GREEN BAY — When he was taking some criticism earlier this season for his less-than-MVP level performances during the Green Bay Packers’ 2-3 start, Aaron Rodgers insisted that his expectations for himself were much higher than anyone else’s.
And if that seemed odd, all you had to do was hear the quarterback after Sunday’s 31-17 victory over the Arizona Cardinals – a game in which he threw four touchdowns but completed only 14 of 30 passes for 218 yards for a measly 96.9 passer rating.
“Passing, it was bad. I wasn't on today,” Rodgers confessed. “I didn't make a lot of good throws. We've got to do a better job there. We cashed in in the red zone pretty good, but we had a chance to put them away there and couldn't do it."
So you threw four touchdown passes but you don't think you played well?
“No. I didn't throw it very well today,” Rodgers replied before taking the blame for wide receiver Jordy Nelson’s first-half ankle injury when he short-hopped a throw to him. “I threw it in the dirt and got Jordy hurt and then just was off. I just wasn't in a great rhythm. You know, I made a couple decent throws for touchdowns, but, no, it wasn't one of my better games."
Rodgers entered the game having completed 205 of 297 passes (69.0 percent) for 2,165 yards with 21 touchdowns and four interceptions for a passer rating of 107.9. He failed to completed half of his passes for only the fourth time as a starter, having also failed to do so in games at Tampa Bay in 2009, at the New York Jets in 2010 and at Kansas City last season. The Packers’ lone victory in that group was over the Jets, but on Sunday, Rodgers helped the team build a 21-7 lead before failing to close out the Cardinals.
“Yeah, it is, but I've got to play better,” Rodgers replied when asked if it was a relief that the Packers won despite his subpar performance. “I mean, we said at halftime, these are the kind of games where you can really put teams away if you play the way you want to play. We didn’t do that in the second half. We kind of gave them a reason to hang around and hang around. Our defense had a big stop there to keep it to a seven-point lead. We were able to make a play (on a touchdown pass to tight end Crabtree) to get it back to 14, but we need to do a better job of closing out games like this, especially when they’re giving us the opportunity to.”
While Rodgers got a tough interception when what appeared to be a completion to Randall Cobb morphed into an INT by William Gay, he said his best play was on another near turnover: When he pounced on running back James Starks’ fumble during a drive that would end in a 28-yard Rodgers-to-James Jones touchdown.
“That was, in that situation, probably my best play of the game, unfortunately. No joke,” said Rodgers, who also took pride in his 25-yard run earlier in the game. “I've visualized that play, making a play like that. I was just coming around on the back side of my keep fake there after handing off. I saw the ball come out and it was like slow motion for me. I saw the ball tipped and I tried to get in position to scoop and cover.”
While Rodgers was thrilled with himself, his boss … not so much.
“I wasn’t a fan of it,” coach Mike McCarthy confessed. “It’s a play, I think as a young coach, you’re patting the guy on the back and everything, but it scared the hell out of me, frankly.
‘When I saw him dive in there, I just thought the worst. I think it tells you about him as a football player, which I obviously have great respect for that. He plays the game the way it’s supposed to be played but I get paid to worry and I was worrying. That was a heck of a play by Aaron.”
Rodgers, who had been bothered by a pulled calf muscle for the past month, said he had no problems with his leg Sunday. Instead, it was simply his arm – making the bye a welcome respite.
“It’s always a grind for me. I put a lot of time into it, I care about it, I prepare to be successful every week. I’m going to be real critical of this game and try to find ways to do better,” Rodgers said. “I don’t like to make excuses about who’s in there and who’s not in there, but (I’m) excited about the guys coming back and knowing that I need to play better in the second half of the season.
“You can’t have the kind of missed throws that I had today and expect to be able to win consistently in those division games.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today,” and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.