It’s OK, Green Bay—He’s Back

Packers fans weren't the only ones waiting with bated breath for Aaron Rodgers to return. The QB was antsy too, but everyone can exhale now. Unfortunately, it's not so easy for Rob Chudzinski. Together, they represent the highs and lows of a wild regular-season finale

Not much happened on the last day of the regular season Sunday. Just:

• The greatest regular-season game of Aaron Rodgers’ career. I asked him where the 33-28 NFC North title game win ranked, the one with the 48-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb on 4th-and-8 with 46 seconds left to win it. “There’s the Super Bowl, and then the Atlanta playoff game that year,” he said from Green Bay late Sunday night upon arriving home from the win in Chicago. “Then this game. Today’s in the top three of all of my games. It was special, for so many reasons.” Including some eye-opening words about the team physician we all assumed he hated.

• A totally Brownsian firing. Can you imagine what it must have been like to be lifelong Browns fan and 2013 Browns coach Rob Chudzinski Sunday night around 9, getting blindsided by the rumors of your firing after the last game of the season in Pittsburgh, wondering on the two-hour bus ride home if they could possibly be true, and then listening to club president Joe Banner destroy your dream, dismissing you after just 352 days of a four-year contract? I can’t imagine a more unexpected and brutal way to go. I told the news to one of the stalwart Browns, linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, at 9:55 Sunday night. “We fired Chud? Are you kidding me?” he said, stunned. Wish I was.

• The wrong team might have won the sixth seed in the AFC. In the Year of the Blown Call, it’s fitting that as two officials from the Bill Leavy crew stared at a blatant violation on a 41-yard field-goal attempt that would have won the game for Kansas City, neither threw a flag. The kick went wide right. Ryan Succop should have had a second chance from five yards closer, but he didn’t, and San Diego won in overtime. If Succop had converted, there’d have been a five-way tie for the sixth playoff seed in the AFC at 8-8, and the Steelers would have won the tiebreaker. As it is, the Chargers finished 9-7 and play a wild-card game at Cincinnati Sunday. And Pittsburghers wake up this morning, read this, spit out their coffee and wonder, “Is this karmic payback for The Immaculate Reception?”

• Chip Kelly copped the NFC East in his inaugural NFL coaching season. Closer than anyone thought (Philly 24, Dallas 22), but the last team into the playoffs finished the season on a 7-1 run. The Eagles will be a tough out, and as long as Kelly coaches them, they’ll be in a lot of big Week 17 games.

• The Eagles won a couple of other crowns. LeSean McCoy won the first rushing title by an Eagle in 64 years, and it wasn’t close: McCoy 1,607, Matt Forte 1,339. Nick Foles beat out Peyton Manning for passer rating, 119.2-115.1; these things happen when your touchdown-to-interception differential is 27-to-2. Pierre Garcon of Washington led the league with 113 receptions, and Robert Mathis of the Colts edged Robert Quinn of the Rams for the sack title, 19.5-19.

• Houston won the first pick in the draft by losing its 14th straight. GM Rick Smith was on hand to see the best game of Teddy Bridgewater’s college life Saturday night in Orlando. Owner Bob McNair will be in the house Wednesday to see Jadeveon Clowney play Wisconsin. The Texans might even find time to hire Bill O’Brien this week to spearhead the revival of the franchise.

• Peyton Manning finished his assault on history. He broke the record for passing yards in a season (5,477) by a single yard over Drew Brees, and extended his record for touchdown passes in a season to 55 with a four-TD first half at Oakland. He’ll need 18 touchdown passes next season, at 38, to pass Brett Favre’s career-TD record of 508. As one of my Twitter followers wrote, “So, Week 2?”

• Déjà vu all over again. Every one of the wild-card games is a rematch from playoff games past. Kansas City at Indianapolis (previous playoff meetings: 1995, 2003, 2006 seasons) and New Orleans at Philadelphia (1992, 2006) are the Saturday games; San Diego at Cincinnati (Freezer Bowl in Cincinnati, 1981) and San Francisco at Green Bay (1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2012) will play Sunday.

