CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Aaron Rodgers had seen enough. He took one quick look at the still photograph on the screen -- the one that showed a wide-open Randall Cobb in vibrant high-definition color with not a Carolina Panthers defender to be found -- and sent his Microsoft Surface sideline tablet airborne.
“They caught that?” the Green Bay Packers quarterback said with a sheepish smile when told the TV cameras captured his toss of the tablet. “It’s a frustrating game [at times]. It’s exhilarating, but also frustrating when you make a mistake like that.”
That mistake was very un-Rodgers-like. Down by eight points and facing fourth-and-goal from the Carolina 4-yard line, Rodgers dropped back knowing a touchdown and successful two-point conversion would force overtime. Before the snap, he looked to his right and saw Panthers cornerback Charles “Peanut” Tillman lined up against wide receiver James Jones and cornerback Bene Benwikere matched up on Cobb.
By the time he saw that Cobb was open, Rodgers had Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short in his face as he threw the ball and couldn’t get enough on it. Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis intercepted it, and the Packers’ hopes were dashed.
“It was a great [play] call. I looked out to ‘Peanut’ to see if he had eyes in the backfield, because I was worried about him sloughing off and tackling Randall short of the goal line,” Rodgers explained. “Turns out ‘J.J.’ ran ‘Peanut’ into 25 [Benwikere] and Randall’s wide open for the touchdown. So it’s disappointing.
“I had an easy opportunity for a pitch-and-catch touchdown, and I got scared by something. I can’t explain it. It was a mistake by myself. I’ll definitely be thinking about that one on the ride home.”
As a result, Rodgers found little solace in the comeback, which he rightly said utilized some “schoolyard ball” at times: On his Houdini escape and improbable 36-yard completion to Jones on a fourth-and-14 play to set up one touchdown, and on his 17-yard completion to Cobb on fourth-and-5 to set up the final sequence.
“I’m most disappointed about the last play. I’ll have to look at the other plays to give you a better opinion,” Rodgers said. “The whole thing is disappointing. To be able to play that poorly and then to come back and be so close to sending it to overtime is frustrating.”
Just as frustrating for Rodgers, who threw for just 77 yards in the worst full-game performance of his career during the Packers’ embarrassing 29-10 loss to the Denver Broncos, was how out of sync the offense was before the comeback.
Rodgers finished the game 25-of-48 for 369 yards with four touchdowns, an interception, and was sacked five times for a passer rating of 96.6. But his numbers belied the Packers’ offensive struggles for much of the game. The biggest issue: Green Bay was just 3-of-14 on third-down conversions. The Packers are now just 5-of-22 over the past two games and 31-of-91 (34.1 percent) on the season.
By comparison, the Packers converted 47.2 percent of their third downs last year when Rodgers won his second NFL MVP, and 48.1 percent of them in 2011, when he won his first.
“The one obvious component of our offense that is not where it needs to be [is], we’re not in a rhythm,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “That’s the result of it. We got into a hole there and came out in pretty much two-minute style offense the whole second half. [That] puts a huge stress on your protection unit, particularly your offensive line. We need to play better.”
And that includes Rodgers, who intentionally took a very upbeat tack -- when not discussing the final play -- after the game, saying the Packers “feel confident if we have to come in here in the playoffs that we can get the job done.”
Asked why he and his team felt that way, Rodgers replied, “We can play better on both sides of the ball. It’s a good team, but we showed some things there. We can move the ball. We stopped them when we had to. We’ve just got to start a little faster in the game. We spotted them 20 quick points and then we’re down 23 at one point in the fourth.
“I think this is a talented team. We’ve shown in the past we can win on the road. I feel confident that we can do it down the line.”