Aaron Rodgers has devolved from R-E-L-A-X to hopefully. The most self-assured quarterback in the NFL doesn't believe in the Green Bay Packers any more, and he's wishing for things to change instead of confidently proclaiming they will.
It is a dramatic pivot. During the off-season, he gave his teammates an excuse. He whined that the team that finished one possession from the Super Bowl wasn't good enough and that management wasn't giving him the respect he deserved. He threatened to quit.
On Sunday, the Packers mirrored their leader, losing 38-3 at a neutral site to a New Orleans team with a brand-new QB, Jameis Winston, known for making mistakes. The Saints outclassed Rodgers and the Packers, outmuscled and outfinessed them at the same time. It was the worst Packers loss in the Rodgers era, and it reduced the reigning MVP to sell hope by saying this:
"This is hopefully an outlier moving forward."
And this: "This is a good kick in the you-know-where. Hopefully get us going in the right direction."
In 2014 after the Packers started 1-2 with a loss at lowly Detroit, Rodgers said, "Five letters here just for everybody out there in Packerland: R-E-L-A-X. Relax. We're going to be OK."
The Packers went all the way to the championship game that year. Since then, nervous Packers fans have attached those five letters to Rodgers and used them as a calming influence, like the British government's "Keep Calm and Carry On" campaign of World War II.
H-O-P-E and dissatisfaction are all that Rodgers is selling now. And his off-season behavior convinced his teammates not to believe, too.
Rodgers' self-absorption and summer-long temper tantrum have created a mess of a team that was supposed to be Super Bowl-ready. The rich superstar quarterback is always above the team, but Rodgers put himself too far above. They didn't know if he was coming back or not.
He made his teammates follow his drama all off-season, apparently not even telling any of them what was happening.
Rodgers paraded around on "Jeopardy," at the Kentucky Derby, in Hawaii, and on commercials getting his Rodgers Rate from Jake from State Farm.
And, of course, he spent it holding his breath and stomping his feet over what he perceived as bad treatment from Packers management for drafting a long-term project, Jordan Love, as his replacement instead of filling immediate needs.
"They wouldn't commit to me past 2021," Rodgers told Fox's Erin Andrews in a pregame interview Sunday. "So, I figured if they wanted to make a change, even though I just won MVP, why wait? They drafted my replacement, so let him play if that's what you want."
Rodgers channeled Michael Jordan all off-season. He talked about watching "The Last Dance," a documentary on Jordan's dynasty with the Chicago Bulls. He said he used to idolize Jordan. And then he came up with a game plan for building and rallying the team that mirrored Jordan's. He ridiculed and ripped into his general manager and team management.
"It's just kind of about a philosophy and maybe forgetting that it is about the people that make things go …" Rodgers told his friend, Kenny Mayne of ESPN, months ago. Remember? "People make an organization. People make a business. And sometimes that gets forgotten."
That was another Jordan thing. Years ago, Bulls general manager Jerry Krause had said that organizations win championships, not people. Jordan made fun of that.
But this blew up in Rodgers' face. He played it all wrong. He couldn't go 15 minutes without telling someone he was the MVP, and he kept his teammates out of the loop and uncertain.
"I'm not used to Aaron Rodgers looking like this," Tony Dungy said on NBC. He cited the possibility of rust or dysfunction of the off-season.
Rodgers was 15 for 28 for 133 yards and two interceptions. Two of his completions took circus catches from Davante Adams. One of his interceptions came as the Packers were close to scoring. Rodgers said that was the turning point of the game. He threw his other interception, Rodgers admitted, because he misread where the safety was going.
If Rodgers had spiked the ball on every attempt, his passer rating would have been 39.58. Instead, he finished at 36.8.
We'll call that the Rodgers Rate.
"Uncharacteristic of how we've practiced in training camp," Rodgers said, "(and) obviously how I've played over the years."
Coach Matt LaFleur took Rodgers out with 10 minutes left and gave Love his first NFL snaps. No word on whether Rodgers thought that was an insult to his legacy.It's a 17-game season, and hope can carry the Packers for a while. But if things don't change, then when the hope fades, Rodgers will likely be changing teams during the off-season.