On with the show.

* * *

(Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)
(Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)

Aaron Rodgers is grateful for Pat McKenzie.

When the game for the NFC North championship was over Sunday at Soldier Field, and when the Packers—who won only twice in the two months Aaron Rodgers was missing with his broken collarbone—were back in their locker room after a 33-28 victory helped rescued by Rodgers, he found team physician Pat McKenzie in the din of a happy place.

Rodgers bearhugged McKenzie.

“I’ll keep what was said between us,” he told me. “But I will say it was a good moment. I have so much respect for that man.”

Waitwhat? Rodgers broke the collarbone Nov. 4 against Chicago, and for the past month, every week in Green Bay has been full of wonder over whether McKenzie, the Packers’ team physician, would clear Rodgers to return to play. No clearance in Week 13. None in Week 14, None in Week 15. None in Week 16. As time went on, you could see the frustration in coach Mike McCarthy, and you could practically hear the grinding of the teeth when Rodgers would make his public pronouncements. The season was slipping away, and Rodgers wanted to play. Though Rodgers said most of the right things in front of the cameras, there were whispers that he thought McKenzie was being too cautious with him.

“Sometimes, doctors need to step up and save players from themselves, and I felt that’s what Pat did in this case. … It wasn’t easy, but I can tell you, it paid off today.”

For years, players have thought team doctors worked for the team first and the player a distant second. That’s what was at the core of the head-trauma case that the NFL and former players settled for $765 million last summer—the assertion that doctors and teams were putting players back into the game for years when they knew there was some danger in doing so. And so here was McKenzie doing what players have wanted for years—a doctor putting the player first and the team second—and he felt the pressure from inside and outside the organization (and from Rodgers’ teammates, subtly) to put the savior back on the field.

“Pat and I are really close,” Rodgers said, “and now I respect him even more, after we went through this. Sometimes, doctors need to step up and save players from themselves, and I felt that’s what Pat did in this case. I felt every week he was doing what was in my best interests, even thought I didn’t agree with him all the time—not at all. All the time, we were looking at the same stuff on the scans [the MRI results and X-rays], and he was saying what had to be said. It wasn’t easy, but I can tell you, it paid off today.”

It paid off because Rodgers wasn’t in pain during the game, he said. “I felt really good,” he said. “I never took any big shots all day.” He was sacked three times, but never a shot that landed him on the area that was hurt 48 days earlier. The game was an odd one for Rodgers, because though he wasn’t rusty and didn’t feel that way, he made two uncharacteristic throws in the first 16 minutes that were intercepted and threatened to put Green Bay too far behind. “Poor decisions,” he said. “But I expect to play better as we go along—and I’ll have to this weekend. But as the game went along, I felt good, and I really got into a rhythm.” It helped that running backs James Starks and Eddie Lacy were so effective (68 of 80 yards on a third-quarter scoring drive came on the ground), and Rodgers didn’t have to do everything himself.

Down 28-20 early in the fourth quarter, Rodgers hit three of three on the first touchdown drive of the quarter. With 6:24 left, he took the ball at his 13, down 28-27, knowing that with Matt Forte having a big day on the other side, this might be his last chance; Chicago could eat a lot of clock with Forte moving the sticks. Packers coach Mike McCarthy clearly was not willing to take a chance at giving the ball back to the Bears. He went for it on 4th-and-1 from the Packers 23 and again on 4th-and-1 from the Green Bay 44. Fullback John Kuhn converted the first one, barely, and Rodgers hit Jordy Nelson for six at the two-minute warning on the second. But Rodgers missed two throws downfield, close calls; the first was an underthrow to an open Andrew Quarless, and the second, on 3rd-and-8 with 51 seconds left, was a throw behind Jordy Nelson, also open in the middle of the field. Uncharacteristic misses by a man playing a high-pressure game for the first time in seven weeks.

