers needed Rodgers to carry them to a comeback victory over a bad opponent.

Rodgers led four scoring drives in the second half and overtime in order to bring Green Bay back from a 21-7 halftime deficit against the winless Cincinnati Bengals.

The game-tying drive late in the fourth quarter was a "Rodgers special." He completed nine of 11 passes for 65 of the 71 yards the offense gained on that possession.

Several of those completions were straight out of The Book of Rodgers: escape pressure while ripping through reads, find an improvising receiver on the sideline, fire a missile through an impossibly tight window. Rinse and repeat.

He did exactly that on the first play of the drive, a 17-yard completion to a toe-tapping Geronimo Allison.

He did it again on a third-down conversion to a well-covered Allison in order to move the Packers into Cincinnati territory with just less than three minutes left. And then again on a 10-yard completion to Jordy Nelson as it became clear a game-tying touchdown was inevitably coming. 

CBS color man Tony Romo called it "backyard football," and it has become Rodgers' specialty.

Aaron Rodgers against Cincinnati in Week 3
CategoryFirst 56 minutesLast 8 minutes
Comp. %64.371.4
TD21
INT10
Yards170143
YPA6.110.2
Rating89.9128.0
Points1710
NFL.com

That game-tying score came with just 17 seconds remaining, on a pass to Nelson that had zero margin for error. It was a throw only a few men on the planet could make, and yet it wasn't even his best pass on that drive. 

The icing on the cake came in overtime, when Rodgers revealed another rabbit by drawing the Bengals defense offside with a hard count before connecting with Allison on a deep ball that resulted in a 72-yard gain. 

But, if Rodgers had failed to make even one of those plays, the Packers might have lost at home to a Bengals team that embarrassed itself in back-to-back pathetic home losses to start the 2017 regular season. 

It shouldn't have had to come to that, and it's fair to wonder how many other NFL teams the Packers would have beaten on Sunday. They were lucky to have Rodgers, but they were also fortunate to run into a low-quality opponent.

That wasn't the case the previous week in Atlanta, and even Rodgers couldn't save them in a double-digit loss to the Falcons. In Week 1, the Pack beat the struggling Seattle Seahawks at home despite scoring just 17 points.

With converted wide receiver Ty Montgomery now the official top dog in the backfield, the running game hasn't shown up.

Montgomery is averaging just three yards per carry, and the Packers entered Sunday with the sixth-lowest-rated running game in football. They were essentially forced to ditch the run and sacrifice balance down the stretch against Cincinnati after the running back rushed for just 23 yards on nine carries in the first three quarters. 

In addition to that, the pass protection has lacked considerably, especially with starting offensive tackles David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga dealing with injuries. That's tough luck, but those absences have exposed the rest of the line.

Second-year sixth-round pick Kyle Murphy has been a mess on Rodgers' blind side. Arena Football League alumnus Justin McCray has been just as bad on the right side, and they haven't gotten enough out of regular starting interior offensive linemen Corey Linsley, Lane Taylor and Jahri Evans. 

Rodgers was sacked six times despite facing few blitzes against Cincinnati, and he's been taken down on a league-high 13 occasions already this season. 

Aaron Rodgers' most sack-happy seasons
SeasonTimes sacked
2017 pace69
201251
200950
201546
201136
Pro Football Reference/NFL.com

The receiving corps has lacked continuity and consistency, and the defense has been hit by injuries again too. One week after being roasted by Matt Ryan and the Falcons, that unit—without key front-seven defenders Mike Daniels and Nick Perry—made the league's lowest-rated passer, Andy Dalton, look like a Pro Bowler in the first half Sunday. 

The Packers might get healthier, and they may eventually offer Rodgers more support than they have in September. But that's no guarantee, and there's no telling whether that would be enough to win a string of games in December and/or January. 

It was for a while last season, when Rodgers and the Packers won eight consecutive must-win games between November 28 and January 15. But they wouldn't have survived during that stretch had the QB not been playing the best football of his career.

At that point, he was making rabbits appear multiple times on a weekly basis, which is why the numbers—he had 15 touchdown passes to zero interceptions and a 121.0 passer rating during the final six weeks of the regular season—don't do his heroics justice.

The problem was that it wasn't sustainable. No matter how good he is, one player can rarely carry an entire team to a championship. Not in this sport. And with their franchise quarterback's margin for error infinitesimally small, the Packers were overwhelmed in a blowout loss to the Falcons in last year's NFC Championship Game. 

Teams relying this heavily on one man usually have ceilings. They might be capable of beating weak opponents such as the Bengals in September; if the stars align, they might even have a chance to make a playoff run the way the Packers did last year. 

Usually, though, those shortcomings wind up sinking you. And Green Bay's somewhat hollow, skin-of-their-teeth Week 3 victory over a lousy non-rival should serve as a warning that this is a team already treading water.   

           

Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012.

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