DETROIT -- He didn’t blame “the plan” or take veiled shots at his coach. He didn’t call out his young receivers as he’s wont to do.
It was Aaron Rodgers at his introspective best.
And it might be exactly what he needed to stop a season that is in danger of whirlpooling down the drain.
If the Green Bay Packers were listening, they heard their best -- and most important -- player accept his share of the responsibility not only for Sunday’s 31-23 loss at Detroit but the surprising 2-2-1 start to a season that began with legitimate Super Bowl expectations in large part because of the healthy return of said quarterback.
Of his two lost fumbles in the first half on strip sacks, he said: “Just bad plays by me.”
Of another slow start -- the third in five games this season -- he said: “I was a little off. I missed a couple I usually hit.”
And when asked if he’s concerned about where the Packers stand after five games, he said: “I’m going to say I’m aware of where we’re at and we have to play better, myself included. I have to start faster like we’ve done over the years.”
By the numbers, Rodgers’ game against the Lions would look more than acceptable: 442 yards passing, a 61.5 percent completion rate, three touchdowns and no interceptions. But too much of that came after the Packers were down 24-0 at halftime. In fact, 68 percent of Rodgers’ passing yards came in the second half. Before that, he turned it over twice on the sack-fumble plays (the first time he's lost two fumbles in a game since 2015). He already has lost three fumbles in five games this season.
Likewise, his season totals seem attractive enough: 10 touchdowns, one interception, a 63.0 percent completion rate and 1,572 yards.
But for the third time this season, Rodgers faced near-record deficits. The 24-23 victory over the Bears in Week 1 tied the largest comeback win of Rodgers’ career, from down 20-0. The 24-point differential at Detroit was the largest Packers halftime deficit since the 2006 season -- two years before Rodgers became the starter. They also trailed 28-10 in the Week 3 loss at Washington.
“Maybe if we can get going as an offense I can start faster, play a little better early on and give us a little momentum,” Rodgers said. “We’ve been down in some of these games and you kind of get back into it, and we had a chance. We were down 11, had a chance to be sitting there on the 1-yard line to pull within a score and [Davante Adams], I’m sure would like to have that one back. But we have to make the plays throughout the game, not just in crunch time.
“And I’ve got to play better from the start. And I expect to and I will and we’ve got to give our defense, you know, some more help. Short fields and special-teams gaffes, we’re not playing great in any of the three phases for an entire game. But hopefully we’ll figure that out at some point and look forward to next Monday getting back on the right track.”
Rodgers struck a far different tone than a week earlier, when he ripped the offense, calling it “terrible,” and said the only way to get playmakers such as Adams and Jimmy Graham more involved was by the game plan. His comments after the 22-0 win over the Bills were unilaterally viewed as criticism of coach Mike McCarthy, who did not jab back at Rodgers during any of his news conferences last week.
McCarthy also refused to single out Rodgers for his turnovers against the Lions.
“I don’t think it’s a problem for him,” McCarthy said. “I think it’s something as a football team is a daily focus, that’s what we work on every day. I’m not happy with our turnover ratio. Any time you coach in this league for a long period, there are common threads that run through your success as a football team. Ours has clearly been the turnover ratio, that has not been the case right now.”
Rodgers played without two of his top three receivers: Randall Cobb (hamstring) and Geronimo Allison (concussion/hamstring). And his No. 1 receiver, Adams, played despite a midweek calf injury. Adams, though he dropped what would have been a 32-yard completion to the Lions’ 1-yard line with the game at 31-20 in the fourth quarter, was otherwise productive, with nine catches for 140 yards and a touchdown.
“We’re obviously close,” Adams said. “We put up points. I don’t even know what Aaron threw for, but it’s about scoring and touchdowns. That’s what matters most. We’re obviously right there. It’s about putting it in and not waiting until the last minute.”
Rodgers even did his best to build the confidence of rookie receivers Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who caught seven passes for 68 yards and his first career touchdown, and the heretofore seldom-used Equanimeous St. Brown, who had a 54-yard catch on the final drive as part of a three-catch, 89-yard day.
“We put a lot on them this week,” Rodgers said. “I thought they were prepared, I thought they were ready to play. There’s some things to clean up for sure. I think overall you’ve got to say that MVS played really nicely, and EQ made a couple plays that he needed to make for us. Obviously he showed his ability on that last [drive] with 20 seconds left in the game. He takes a little seam route and almost scores. He has big-play potential, and I was proud of both those guys the way they played. Obviously we found a way to get Jimmy and Davante involved. Just didn’t do enough in the first half.”