Last chance: 4th-and-8 at the Bears 48. Rodgers didn’t expect what he got. He had three receivers to the left and one to the right—and the Bears decided to blitz heavy. Three extra men coming. “They rushed seven,” he said. “I was going to Jordy right away, but all that changed when they brought seven.” As Julius Peppers steamed in, unblocked by a lineman, from Rodgers’ left, Kuhn dove at him to try to save the sack. Good move. Rodgers spun out of it and Peppers just got one hand on him. The Bears clearly were trying to stop the short completion, stop the Packers from converting, and safety Chris Conte sat near the first-down line, the Bears 40, stunned to see Randall Cobb—in his first game back, too, after rehabbing a broken leg—streak past him.

“I just wanted to be sure I didn’t underthrow him,” Rodgers said.

He didn’t. Good throw. Touchdown. One of the biggest of Rodgers’ life.

“If I don’t get that block from John … ” he said. [You can read more about the block, and the play, later today from The MMQB's Greg Bedard, who was at the game for us.]

“I guess this is what the league wanted when they started scheduling all those divisional games for the last week of the season, right?” Rodgers said.

And so now 12-4 San Francisco comes to 8-7-1 Green Bay for a late Sunday afternoon game. The long-range forecast is for snow showers Saturday and a wind chill of between zero and 5 degrees at kickoff Sunday. “They’re saying maybe six inches of snow,” Rodgers said. The California kid sounded happy.

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556 comments
jordanN
jordanN

"London Fletcher, gone.
He loved the name I gave him.
“The Black Seau.” Thoughts?"

My thought is that it's pretty tacky. Why can't he just be London Fletcher? And why does his race have anything to do with it? 

King seems like he's been slipping in general lately.Maybe this whole MMQB thing is a bit too much.

JasonHorton
JasonHorton

Steelers stole a Super Bowl because of bad officiating. This isn't even close to getting even ... 

LennyHersh
LennyHersh

BALL ON 1 YARD LINE 99 TO G0 FOR TUCHDOWN LINEMAN MOVES BEFORE SNAP. PENALTY HALF THE DISTANCE BALL SOMETIMES MOVED INCHES.WHYNOT MAKE IT 5 YARD NEEDED AT THE END OF STICKS FIRST AND 15 INSTEAD OF FIRST AND 10.

JohnSmith25
JohnSmith25

And, for the record, no 8-8 team should ever get to whine about how they got screwed out of a playoff spot.  If you want to make the playoffs, you can start by having a winning record. 

JohnSmith25
JohnSmith25

Boy, Peter loves whining when an East Cost team like the Steelers doesn't get into the playoffs.   Not losing their season on a formation penalty that had absolutely nothing to do with the outcome of a FG attempt seems like a pretty ticky tack thing to focus on in an epic game the Chargers won last Sunday.  What about Weddle's gutsy fake punt in OT on 4th and 2 from his own 28.  Or the first game with the new overtime format to decide a playoff spot?  Or the Chargers falling behind to the Chiefs backups?  Or them rallying from down 10 in the 4th quarter?  There were so many more interesting things in that game that King could have focused on.  But I get the sense he did not watch the game.  His only interest in the game was that it knocked the Steelers out of the playoffs.  If the Steelers wanted to make the playoffs, they should have finished better than .500.

FredFlintsone
FredFlintsone

Careful with McDaniels. Aside from his own version of video gate he traded up 2  1rst round picks to grab Tebow in 1rst round and wasted boatloads of picks Broncos got for Cutler and Marshall trades. He might be a good offensive coordinator but don't give that guy any say over personnel.

Thomas15
Thomas15

 "3. Denver (13-3). Love this line from Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post midway through the first half at Oakland: “This score just in: Denver 17, Oakland doesn’t care.”


Awwwwww, are you sore abut Peyton Manning DESTROYING tomasina brady's TD record? brady could NEVER go to another team and throw 50 TD's, unless that team hired ERNIE ADAMS to help tommy the FRAUD on new england's patented 2nd frequency not only past the NFL's 15 second limit but probably even past the snap. But you keep telling yourself "every team does it" and bellichek is a genius lol. 

