In a staggering display of defensive football, the Buffalo Bills turned Aaron Rodgers into just another quarterback.
Entering the game, Rodgers was in the midst of one of the greatest quarterbacking seasons in NFL history with 34 touchdown passes, three interceptions and a passer rating of 119.0 that rivaled his NFL-record 122.5 established in 2011. Then he ran into the same Buffalo buzz saw that turned Peyton Manning into just another quarterback seven days earlier.
"It's the 'no-fly zone' for a reason," Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes said.
How did the Bills do it on Sunday? The same recipe in which they’ve held the last four starting quarterbacks to zero touchdown passes and seven interceptions.
“They were physical outside with our receivers and were able to get away with it all day,” Rodgers told reporters after the game. “We had some chances, missed on them. Some bad throws, some missed opportunities. They played what we thought they were going to play and we just didn’t execute very well.”
Three times during his news conference, Rodgers pointed to the Bills’ aggressive — or overly aggressive — play in the secondary. One obvious one was on Rodgers’ second interception, when it appeared receiver Jarrett Boykin was being grabbed at least a step before the ball deflected off of him and into the hands of safety Bacarri Rambo. Coach Mike McCarthy was livid after that play. On the Packers’ final scoring drive, a third-down incompletion to Cobb, a flag was thrown in the secondary but picked up.
Asked specifically if he thought the Bills pushed the boundaries of the rules, Rodgers said: “I would say it will be interesting to see when we go back through.”
Regardless, the blame went beyond the zebras.
Several back-shoulder throws in the first quarter weren’t close to being completed as Rodgers and his receivers weren’t on the same page. Rodgers made some poor throws. One that stood out was a third-and-12 on the Packers’ first possession of the second half. Randall Cobb broke open across the middle but Rodgers threw too high.
He also made a few poor reads. A couple times, he attempted to push the ball downfield but ignored the checkdown. On his first interception, which was intended for Cobb but intercepted by Rambo, Jordy Nelson was wide open.
“They blew the coverage,” Rodgers said. Unfortunately for the Packers, Cobb was the second read on the play and Nelson was the third, so Rodgers didn’t see it until he looked at the pictures on the sideline.
Unofficially, Packers receivers dropped six passes. Five came in the first half. The sixth might have been a 94-yard touchdown pass to Nelson, but Nelson dropped a perfect pass at about the 34-yard line and would have had only safety Duke Williams to outrun for the final 66 yards.
“Some days are going to be like this,” Rodgers said. “We’ve set the standard pretty high, and we’d like to live up to it every week. But this week … It was good preparation, good practice and we just didn’t execute very well. They had a good plan, but nothing we didn’t expect — a lot of two-high, helping out with Jordy, or single-safety kind of shading to Jordy. They were physical outside. We threw some contested throws, didn’t get any calls. And because of that, we weren’t able to keep drives alive with our execution. So just bad execution, and a rough day for the offense.”
And the roughest of days for Rodgers. In fact, based on just about every measuring stick, it was the worst day of his career.
He completed only 17-of-42 passes. His 40.4 percent accuracy was the worst of his career (44.1 percent at the Jets in 2010).
His 25 incompletions were the most of his career (22 at Pittsburgh in 2009).
For the ninth time as a starter, Rodgers didn’t thrown a touchdown pass. Not once had he thrown no touchdowns and more than interception in a game.
Add it all together, and Rodgers’ passer rating of 34.3 was the worst of his career. His previous worst in a game he started and finished was 55.9 at Tampa Bay in 2008.
“It wasn’t my best day by any stretch of the imagination,” he said. “I’ve got to play better for us to win, and I expect more of myself. The line did a great job blocking, they’re playing really well. We had a couple rough calls there, a couple of holding calls, but overall, we moved the ball decent, we just did a bad job on third down and needed a touchdown there for more momentum at the end of the game there.”
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