A year ago, they finished 1-2 in the league MVP voting, with Rodgers winning it and Brady a distant second. But now? Well, now each is in the midst of a miserable season that has conversations taking an unexpected turn.
Instead of their successes, we’re talking about their failures.
Each is 3-4, with Brady dropping four of his last five and Rodgers his last three. But that’s just the beginning, people. One week Brady and the Bucs lose to Mitch Trubisky. The next, they can’t find the end zone with a Sherpa and lose to P.J.Walker.
Not to be outdone, Rodgers just lost to Taylor Heinicke and the Washington Commanders. Worse, they failed to convert a third down. The last time that happened in Green Bay? Try Week 6 in 1999 when Rodgers was 15.
So there’s concern, and there should be. This just doesn’t happen to two of the most accomplished and decorated quarterbacks in NFL history. But it has, and, suddenly and unexpectedly, we’re left to ask: What’s going on? Or, more to the point: Is this the beginning of the end?
They look old, and they are. Brady is 45, and Rodgers is 38. But they’re coming off two of their best seasons ever, so we can cut them some slack. Plus, let’s be honest: This isn’t just about age or Brady and Rodgers making all the wrong moves. There have been dropped passes, offensive-line issues, a lack of intensity, questionable play calling and defensive failures.
But Rodgers and Brady are captains of their ships, and where they could cover for shortcomings in the past they can’t now.
Maybe it’s a lack of confidence in their supporting cast. Maybe it’s a change in coaching (Rodgers has a new offensive coordinator; Brady a new head coach). Maybe it’s the loss of Davante Adams in Green Bay and Gronk in Tampa. Or maybe it’s just time catching up to two guys who seemed ageless. Whatever it is, it bears watching.
Neither admits concern, and maybe they’ll be proven right. After all, Kansas City was sitting at 3-4 at this time a year ago and wound up one win from the Super Bowl. But the Chiefs had a pulse. Tampa Bay and Green Bay don’t. Not now, they don’t. Both look broken and lifeless, but both have quarterbacks who can make fixes.
They’ve done it before. I just know that they can do it again.
SUNDAY SCHOOL: FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED
1. Cincinnati is back. The Bengals just won for the fourth time in five tries, and, OK, it was Atlanta. But look closer: Joe Burrow threw for three TDs, scored a fourth and had 481 yards passing, including 325 in the first half. He also had nine completions of 20 or more yards. So what’s happening now that wasn’t before? Protection, that’s what. After he was sacked 13 times in the first two games this season (both losses), Burrow has been dropped 11 times the past five games. He’s thrown 12 TDs and one interception in those starts. Connect the dots.
2. Seattle is exceeding expectations. No Russell Wilson, no chance. That was the word on this year’s Seahawks. Then the season started, Gino Smith stepped in under center and the Seahawks took off. Granted, until Sunday they hadn’t beaten an opponent with a winning record. But then they went to L.A., embarrassed the Chargers and, suddenly, they’re where they aren’t supposed to be: On top of the NFC West. You can look it up.
3. Ron Rivera was right about Taylor Heinicke. He said he chose Henicke over rookie Sam Howell because he gave the Commanders their best chance to be successful. Smart move. In his first start this season, Heinicke knocked off Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers. Memo to Carson Wentz: Take your time recuperating from finger surgery.
4. It’s Tennessee and everyone else in the AFC South. Indianapolis was supposed to be the Titans’ only concern in the division, but it’s not. The Titans are playing solitaire. They just beat the Colts for the fifth straight time and are the only team with a winning record in the South.
5. The Chiefs don’t miss Tyreek Hill. Three times they’ve scored 40 or more points. Three times Patrick Mahomes put up 300 or more yards passing, including a season-best 423 vs. San Francisco on Sunday Twice they’ve had two receivers each produce 100 or more yards in catches. A year ago, the Chefs were 3-4 with 188 points. This season they’re 5-2 with 223. “I know this sounds crazy,” said NBC analyst Chris Simms, “but they’re a better offense without Tyreek Hill.:” I don’t know that I’d go that far. But I do know they don’t seem to miss him.
THIRD AND 20
1. The 49ers don’t need Christian McCaffrey as much as they need Aaron Donald. Or Micah Parson, Trevon Diggs or Xavien Howard. Maybe all of them. Their defense was supposed to be one of the backbones of this team. Then Kansas City came to town and shredded it for 529 yards, 44 points and eight gains of 20 yards or more. Consider that a wake-up call.