Thomas15
Thomas15

Here's what King's column SHOULD say about the below: 


2. Be careful about making Josh McDaniels the next coach of the Browns. Unlike other Coaching trees, like Andy Reid's or the storied Bill Walsh's, which have known great success, every coach that's ever worked for bill bellichek has been an unmitigated failure outside of new england. eric mangini, charlie weiss, romeo crennell are the most widely known and mcdaniels is perhaps the most infamous, for at least attempting to create his own video surveillance program ala new england's. When you consider that the patriots go 8-0 or 7-1 at Home EVERY YEAR, even in years when they lose a roster full of pro bowlers to injury and replace them with veritable walk-ons; as well as in years when THEY HAVE HAD NEITHER AN OFFENSIVE CO-ORDINATOR AND/OR A DEFENSIVE CO-ORDINTAOR, it might be wise for Owners to ponder just what it is that ERNIE ADAMS has been doing up there in new england these last 13 years, and that maybe, it's only a matter of time before the NFL Universe finds out that "SPYGATE" being labeled "the most overblown scandal in sports history" is almost as successful propaganda as global warming. 




CoreyLivermore
CoreyLivermore

I'm probably being a complete homer here - and if I am, then so be it - but should Aaron Rodgers be in the discussion about MVP this year?


The guy missed 8 games, and the Packers went 2-5-1 in those 8 games.  He comes back, shakes off the rust, and in what has to be one of the most unbelievable final drives this season, he near-wills the team to a win, pushing them into the playoffs.  3 converted 4th downs on that drive.  48 yard TD pass on 4th and 8.  Even after throwing a pair of early picks, he was able to lead them to a victory.


The award is supposed to go to the player who means the most to his team; that one player who makes the entire team around him so much better that without him the results are catastrophic.  I know what Manning means to the Broncos; I'm not delusional, and I know there is no way that team would be that good without him.  Talented, yes.  But not that good.


But we have an honest example here of what the Packers look like both with and without Rodgers in the same year.  I'm not saying he should win the MVP award (ok, I am saying it, but I'm a homer), but shouldn't he at least be in the discussion?

Brice O'Brien
Brice O'Brien

How come not more is said about Kansas City benching half of their team??  In the NBA the Spurs rested their stars for a meaningless game in the middle of the season and they got fined. The Chiefs bench their stars on the biggest weekend of the year for a lot of teams and nothing is said. Doesn't sound right. Any thoughts. Would love to know what you think Peter.  

TDawg
TDawg

Brilliant article, Peter. 


Nearly 9,000 words about the NFL and not one mention of the Seattle Seahawks, other than naming them the BEST DAMN TEAM IN THE ENTIRE LEAGUE.


You'd think you might have something to say about that.

TruthTeller
TruthTeller

I am sorry, but to count a QBs "Passer Rating" when they have not played every game of the season is ridiculous.  Manning did what he did over the course of 16 games.  On his best day, Nick Foles dreams of being as good as Manning.  When the defensive coordinators in the league have an entire offseason to go through tape on Foles, he will find it tough sledding.  


So, stop with the Nick Foles has the highest passer rating in the league. If you are going to do this, then take Peyton Manning's 11 best games of the season and aggregate the passer rating from those games, to compare them to Nick Foles.   When Foles does it for an entire season, I will recognize his rating.

m.51.thomas
m.51.thomas

I would expect any KC/Pittsburgh fan to complain bitterly about the missed FG penalty during the Charger-Chiefs game, not a journalist! As a charger fan, we had a bad call made in the Texan-Charger game during a FG attempt that cost us (chargers) the game and no one seems to care about that one (NFL admitted the mistake then as they do now). 

