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The Morning After: The Bills are the juggernaut Green Bay used to be — will they take advantage?
Sunday night featured two quarterbacks at two very different junctures of their NFL careers. Josh Allen dazzled. Of course, it's all about January with these Buffalo Bills.
This is the magic the Green Bay Packers used to know.
How nostalgic Sunday must’ve been.
With five minutes to go in the first quarter, the score remained a quaint 0-0. Quarterback Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills faced a third and 14 from the Green Bay 21. Yet if there’s one indisputable fact we’ve learned halfway through this inebriated 2022 NFL season, it’s that no down, no distance really matters in Buffalo. Allen was flushed left, pointed the ball out to direct traffic and adroitly avoided a flailing Darnell Savage. The safety’s attempt at a tackle was justifiably roasted by the Packer faithful but it’s also true that Allen has a strange way of paralyzing defenders in that split-second. Savage isn’t the first; Savage won’t be the last.
Allen was finally tackled at the 1-yard-line, his left shoulder pad popped out and he jawed with corner Rasul Douglas.
With this size (6-5, 237), his awareness, his athleticism, stunts like this are the official expectation.
Late in the 27-17 win, Allen did it again.
Buffalo-native Isaiah McDuffie blitzed right up the middle — untouched — and the quarterback barely flinched. Allen shimmied to his left and flipped his torso around to Salt Bae-sprinkle a beaut to rookie James Cook. The running back took it 41 yards.
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These are the plays Aaron Rodgers could once make in his sleep. Back when quarterbacking was so effortless, so fun. Nowadays, scoring points is more of a slog for the Packers. That’s the team’s best option, of course. To win in 2022, they’ve got to function exactly as they did on Sunday night at Highmark Stadium. Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon combined for 197 yards on 30 attempts — the Packers actually stuck with the run for once. So much, in fact, that a stunned Von Miller asked Rodgers midgame if they were going to pass the ball. Yet, it wasn’t enough. The Bills’ 24-point first half proved insurmountable. This never was the Super Bowl Preview we thought it’d be back in the summer because it’s now clear the two teams are traveling on starkly different paths through the football cosmos.
The 3-5 Packers are trying to reinvent themselves at the tail-end of their quarterback’s Hall of Fame career. (And the second Rodgers decides to call it quits, salary-cap hell awaits.)
The 6-1 Bills are America’s team… piloted by an MVP-caliber quarterback… with weapons galore. (And they should compete for championships a long time.)
Watching this, I couldn’t help but think of so many Packer games past.
At his peak, Rodgers played with an air of inevitability. He’d hypnotize defenses with a harrowing escape to will Green Bay to victory. In the regular season anyways. Despite historic arm talent, despite all the MVPs, his game has a strange way of blackening in mold each January. No way should a player this damn good only possess one Super Bowl ring but it’s looking more and more like Rodgers will go 12 straight seasons without one. The end is objectively near. He’s not the athletic specimen he once was, thus the Packers must pound away with the run.
In placating the QB in 2021 and in giving the QB $150 million guaranteed in 2022, the Packers have been conducting business as if Rodgers was still Allen.
As if this is still a mover of mountains capable of elevating everyone around him.
That hasn’t been the case. Eight games in, Rodgers is an ordinary quarterback who instead blames those around him. The lack of accountability is striking and it was funny to hear Rodgers’ justification for his harsh critiques on the Pat McAfee Show when he told the local media, “People in this society have a hard time hearing truth sometimes.” This from the same quarterback who snipes at those critical of him. After a certain Bleacher Report story, you may recall Rodgers blasting his former No. 1 wide receiver (Greg Jennings) and No. 1 tight end (Jermichael Finley) as “irrelevant” because of their critiques. A man who bemoans cancel culture banished both to the cornfield.
But I digress.
Don’t take it from me. Take it from Charles Woodson:
No longer can Rodgers alone back up his rhetoric. He needs help.
To steal a phrase from wordsmith Rex Ryan back in his Bills days, the Packers are a franchise that’s “half-pregnant.” They drafted a first-round quarterback (Jordan Love), pivoted to the aging quarterback (Rodgers) and are now effectively stuck. Playing small ball on Sunday was Green Bay’s first public admission that its quarterback is not special enough to take down an NFL heavyweight.
So, back to those heavyweights.
The Bills (and Allen) sure can take some lessons from the Packers (and Rodgers).
No doubt, Josh Allen is right in the prime of a special career — full-throttle, dizzying defenders. When he’s on, it doesn’t matter what scheme a defensive coordinator cooks up. He’ll find Stefon Diggs. He’ll manipulate you with both his mind and his athleticism. But there’s a reason Allen sounded down and out afterward. What should’ve devolved into a laughable rout tightened up in the second half because of his two bizarre interceptions. Two mistakes that harkened back to his wild rookie season. The Bills scored all of three points in the second half and Allen actually finished with nearly as many incompletions (12) as completions (13). Against a better offense — two months from now — stalling out will prove costly. All it takes is one bad day at the office with everything on the line to render a regular season full of heroics nil.
As we’ve said in this space many times, it’s not about October for these loaded Buffalo Bills. They’ll be judged in January and February. The addition of Miller cures what ailed his roster.
The Bills’ greatest threat this season isn’t any of the 31 other teams. It’s themselves.
That’s been the case for so many Rodgers-led teams through these 12 titleless seasons.
