GREEN BAY — Before going their separate ways for a few weekend days off, Aaron Rodgers and David Bakhtiari crossed paths Friday afternoon in an alcove just off the Green Bay Packers locker room. There, they shared a hug that lingered a beat or two longer than Bakhtiari was expecting it to.
When his quarterback finally let go, the veteran left tackle smiled. Rodgers chuckled, bid Bakhtiari adieu and headed for the exit. It had been a rare moment of levity after what had been an irritating home loss to the Philadelphia Eagles less than 24 hours earlier.
But Bakhtiari and Rodgers could agree on one good thing that had come from the 34-27 defeat: The Packers’ passing game finally started to look the way the team hoped it would in first-year coach Matt LaFleur’s scheme.
“The only thing we can really take from it and be happy about is the rhythm in the pass game,” Bakhtiari said. “It seemed like Aaron and the wide receivers, tight ends, running backs were able to get into a good rhythm. And Aaron did a good job all night with his pocket presence. If there’s something you can take away from a loss, that’s it. Obviously, everybody’s got to play better, including myself.”
That much is true. On offense, the Packers run game went next to nowhere (15 attempts, 31 yards), and the defense, which had played so well during the team’s 3-0 start, struggled against the run (176 rushing yards allowed on 33 attempts) and failed to generate a sack or a turnover — two things the unit had done so effectively in the first three weeks.
But the Packers did seem to hit their stride in the passing game, with Rodgers having his best game of the season — he’d completed 34 of 52 passes for 422 yards and two touchdowns (103.2 passer rating) before the defeat-clinching interception at the goal line — and he and LaFleur succeeding at their stated goal of getting No. 1 wide receiver Davante Adams more involved (10 receptions, 180 yards) before he departed because of a turf toe injury with 10 minutes left to play.
“We still haven’t played our best ball, and we’re 3-1,” Adams said. “Obviously, just based on the standard that this team holds itself to, we’re not satisfied with the way that we’ve played as whole. The defense has played out of their minds. We’ve just got to make sure we continue to take things that we did well (against the Eagles) and take it into next week. That’s the second quarter of the season. If you go 3-1 four times, you’re going to be in a good spot.”
Asked about the progression of the offense, Adams replied, “It takes time. I know I came out early a few times in camp and mentioned how I thought the offense was going to come out of a cannon. Obviously, that’s just the confidence that I have as a competitor and confidence in my teammates. And, I know the type of quarterback we have and obviously the faith I have in our receiver room. But it hasn’t been that way; it hasn’t been exactly how I was hoping. But I’m still optimistic that we’ll be able to get this thing rolling and it will be real tough to stop.”
To be clear, the Packers were stopped all too often in the red zone, where they converted just 3 of their 7 trips there into touchdowns. Especially problematic were their final two red zone opportunities.
On the first, after Adams’ 10th reception of the game set them up with first-and-goal at the Philadelphia 8-yard line, the Packers failed to score, with four incompletions from the 1 ending with tight end Jimmy Graham failing to reel in Rodgers’ final pass on fourth down.
On the second, after taking over at their own 11-yard line with 5:02 left in the game, Rodgers and the offense drove down to the Eagles’ 3-yard line before Rodgers’ pass to Marquez Valdes-Scantling was deflected and intercepted at the goal line. It was the Packers’ second offensive turnover of the game, as Rodgers was stripped by Derek Barnett on a shot play earlier in the game on which Rodgers believed he had Valdes-Scantling open for a big play had he not lost the ball. It was the only sack the Packers allowed in the game.
“We just can’t have the two turnovers, obviously. And we’ve got to score in the red zone,” said Rodgers, looking ahead to next Sunday’s game at Dallas. “This is one of those games where we have to pick (the defense) up. They’ve been picking us up the first three weeks and (this game) was an opportunity.”
Rodgers came into the game having completed 57 of 93 passes (61.3 percent) for 647 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 96.5. He and LaFleur have both acknowledged that they have been in a feeling-out process with the offense and their quarterback-playcaller relationship, and the game seemed to be a step forward in that area.
“Honestly, we’ve gotten better each week, and the cool thing that’s happened each week is those defenses have presented those different things and we’ve been able to play different styles of games,” quarterbacks coach Luke Getsy said. “I think that’s really a benefit for us moving forward. (The Eagles) presented a lot of opportunities for us to drop back and throw it. That’s how we had to be. I think there’s positive in that, in the sense that there’s confidence that can grow throughout the room knowing we can do that. I don’t think there was any doubt in that.
“(Rodgers) is getting more comfortable with the offense every single week, and I think Coach LaFleur is getting more comfortable with him every single week. So I think that’s getting better.”
Before facing the Eagles, Rodgers had cautioned that despite the defense’s strong start, the season would reach a point in which the offense would have to do its part. Now that it has — and with some other challenging offenses on the horizon for defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and his guys — the offense must build on its improvement while also getting the run game going again.
“I feel good about our squad. I don’t think we’re going to lack confidence moving forward,” Rodgers said. “We have a nice couple days off, and then we’ll get ready for Dallas.”