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Sunday football notes

Aaron Rodgers continues to be a giant headache for the Packers

Aaron Rodgers has passed for 1.894 yards and 17 touchdowns this season.Christian Petersen/Photographer: Christian Petersen

Packers president Mark Murphy could have gotten three first-round draft picks from the 49ers or Broncos this past offseason had he entertained offers for quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

But the Packers were a few yards away from the Super Bowl in 2020, Rodgers is immensely popular in Wisconsin, and how do you trade the reigning MVP?

“We’ve been very clear we’re not trading him,” Murphy said at the beginning of training camp.

Murphy may want a mulligan on that one. Rodgers, 37, is still playing well, and the Packers are 7-1 with seven straight wins entering Sunday’s showdown against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs.


But Rodgers is proving to be one giant headache. It’s one thing to threaten to retire, request a trade, skip the offseason program, threaten to hold out, and rant against your bosses in a rambling news conference, as Rodgers did this year. It’s another to embarrass yourself and get your organization in hot water like Rodgers did this past week.

Rodgers tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday and will have to sit out a minimum of 10 days because the NFL does not consider him fully vaccinated. That means he misses the Chiefs game, and may miss next week’s game against the Seahawks. At best, if he is fully healthy, Rodgers can return to the team next Saturday, and play against Seattle without having practiced all week.

Isn’t Rodgers fully vaccinated, you ask? He certainly gave that impression at a news conference in training camp. Asked directly if he were vaccinated, Rodgers responded, “Yeah, I’ve been immunized.” But Rodgers was parsing words. Instead of getting one of the approved vaccines, Rodgers opted for an alternative treatment, according to ESPN. The NFL denied Rodgers’s request to be considered fully vaccinated, which means he has been subject to tighter restrictions in the team facility and in public.


At that August news conference, Rodgers was trying to project himself as a responsible citizen by claiming he was “immunized,” and also as a good teammate by sticking up for those who don’t want to get vaccinated.

Instead, Rodgers now reveals himself to be selfish, a liar, and a poor leader who puts himself before his team.

Rodgers did further damage to his brand Friday in a rambling, 45-minute appearance on “The Pat McAfee Show,” decrying the “woke mob” and “cancel culture” and making eyebrow-raising claims about being allergic to the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. It was further proof of how disconnected Rodgers is from reality, and how he doesn’t think the rules for the NFL and for society apply to him.

Rodgers is also a hypocrite. He once backed away from a restaurant partnership with Ryan Braun in 2013 over the baseball player’s PED incidents.

“It doesn’t feel great being lied to,” Rodgers said then.

While the public was unaware of Rodgers’s unvaccinated status, the Packers reportedly knew, and Rodgers apparently has been complying with many of the protocols (such as daily COVID testing).

But Rodgers has been giving the impression that he’s fully vaccinated. He has flouted the league’s mask policy, holding almost all of his news conferences indoors, without a mask. He also was out at a Halloween party recently without a mask. There were potentially more violations if there were at least three teammates or more than 15 people indoors. Each violation carries a minimum fine of $14,650.


The NFL said it is investigating Rodgers and the Packers, and that the onus for protocol enforcement falls on the teams. NFL rules state that “clubs are required to maintain copies of the video surveillance of their facilities and practice areas for a period of at least 30 days.” Last year, several teams, including the Patriots, were given six-figure fines for violating the protocols, and the Saints and Raiders were also docked sixth-round draft picks.

But the large fines for the team and Rodgers (probable) and potential loss of a late-round draft pick (not as likely) are almost beside the point. More importantly, Rodgers’s decisions hurt his team. The Packers won’t have their most important player for Sunday’s game.

It’s certainly possible Rodgers would still have gotten sick even if he had one of the approved vaccines. However, the vaccines are proven a significant barrier to infection.

Because he is considered unvaccinated by the NFL, Rodgers has also put next week’s game against Seattle in jeopardy (pun not intended) thanks to the 10-day minimum absence. Were Rodgers vaccinated, the NFL would allow Rodgers to return whenever he’s healthy, with no 10-day minimum.

The Packers have a 3½-game lead in the NFC North, so they are essentially assured one of the top four playoff seeds. But only one team gets a first-round bye and home-field advantage. The 7-1 Packers are running tightly with the Cardinals (7-1), Rams (7-1), Cowboys (6-1), and Buccaneers (6-2). All it takes is one slip.