That 2011 offense that graced the cover of SI went kaput, at Lambeau Field, against the New York Giants. Rodgers, the MVP, was outplayed by Eli Manning. What a sad, lethargic afternoon that was for an offense that averaged 35 points per game during the season. That 2014 squad that clobbered the mighty Seattle Seahawks for 55 ½ minutes choked away a trip to the Super Bowl. That 2016 team that ran the table — per Rodgers’ famous request — was blown out in Atlanta.
And each of Rodgers’ last two MVP seasons ended with playoff duds at home.
All exceptional seasons are worth celebrating, yet all are littered with What If’s. This could’ve been a true dynasty.
There are so many similarities. Rodgers and Allen are close pals and these Bills have those Packers’ same swagger. A brazen cockiness that all of the special offenses through NFL history possess. They’ll talk trash. They’ll celebrate. All players in the locker room draw a feeling of invincibility from their superhuman quarterback. When Allen snarls and flexes, so does everyone around him. Close your eyes and the way Diggs and Miller rave about Allen is how everyone spoke about Rodgers on those old Packers teams. This brand of quarterback play is flabbergasting. Defies logic.
There’s only one thing missing. After squandering a 16-0 lead to the Houston Texans in the ’19 wild card, getting rolled by the Kansas City Chiefs in the ’20 AFC title game, then crumbling in those tragic 13 seconds at KC in ’21, everyone in Buffalo knows what’s at stake this season. Allen will undoubtedly get this team right back to another playoff moment.
Then, it’s time to get over the championship hunt. He’ll need his A+ game.
Rodgers used to say legacies were truly defined in the playoffs, too. Unfortunately for him, it’s starting to look like this era of Packers football is reaching its end. They’ll have no choice but to transition soon.
Seeing these two teams on the same field was a friendly reminder that Buffalo — the AFC’s unquestioned front-runner — has one glorious opportunity.
Why again was Taylor Heinicke not starting in Washington from Day 1? It’s obvious teammates love playing for the gutsy quarterback. This 6-foot-1 quarterback from Old Dominion, this former journeyman who bounced from four teams in three years before a stint with the XFL’s St. Louis BattleHawks, plays like his life is on the line. Jonathan Allen put it best: “At the end of the day, he’s going to win you football games.” Shocker: Dan Snyder was reportedly behind the team’s acquisition of Carson Wentz.
A 24-0 shutout told us everything we need to know about the Saints and Raiders. New Orleans is a 3-5 team that has lost five close games. I wouldn’t write off this defense. As for Vegas? It’s extremely hard to throw for only 101 yards in today’s NFL. Derek Carr’s ups and downs are maddening.
Elsewhere in As the NFC South Turns, D.J. Moore faded from hero to goat in record time. The wideout hauled in a game-tying, 62-yard heave from P.J. Walker with 12 seconds left… only to then rip his helmet off. The 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty made for a 48-yard extra point that Eddy Piñeiro missed. Piñeiro missed again in OT and Atlanta escaped with a 37-34 win.
Za’Darius Smith has been everything the Vikings wanted. And a hell of a lot more. Smith sacked Kyler Murray three times in the Vikes’ 34-26 win, upping his season total to 8.5. It’s clear the entire defense is drawing energy from the ex-Packer. He hasn’t only gotten revenge on Green Bay — Smith is a reason to think Minnesota can realistically get to the Super Bowl. As Cameron Dantzler explained to Go Long, everyone on defense is able to play freely with this new head coach.
There was a lot of smoke around the Jets’ 5-2 start. Always be wary of a team winning in spite of their quarterback and, to date, Robert Saleh has been hiding Zach Wilson best he can. That only works for so long, however. Eventually, your quarterback will be the difference between wins and losses. All three of Wilson’s interceptions against New England were egregious. He’s the reason they lost. Buffalo is up next. Losing Alijah Vera-Tucker and Breece Hall for the season are body blows these Jets likely won’t recover from.
It’s not time to throw in the towel, but… yikes. Trevor Lawrence hasn’t been able to build on his impressive win over the Los Angeles Chargers. This looked like a player set to ascend in 2022 — with, most importantly, the right pieces around him. New receivers. A sharp OC. A Super Bowl-winning head coach. And it’s been a particularly cringy month for the 2021 first overall pick. Lawrence threw two more ugly picks in a 21-17 loss to Denver overseas. Unlike the Jets’ Wilson, there also weren’t any big plays downfield. He finished with all of 133 yards.
Nobody can be too happy with their quarterbacks from that 2021 draft class.
Geno Smith isn’t a fun, quirky subplot to this season anymore. His touchdown strike to Tyler Lockett with 9:18 remaining to break a 13-13 tie with the New York Giants was as good as it gets. Seattle can win — and win now — with Smith.
A thank you
What a turnout for our first shindig at Fattey Beer Company. I just wanted to thank everyone who decided to spend their Sunday with us ahead of the Packers-Bills game, and a huge thanks to podcast co-host Jim Monos buying everyone’s first brewski.
You all make this site possible and I want to continue to build up this community as much as possible.
We’ll absolutely do it again. Stay tuned for dates and times.
“Blood and Guts” reminder!
Purchase “The Blood and Guts: How Tight Ends Save Football” and I’ll mail you a signed bookplate, a Go Long decal and a few random tight end sports cards from the collection. The good folks at Nola.com ran an adapted excerpt from my Jimmy Graham chapter over the weekend if you’d like to check it out, too. (In addition to Tony Gonzalez, Rob Gronkowski and Jeremy Shockey excerpts.)
This book was one hell of a time. I greatly appreciate everyone adding B & G to your library.
Take it away, Tony!