Aaron Rodgers was not having a great game, by his very high standards, until the Packers got the ball with 2:59 remaining down 30-23. From there, Rodgers went into Matrix Mode. Everything slowed down around him, his receivers got separation, and he was a flat-out assassin.
Rodgers hit Davante Adams for a 38-yard pattern, had a short completion to Jimmy Graham, then made a remarkable touchdown pass to Adams. The Packers defense miraculously got a stop after a late hit out of bounds had given the 49ers the ball near midfield in the form of a Kevin King interception, then Rodgers surgically led a field goal drive where Mason Crosby just had to make a chip shot shorter than an extra point for the win.
No quarterback in NFL history has a ceiling like Rodgers when he goes into Matrix Mode. It’s truly something to behold, but he can’t just summon it at all times. It’s profoundly bizarre when you know he’s capable of that, but then see other times — sometimes in the same game, as was the case tonight — where he takes sacks when someone is running open in plain sight, or burns timeouts because the play clock wound down. Other times his throws lack the requisite touch. Two series before the Adams touchdown, he threw an incomplete pass to Marquez Valdes-Scantling in the end zone. If he’d lofted it more, he likely would have drawn a pass interference penalty.
It’s of course unfair to demand that Rodgers summon the height of his powers at all times, but the Packers are a flawed team and they need him to do that, even to win a game where they’re favored by nine points against a 49ers team starting CJ Beathard.
Credit to Mike Pettine’s defense for coming up with two late stops when it counted most, but they gave up over 400 yards of offense this evening. The 49ers averaged 10.7 yards per pass attempt and 5.8 yards per rush attempt. One shudders to think about what teams like the Rams and Patriots, with elite quarterbacks (Jared Goff has played like one thus far this season, anyways) and legit weapons, will do at home to the Packers defense. I honestly think Green Bay should onside kick every time they score in those games.
Until they are in two-minute mode, the Packers run an unimaginative offense. They don’t have these lightning fast skill guys you see on exciting teams like the Chiefs, Rams, and Saints. For reasons that will never cease to be headscratching, the organization does not appear to value speed on either side of the ball when you look at the players they draft or sign in free agency.
But fact of the matter is that the Packers can beat anyone when Rodgers is in Matrix Mode and they can lose to anyone when he’s not. It’s an unfair burden to place on him, but it also means you can never count them out.