Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) talks to his teammates during the second half of an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022, in Orchard Park. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The lead-up to Tuesday’s NFL trade deadline was refreshingly eventful, from the blockbuster deal nearly two weeks ago that brought star running back Christian McCaffrey to the San Francisco 49ers, to edge rusher Bradley Chubb’s big move from the Denver Broncos to the Miami Dolphins, to a pair of less-glitzy Buffalo Bills “BBB” buzzer-beaters that bolstered their backfields on both sides of the ball.

Most of the NFC North was in the heart of the action, with the Chicago Bears bizarrely emerging as buyers and sellers and the Detroit Lions shipping tight end T.J. Hockenson to the division-leading Minnesota Vikings — one of a record 10 trades made on deadline day.

And in Titletown? Not a creature was stirring, not even a conditional seventh-rounder.

If the Green Bay Packers’ powers that be wanted to send their frustrated fans a signal that the current state of the team is not acceptable — and that they’re doing everything possible to maximize what’s left of the Aaron Rodgers era — well, let’s just say they punted on the opportunity, to use an analogy with which Packer Backers are quite familiar at the moment.

Put another way: General manager Brian Gutekunst reportedly took a pass at getting Rodgers some receiving help, going after Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Chase Claypool, but — like many Rodgers throws in recent weeks — it was not completed. The Bears, of all teams, beat out the Packers, after having gone full fire sale by shipping away their best player (middle linebacker Roquan Smith) to the Baltimore Ravens and their top pass rusher (Robert Quinn) to the Philadelphia Eagles.

Whatever moves Gutekunst and team president Mark Murphy might have envisioned as possible roster upgrades failed to come to fruition. Receiver was the most obvious position of need, and there were options — the Houston Texans’ Brandin Cooks was also on the market, and he wasn’t super thrilled about remaining in Houston.

Beyond that, Green Bay could have used some immediate help in a variety of areas, as its 3-5 record and four-game losing streak attest. Given the current state of affairs, any acquisition would have at least made it clear to the paying customers that there’s a sense of urgency from the front office.

We now know that, for Murphy and Gutekunst, getting better really wasn’t that pressing. That makes no sense, but hey, welcome to Green Bay.

Since Rodgers became the Packers’ starter in 2008, I’ve been railing against the organization’s passive approach to player acquisition. And realistically, some of the same frustrations existed during Brett Favre’s 16-year stint in Green Bay, which produced only two Super Bowl appearances and one championship. Rodgers, now in his 15th season as the starting QB, led the Pack to a Super Bowl XLV victory in February of 2011 but hasn’t been back since.

The notion that a team could enjoy an uninterrupted run of first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterbacks spanning more than three decades and appear in only three Super Bowls during that time is almost impossible to fathom. The Packers have their way of doing things — for the most part, staying away from high-profile free-agent signings, eschewing trades and letting the draft come to them — and while they’ve racked up many division titles and playoff appearances, they’re underachieving when it comes to the ultimate goal.

It was done that way by the late Ted Thompson, and when Gutekunst replaced him as GM after the 2017 season, things largely stayed the same. (Gutekunst’s second offseason, during which he signed a strong free agent class led by pass rushers Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith, was a notable exception).

Eventually, mine wasn’t the loudest voice advocating for the Packers front office to change its approach. That belonged to Rodgers, who said as much publicly after a tumultuous 2021 offseason during which he tried to force a trade out of Green Bay and seriously contemplated retirement.

Rodgers fought through his frustrations to summon a second consecutive MVP campaign in 2021, winning the award for the fourth time overall, but the top-seeded Packers endured another playoff disappointment, this time suffering a divisional-round defeat to the 49ers. In the weeks that followed, the quarterback’s future was once again in doubt — but he chose to return, citing a vastly improved relationship with the front office.

Green Bay’s part of the bargain was making a financial commitment to Rodgers that all but ensured the ability to close out his career on his terms. He signed a four-year, $200 million contract extension, a clear signal that the team was all in on its quarterback and his vision.

And then … well, I’m not sure what happened, but things got very, very murky.

A little more than a week later, the Packers traded star wide receiver Davante Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders. Depriving Rodgers of his favorite target was allegedly part of the plan, with Rodgers in the loop, but it sure seemed strange that the quarterback would sign off on it.

The question was how would Green Bay compensate for Adams’ absence? The answer — not well. The Packers proceeded to lose speedster Marquez Valdes-Scantling to the Kansas City Chiefs via free agency.

The Packers eventually signed veteran deep threat Sammy Watkins and drafted Christian Watson (second round), Romeo Doubs (fourth round) and Samori Toure (seventh round). That group joined three holdovers: Allen Lazard, a scrappy grinder better-suited for the No. 3 role but suddenly touted as the team’s new No. 1 receiver; past-his-prime Randall Cobb; and 2021 third-round pick Amari Rodgers, who had 20 receptions and no touchdowns as a rookie.

With so many newcomers, it stood to reason that Rodgers would use the offseason to establish a comfort zone. Instead, he basically blew it off.

Predictably, the team’s passing attack has not been in sync during the first eight games. And a talent-rich defense, which shined last season under new coordinator Joe Barry, has also underperformed in 2022.

The Packers could have shaken things up by making a trade, but they ended up standing pat. The plan, apparently, is to hope that Rodgers starts clicking with his receivers, elevates his game to a transcendent level and leads the team on a second-half charge akin to what the 49ers did a year ago. And then, theoretically, the Packers — seeded second, first and first in coach Matt LaFleur’s first three seasons — can sweep through the postseason the hard way, as they did in winning three road games and a Super Bowl 12 seasons ago.