2. There’s no place like home for Tua Tagovailoa. That was his seventh straight victory in Miami.
3. I’m with Cris Collinsworth. I winced every time Tua put his head down and took on tacklers. Memo to Tua: There’s a reason the league allows quarterbacks like you to slide. So do it.
4. I thought Carolina was supposed to be in Full-Tank mode. Apparently, Tampa Bay did, too. Add Carolina’s Steve Wilks to the Coach of the Year cast.
5. When can a victory be a crushing defeat? When it’s the New York Jets losing rookie Breece Hall to an injured knee in a 16-9 win over Denver. The early diagnosis is “not good,” said coach Robert Saleh – for Hall or the Jets. Signs point to a torn ACL, and that could be a crippling blow to one of the league’s feel-good stories. As ESPN.com’s Rich Cimini described him, Hall was the Jets’ “identity.” \
6. Now America knows what those in and around the Steelers have for months: Rookie wide receiver George Pickens is a star waiting to happen.
7. More evidence that the NFC East is the NFC Beast. All three teams in action Sunday won, running the division record to 20-7. No other NFC division has fewer than 14 losses.
8. Headline from last week’s San Francisco Chronicle: “Trading for McCaffrey, 49ers’ brain trust bets on its own genius.” Genius? Under Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers are 46-48, including 42-46 in the regular season. Granted, they reached Super Bowl LIV, but they also have two winning seasons in Shanahan’s six years there.
9. How in the world does Austin Ekeler go undrafted? Someone? Anyone?
10. I knew I should have started Mecole Hardman at running back.
11. Wait a minute: The Raiders didn’t pick up the fifth-year option on Josh Jacobs? Lovie Smith would like an explanation, and he’s not alone. In his last three games, Jacobs has 523 scrimmage yards and six TDs.
12. Dan Campbell is wrong. His Lions aren’t better than their record, as he claimed last week. “You are what your record says you are,” Bill Parcells once said, and the record says the Lions are 1-5 this year and 4-18-1 under Campbell. They’ve also been outscored 53-6 the past two losses.
13. This was the 10th time that Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers lost on the same weekend. The last time was last week.
14. P.S. -- The last time Tom Terrific was under .500 this late in a season was 2002, or the last time he failed to reach the playoffs when he finished a season.
15. I swear, the more I see Denver coach Nathaniel Hackett the more I think I’m looking at Major League third baseman Matt Williams. At this point, Broncos’ fans might settle for Williams.
16. To those who predicted that the Broncos would be hamstrung by Russell Wilson: Pick up your check at the door.
17. Aaron Rodgers after Green Bay’s latest loss: “Nobody’s going to give us a chance going to Buffalo on Sunday Night Football with a chance to be exposed. Shoot, this might be the best thing going for us.” No, it won’t. Trust me.
18. Two reasons I can’t see the Chargers as a serious playoff factor: 1) The analytics of coach Brandon Staley and 2) a defense that’s sprung too many holes and just lost cornerback J.C. Jackson. Look, they play in the same division as Patrick Mahomes, right? They’ve been torched for 38 by Trevor Lawrence and 37 by Geno Smith. Check, please.
19. When the World Series is over, maybe the Houston Texans can hire the Astros’ Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman as defensive consultants. They should. Their defense was so atrocious vs. Las Vegas that CBS analyst Adam Archuleta said, “It really doesn’t matter what play is called. To say they’re on their heels is an understatement.”
20. Critics say refs protect Tom Brady. Officials say they don’t. Now we have another RTP penalty to support the refs. It didn’t involve Brady. It was Jacksonville’s Trevor Lawrence, whose jersey was tugged by the Giants’ Dexter Lawrence as he reached for him. Yes, tugged. Result: Roughing the passer. Reality: You gotta be kidding. “That’s roughing the jersey,” said FOX broadcaster Chris Myers. “Not roughing the quarterback.”
GOLD JACKET STATS
Per ESPNStatsInfo, the Packers failed to convert a third down for the first time since 1999 vs. Denver. Aaron Rodgers was 15 years old.
Dallas Cowboys’ coach Mike McCarthy has had only one Top Five defense in his career. It was 2010 with Green Bay, or the last time the Packers won a Super Bowl.
Denver hasn’t scored a single point in the last two minutes or overtime of any game this season.
According to NFL Research, the Jets are the first team since the 2011 Tim Tebow-led Denver Broncos to win consecutive games with 105 or fewer net yards passing.
GOLD JACKET QUOTES
“We got to work hard to try to fix it.” – Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady.
“You’re G—damn right.” – Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers when asked if it’s plausible for the Packers to make a playoff run as in past years.
“It’s about as dark as it can be right now.” – Tampa Bay coach Todd Bowles.