Besides its a tick tacky rule designed to keep a massive number of players from ganging up on the guard or end and hurting someone. But our 7th guy was way outside, the 8th guy was clear off the line of scrimmage and neither had any impact on the play. But that is just a Charger fans perspective which is admittedly biased.

vince2
vince2

May be time for someone else to take over this column. Someone who doesn't constantly suck up to Aaron Rodgers and the nauseating Patriots. According to PK they don't deserve any of their losses. According to me, they didn't deserve at least four of their wins. At least it's playoff time and soon GB and Tom Brady will soon be done.

JPG
JPG

Just read that Percy Harvin is schedule to practice with the team Thursday and even tweeted that he will be playing in the January 11 game.


Federico Casillas
Federico Casillas

Peter, I think we all agree that the current officiating level is the worst in years, even accounting for last year's replacement refs and I wonder if Blandino's job is in jeopardy as it should be. Still, I am surprised at your dismay over Pittsburgh not advancing to the wild card game. First of all, the Steelers did not lose the playoffs with that call, they lost them through almost five quarters yesterday and a full season of mediocrity. In my humble opinion only teams with a wining record should be eligible for postseason play.


Thanks for the great job at MMQB!


Federico Casillas

Mexico City


ToddBennett
ToddBennett

This league is concerned about kicking being too easy?  How about it be concerned about the fact a 12-4 football team is headed to GB, one of the best home advantages in sports, to play an 8-7-1 ballclub?  How about that same ballclub being in the playoffs, and a 10-6 team being home?  How about we go back to two divisions, and the rest of the WCs go in order?  How about we go by record with home field advantage, not an often meaningless championship over three other teams?  But no, lets worry about line stacking and kick difficulty.

Alan16
Alan16

Thoughts on the haiku ... here's one ... that's no haiku. It doesn't deal with nature or evoke contrasting images.


But then again ... you still think that a "factoid" is a small true statement. Look up the definition. You're a writer. Elevate your game here.

GT500456
GT500456

I have  to admit how stunned I am that I read an entire PK article and did not encounter any Tom Brady slurping.  Yes, there was a Tom Brady mention, but no slurping (cue the Jobba The Hut tongue sound here) like PK enjoys doing to Brady.


Also, the haiku........yeah, I'm not feeling it at all.   "The Black Seau"??   Seriously?     

mpm101
mpm101

At the halfway point of the season when the Eagles were 3 -5 (coming off of a four win season) Peter King called the Eagles offense the biggest disappointment of the season at that point, despite the fact that Philly had to use their rookie, 3rd string QB for almost two complete games.  They then proceed to go 7-1 in the 2nd half yet Peter ranks them only 11th, behind teams like Green Bay who barely snuck by a team that the Eagles beat by 43 last week, as well as Indy and Cincinnati.  He clearly disrespects an Eagle team that went 10-6 and was one of the hottest teams in the NFL for over two months.  I'm sure that Peter will not respond to this post but I would like to hear his comments.  This column has declined in quality in the past couple of years, P. King has too much on his plate right now and it shows.  Lazy journalism, and the lack of quality analysis and insight are evident.

JohnDooms
JohnDooms

Guess Peter missed the Chargers getting screwed on a call that cost them the game during week one, which if righted would've made this game against irrelevant. It's bad officiating, but in this case it evened out.

Tommy K
Tommy K

c. Come on, Jay Gruden. Run it in from the 1, especially when you’re running it so well. Why risk a bad fade? And a pick to keep the Ravens alive?


one of the worst play call I ever seen, on 1st and goal from a yard out, when you have BJGE and Gio working well. Absolutely dumb play call for the INT. Luckily Flacco was just as dumb all day himself. 

Mood_Indigo
Mood_Indigo

To choose Robert Mathis over Novorro Bowman for the Defensive Player of the Week is beyond ridiculous.

madcow5x5
madcow5x5

As a longtime fan I just wanted to go on record as saying the Steelers are the reason they aren’t in the playoffs. You should never have to rely on other teams to make the playoffs. You need to go out there do your jobs and take care of your business. That being said I wish they would've made it to the dance......

Jesus Hitler
Jesus Hitler

Remember when the "regular" refs returned from their money-grubbing sabbatical and people gave them a standing ovation for some reason?  

blynder
blynder

The AdIeu Haiku.

