How Aaron Rodgers' Only Pick Six Changed McCarthy, Packers
When Aaron Rodgers throws an interception, it’s a surprise. His precision and accuracy throwing the ball alongside his consistency makes you think, just for a split second, that maybe the interception was a planned strategic move.
Rodgers is the most precise quarterback in NFL history. He has thrown an interception on just 1.5% of his passes, a league record. He’s thrown fewer career interceptions than the careers of Cam Newton, Andy Dalton, Mark Sanchez, Joey Harrington, Matt Cassel, Tony Banks, Marc Bulger and Mike Vick.
But what might be most impressive about Aaron Rodgers is this: he has thrown one career interception that’s been returned by the defense for a touchdown. This is commonly called a “pick six.”
Rodgers’ lone pick six somehow becomes more impressive when you compare him against some of the NFL’s greats throughout history:
- Brett Favre: 35 (4 were in the playoffs)
- Peyton Manning: 31 (4 were in the playoffs)
- Dan Marino: 29 (1 was in the playoffs)
- John Elway: 19 (1 was in the playoffs)
- Tom Brady: 13 (1 was in the playoffs)
- Joe Montana: 9 (3 were in the playoffs)
- Bart Starr: 6
- Aaron Rodgers: 1
How Aaron Rodgers threw a pick six in 2009
The Packers faced an 0-7 Tampa Bay squad one week after losing their second matchup against Brett Favre and the Vikings. Green Bay was a 9.5 point favorite on the road against Tampa Bay, and held a 28-17 lead with 12 minutes left.
The Buccaneers returned the ensuing kickoff deep into Packers territory, and Josh Freeman threw a quick touchdown pass to Kellen Winslow. Green Bay’s next offensive drive stalled, and Freeman threw a go-ahead touchdown pass.
Tampa Bay was somehow up 31-28, and the snowbirds from Wisconsin flooding the stands were in disbelief.
Aaron Rodgers needed to mount a last-second drive, and started the drive on their own 13 yard line with 1:35 left.
Facing 4th-and-12, Rodgers overthrew receiver Donald Driver. The ball bounced off of Driver’s hands and into the hands of Buccaneers safety Tanard Jackson. Jackson weaved through the Packers and dodged a last ditch tackle attempt by Rodgers to make the endzone.
Jackson dove into the stands, the cannons on the pirate ship exploded in jubilee with the fans, and Rodgers unbuckled his chinstrap in disgust. Ball game.
“It was desperation,” Rodgers said after the game. “I still feel good about the throw. Might have been a little bit high.”
Tampa Bay loss was a low point for McCarthy’s Packers
They were favored by 9.5 points on the road. They were up by two scores in the fourth quarter. They lost. It was going to be a long flight back to Wisconsin.
Head coach Mike McCarthy is an even-keeled, steady-as-it-goes coach. But not after this loss. Several players remembered McCarthy as unusually angry in the locker room, where he curtly told the team, “Let’s pack up and go home.”
The loss drew heavy criticism on both McCarthy and Rodgers. McCarthy resurrected Brett Favre’s career, but hadn’t proven he could perform the same magic on Rodgers. For the quarterback, journalists said he favored the deep ball too often and took unnecessary sacks.
2009 was Aaron Rodgers’ second season at starting quarterback, and Greg Bedard reported at the start of the season that he was given more freedom at the line of scrimmage and input on the game plan by head coach Mike McCarthy.
After the game, even the head coach was critical of Rodgers. "I thought he had plenty of time to throw," McCarthy said. "I'm real curious to see the film because either they're doing a hell of a job covering us ... I mean, there was time and time again that our receivers on crossing routes versus that coverage ..."
McCarthy’s voice trailed off, but the message was clear: Aaron Rodgers needs to stop chasing perfection.
A turning point in the Packers under McCarthy
Less than 24 hours after the final whistle, the Packers coaches and players finished evaluating the game film. In the offensive meeting room inside Lambeau Field, the lights flickered on and everyone’s eyes adjusted to the brightness in the room.
Before the coaches left, the veteran offensive leaders like Donald Driver, Mark Tauscher and Aaron Rodgers went one by one addressing the offense. Soon, it was an illuminating Festivus-esque airing of grievances.
Rodgers asked the linemen to “look in the mirror” and ask themselves how they can be better. “We all have to ask ourselves if we’re doing enough,” the quarterback told the team. “Because if we’re not, we’re going to be sitting at home in January watching the playoffs, not playing in them.”
“If we don’t win - and I mean now - they are going to fire all of [us] at the end of the season,” Driver told the offense. “I’m serious.”
Green Bay won seven of their final eight games and lost a heartbreaking Wild Card game against the Cardinals. The Packers have made the playoffs every year since, and will tie an NFL record in 2017 with another postseason appearance.
A turning point for Aaron Rodgers
The interception returned for a touchdown came in Rodgers’ 31st career appearance at quarterback and 24th start. In that stretch, he threw an interception on 2.2% of passes with a 95.3 passer rating.
After the pick six, Rodgers has started 111 regular season games and threw an interception on just 1.3% of passes with a sparkling 106.1 passer rating.
The next time the Packers played the Buccaneers, Green Bay was 9-0 and had won 30 of a possible 38 games including a Super Bowl XLV win.
As far as the NFL could tell, the record for most consecutive passing attempts without a pick six was held by Randall Cunningham when he was the Eagles’ quarterback. Cunningham threw 3,111 passes without a pick six from 1986 to 1994.
It’s been precisely 4,397 passing attempts since Aaron Rodgers’ pass intended for Donald Driver wound up in the hands of Jackson and in the endzone. That’s more attempts than the entire career of quarterback and Packers preseason broadcaster Rich Gannon, who threw nine interceptions that were returned for touchdowns.