Sure, it could work. Logically, it’s a lot to ask. Again, I don’t get it. If the Packers wanted to move on from Rodgers and plan for a new era, they could have gotten a boatload of picks (and possibly players) for him via trade in either of the previous two offseasons, a la the Seattle Seahawks for Russell Wilson this past March.

Once Green Bay chose to keep him, and pay him, the whole point should have been to get hyper-aggressive and try to take advantage of his presence, for as long as he can still play at a high level.

It doesn’t seem like Murphy and Gutekunst, or Rodgers, really thought this through. But take heart, Packers fans: The 2023 draft is only six months away!

You can leave your hat on

Before the 2017 season, the NFL blessedly loosened up, leading to group celebrations ranging from “Duck Duck Goose” to “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” to the Packers mimicking one of Rodgers’ offseason ayahuasca trips and so many more.

Yet somehow, the rule prohibiting a player from removing his helmet after a play — even after scoring and running through the back of the end zone — has remained unchanged since 1997.

The latter rule’s persistence was extremely unfortunate for the Carolina Panthers, who saw quarterback P.J. Walker unleash an epic, 62-yard touchdown pass to D.J. Moore with 12 seconds left in Sunday’s game against the Falcons in Atlanta — one of the coolest plays in recent memory. It tied the game at 34, meaning the Panthers needed only an extra point to pull off the improbable and dramatic victory.

However, Moore removed his helmet upon exiting the end zone and was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, and the 15-yard penalty meant Eddy Pineiro’s extra point would be the equivalent of a 49-yard field goal. Pineiro missed, and the game went to overtime. Then Pineiro shanked a 33-yard field goal that would have ended it, and the Falcons went on to capture a 37-34 victory.

So yeah, a rule is a rule, and Moore should have known that … yada yada yada. And it’s true that Pineiro ought to have been able to make at least one of those kicks, which would have rendered Moore’s gaffe irrelevant.

Still — it drew attention to a ridiculous inconsistency, and the NFL should rectify it.

As things currently stand, a defensive back can intercept a pass near midfield, and then he and his teammates can sprint 50 yards to the end zone and engage in a silly, scripted celebration skit, but a dude can’t (gasp!) take off his helmet and show his face to America?

Got it.

Throw CMC

When the 49ers gave up four draft picks to acquire McCaffrey from the Panthers, they did so because of his ability to impact the game as a runner and receiver, allowing coach Kyle Shanahan to create schematic mismatches. It turns out McCaffrey is a triple threat, as evidenced by his 34-yard touchdown throw to wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk in San Francisco’s 31-14 beatdown of the defending champion Rams in Inglewood.

As I wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle: Yeah, CMC can sling it, too. Of course he can.

Here’s the description I got from Kyle Juszczyk, the Niners’ injured Pro Bowl fullback, who watched from the sideline: “I was nervous the whole play. It felt like (McCaffrey) was holding the ball forever. Brandon was turned the wrong way. When he let it go, it looked like he overthrew him. It was all kinds of panic. And then …”

And then McCaffrey was on his way to producing touchdowns as a passer, receiver and runner, the first NFL player to do so since first-ballot Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson in 2005.

Suffice it to say that, thus far, the Niners are pretty pleased with the trade.

The Big Empty

It’s one thing to lose a game and take over last place in the AFC West with a 2-5 record. It’s another thing, as a first-year coach known for his exploits as an offensive strategist, to get shut out.

And for Josh McDaniels, doing those things Sunday in New Orleans against a team coached by Dennis Allen took the indignity to another level.

Allen was Raiders owner Mark Davis’ first head coaching hire after taking over for his legendary father, and their 36 games together did not go well. Now the first-year coach of the Saints, Allen improved to 3-5 while teeing up McDaniels for an uncomfortable postgame conversation with his boss.

I’ve had my share of rough moments in New Orleans, but they’ve typically been caused by excessive consumption, rather than an offense on football’s equivalent of a starvation diet.


Oct 30, 2022; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Las Vegas Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels looks on against the New Orleans Saints during the second half at Caesars Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

The bounce that changed football

John McVay, who died Tuesday at the age of 91, was the coach of the New York Giants in 1978 when one of the greatest gaffes in NFL history occurred: With the Giants up five in the final seconds and the Eagles out of timeouts, New York quarterback Joe Pisarcik botched a handoff to fullback Larry Csonka. The fumbled ball took two bounces off the Giants Stadium AstroTurf and was scooped up on the fly by Eagles cornerback Herm Edwards, who raced 26 yards for the game-winning score.

Both the Giants and Eagles began practicing “Victory Formation” a few days later, establishing the kneel-down as the new and preferred form of clock killing. And another significant event happened at season’s end: McVay, whose team had gone into a tailspin in the wake of that massive choking act, lost his job, regrouped and went on to play a major part in one of the NFL’s great dynasties.

Hired by owner Eddie DeBartolo to work alongside coach Bill Walsh in the 49ers’ front office in 1980, McVay proved to be a natural. The eventual general manager served as the steadying force in an organization whose other chief powerbrokers, DeBartolo and Walsh, were far more combustible, emotional and prone to clashing.

McVay was the guy who knew all the rules and procedures and worked behind the scenes to keep things running smoothly. He was a brilliant personnel man who never sought personal credit or glory, and he had a knack for making those around him feel valued and heard. He even treated a young, clueless and sometimes brash beat writer with patience and kindness, through championship seasons and tumultuous quarterback controversies and everything in between.

I’ve told his son, Tim — and Tim’s son, Sean, who happens to be the coach of the defending Super Bowl champions — how much I valued these interactions, and my thoughts are with them and John’s other loved ones.

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