Why I appreciate the attempt at giving love to a fabulous player who should go to the HOF, I'm thinking the formation of that particular haiku is awkward, reductive and a bit trite.  How about we let Seau and his legacy be his own; and we let London Fletcher be in his own space and time in history.  

AlainLapointe
AlainLapointe

THOMAS15 Would you please elaborate on that " 2nd frequency thing " and that ' 15s limit '. Could interest a lot of people , sincerely .

Happy new year everybody !!

Frotoon
Frotoon

Football's a different sport than basketball, that's why. In basketball, the team is much smaller with typically two or three big stars that the fans want to see. If a coach sits his main stars in the middle of a season, the fans who bought the tickets feel screwed. 

In football, players undergo huge physical punishment. If a team wraps up a playoff seed and the last game is insignificant to them, they've earned the right to rest the starters to be better prepared for the playoffs.

Daniel B.
Daniel B.

@Brice O'BrienThe Spurs almost won that game, too.  Fined a ridiculous amount.  As a Spurs/Steelers fan I am surprised I didn't make the correlation before reading your comment.  Well said, sir.

IRG
IRG

@TDawg Try being a Bills fan, barely a mention all season long. I think we still play in the NFL...

patmrhoads
patmrhoads

@TDawg I agree. I would have thought at least that Golden Tate would have been an Offensive Player of the Week mention. Considering the way the Rams were gunning for him, and he had a monster game, I thought that might merit a word or two, heck, maybe even a paragraph. Or maybe a note about our stifling defense? Nope. Figures.

blynder
blynder

@TruthTeller 

I don't think anyone, PK included, thinks Foles is better than Manning (statistically or *actually*) - just noting that his stat line from this year places him behind another QB.

TomPuterbaugh
TomPuterbaugh

You are correct: the formation had ZERO affect on the outcome of that shank. Every team in this league has benefited from a blown call at one time or another, and consequently, every team has been the victim of a blown call. It's the NFL, it happens. Lord knows the Boltshave been on the losing end of more than their share of controversial calls.

Frotoon
Frotoon

@Federico Casillas "In my humble opinion only teams with a wining record should be eligible for postseason play."

So what would you do when the second wild-card team is only 8-8, which is not a winning record, and which almost happened this year? Have one less team in the playoffs and an undeserved bye to a third team? The playoff setup is very simple. Win your division, and you're in. That is your "winning" record right there, even if you're 7-9 like the Seahawks a few years ago.
And if the second wild card is only 8-8 like almost happened this year, you still have to take them otherwise there aren't enough teams in the playoffs.

blynder
blynder

@Federico Casillas 

Is it actually worse, or are we just getting more & better information about the officiating w/the advent of better technology?

PhillyPenn
PhillyPenn

@mpm101 Relax dude.  I'm an Eagles fan and 11th in the rankings (which mean absolutely nothing) is about right to me.

jwest
jwest

@JohnDooms and missed the Chargers getting screwed at the end of the Washington game. It's only a big deal because it's the Steelers we're talking about. If a big market team got the fortune SD got, everyone would be talking about their upcoming playoff game.

PhillyPenn
PhillyPenn

@psychsports You're the guy who called Romo irreplaceable.  If you watched last night, Orton did a perfectly fine job of replacing Romo, even threw in a late game interception just like Tony.  

AlainLapointe
AlainLapointe

Please leave Rodgers out of this especially after what he did last sunday !

berdosux
berdosux

@FrotoonBecause football doesnt have big stars and even less games played than basketball?  DOes football ever have back to back games?  This logic you are spewing is hurting my head!!

CoreyLivermore
CoreyLivermore

@Frotoon

"with typically two or three big stars that the fans want to see."

Because in football, no team has any stars that people would want to see and be irritated over if they sat a game, right?

AlainLapointe
AlainLapointe

Thanks a lot Reedster , never had it explained or read about it before , hate them before 'cause of the refs calls going their way , hate them even more now !!!

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