The Packers will get at least one game with Jordan Love at quarterback to see where he is in his development. But if they go 0-2 and ruin their hopes of the No. 1 seed, that’s all on Rodgers.

Rodgers and the Packers were already hurtling toward a divorce in 2022 after the events of this offseason. This episode may have driven the wedge even deeper.

Rodgers reportedly is furious that word of his unvaccinated status leaked out this past week. When the NFL places a player on the COVID list, it doesn’t announce his vaccination status. But NFL Network had Rodgers’s unvaccinated status in its initial report on Wednesday, via anonymous sourcing. My hunch is the Packers are frustrated with Rodgers that he refuses to get the vaccine, which led to this embarrassing and potentially damaging episode.

Rodgers is still playing well this year, and the Packers are still very much in contention for the Super Bowl. But Murphy must be having second thoughts about not trading Rodgers before the draft and getting a head start on the Love era. Rodgers has been nothing but one giant headache.


Panthers’ Rhule

idolizes Belichick

Panthers coach Matt Rhule, Bill Belichick superfan.Jacob Kupferman/Associated Press

Panthers coach Matt Rhule grew up a Giants fan in New York in the 1980s and was a teenager when Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick brought home two Super Bowl victories.

Now Rhule, 46, gets to coach against one of his idols on Sunday when the Patriots visit Carolina.


“I mean, I was a diehard Giants fan, so all things Coach Belichick for a long time,” Rhule said Thursday. “And then as a college coach, what else is there to do but study the people you look up to? For years — I mean, for years — I’ve tried to study all things Coach Belichick.”

Rhule said he has never spent much time with Belichick other than for three or four minutes at the airport following a college pro day. Most of Rhule’s coaching experience has come at the college level. His first head coaching job was in 2013 at Temple, where his mentor Wayne Hardin, who worked with Belichick’s father at the Naval Academy, used to regale Rhule with Belichick stories.

Rhule also has read plenty on Belichick and heard him speak at coaches clinics. Rhule said that he tried to incorporate some of Belichick’s philosophies when he arrived at Baylor in 2017 following a massive scandal.

“The biggest thing I look up to in Coach Belichick is it’s not’s about the offense, it’s not about the defense, it’s not about the special teams. It’s about the entire team and the entire program and the entire organization and getting on the same page,” Rhule said. “When you go to Baylor, I had to get everyone on the same page, everyone moving forward.”

Rhule almost sounds in awe of being on the same field as Belichick on Sunday.

“I don’t even have much right to even speak on Coach Belichick,” Rhule said. “I mean, he’s the greatest …They are just, culturally, they’re not going to beat themselves, they do things the right way. It’s elite football. So it’s really cool to watch.”


Big week, for

the wrong reasons

Former Raiders wide receiver Henry Ruggs could be looking at significant jail time.Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Associated Press

Not the best week for the NFL off the field, in addition to the Aaron Rodgers COVID drama:

▪ Former Raiders receiver Henry Ruggs killed a 23-year-old woman and her dog in a car accident at around 3:40 a.m. Tuesday. The woman’s car burst into flames after being rear-ended by Ruggs, who was driving his Corvette at 127 miles per hour at the moment of impact, per Las Vegas authorities. Ruggs faces four felony charges and a maximum of 46 years in prison.

Ruggs affected countless lives with one night of poor decisions. He tragically killed a woman and created immeasurable pain for her family and friends. He ended his own football career, which affects his family, agents, and other partners. And the Raiders, already reeling from the firing of coach Jon Gruden, now lose one of their top receivers and a friend in the locker room.

▪ The Giants had a big COVID scare, but it ended up being a laboratory error. Thirteen members of the club, including running back Saquon Barkley, were initially flagged on Wednesday. Most of the re-tests came back negative, but Barkley and safety Xavier McKinney came back positive and were put on the COVID reserve list. But Friday morning, the Giants stated that further testing revealed that Barkley was indeed a false positive, and he was back with the team that day. Phew.

▪ Saints receiver Michael Thomas chose a good time Wednesday, amid the Rodgers hubbub, to announce that he had a setback with his rehab from ankle surgery and won’t play in 2021. The Saints have to be pretty fed up with him. Thomas’s 2020 season ended after Week 13 because of an ankle injury, and the Saints wanted him to get the surgery in January, but he wanted to let the ankle heal on its own. Thomas eventually got the surgery in June, which made him unavailable to the Saints over the first two months of the season and prompted coach Sean Payton to say he was “disappointed” the surgery didn’t happen sooner. Now Thomas’s setback takes him out for the season.

The Saints have spent $23 million on Thomas the last two years and have only gotten seven games out of him. It wouldn’t surprise me if they look to trade him this offseason.

Inside the numbers

If the Broncos think Von Miller is past his prime, the numbers suggest otherwise.Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

A few interesting stats from the folks at Zebra Technologies, who run NFL Next Gen Stats:

Justin Herbert’s late touchdown pass to Josh Palmer against the Patriots was the most improbable completion in the NFL last week, at just 14.9 percent. Palmer had only 0.5 yards of separation when leaping over two defenders.

▪ Two stats that portray how broken the Chiefs’ downfield passing game is:In the win over the Giants, Patrick Mahomes had the most completions behind the line of scrimmage (15) of any quarterback since 2016; and Mahomes leads the NFL with five interceptions this year on extended plays (holding the ball for more than four seconds).

Von Miller’s pressure rate of 17.6 percent this year is third-best in the NFL. The impression that the Broncos dumped a past-his-prime pass rusher may not be totally accurate.

▪ The Buccaneers did not record a single quarterback pressure despite blitzing the Saints 22 times. That was the most blitzes without a pressure in at least five seasons.

▪ Bears safety DeAndre Houston-Carson ran 96.2 yards to tackle Deebo Samuel, the longest tackle this season. And 49ers cornerback Josh Norman traveled 103.4 yards on a 33-yard interception return.

Where will Beckham land next?

The Browns will finally part ways with Odell Beckham after this weekend, despite Beckham still having $7.25 million fully guaranteed owed to him this season. Unclear for now whether the Browns will convert some of that money into a signing bonus, to make Beckham more enticing for a team to claim him on waivers.

It is unlikely that another team would claim Beckham for the full $7.25 million, but perhaps a team will take the plunge if the Browns pick up half the tab. Beckham is hoping he goes unclaimed so he can pick his destination and sign another free agent contract.

The waiver order is the reverse order of the standings, so if the Lions or Jaguars claim Beckham, he has no choice but to report. But assuming only contending teams will look at Beckham, here are the teams that make the most sense:

▪ Saints: Need more weapons to replace Thomas and help their backup quarterbacks.

▪ Chiefs: Need all the help they can get on offense.

▪ Raiders: Need a receiver to replace Ruggs.

▪ Packers: Rodgers has complained a lot about not getting enough talent at receiver.

▪ Cardinals: Adding Beckham could put a very good team over the top.

▪ Rams: Could use another receiver to replace DeSean Jackson.

▪ Ravens: Get Lamar Jackson another weapon, and stick it to the Browns.

▪ Buccaneers: Beckham has always wanted to play with Tom Brady.

▪ Patriots: If Beckham is cheap, why not get Mac Jones more help?

Extra points

Packers coach Matt LaFleur has started his career 33-7, the best start through 40 games in a century.Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

Road teams are feeling right at home this year. The visitors went 9-6 last weekend and are 63-59 (.516) overall, the fourth-highest win percentage at this point in the season since the 1970 merger. And two of the “home” wins this year came in games played in London … Packers coach Matt LaFleur went 33-7 in his first 40 games, better than every coach in NFL history except Guy Chamberlin, who went 34-6 with the Canton/Cleveland Bulldogs and Frankford Yellow Jackets in 1922-25 … The Bills are the fourth team since the merger to be No. 1 in points scored and points allowed through eight games. The others are the 2019 Patriots, 2006 Bears, and 1985 Bears, with both Bears teams reaching the Super Bowl … Jones already has more touchdown passes this year through eight games (nine) than Cam Newton had in 15 games last year (eight) … Sunday’s Bills-Jaguars game features the first Josh Allen vs. Josh Allen matchup. The Allen that plays quarterback for the Bills will be making his 47th consecutive start on Sunday. The Allen that plays defensive end for the Jaguars has 31 tackles and 4.5 sacks this year … Kyler Murray needs 31 passing yards this weekend to become the fourth-youngest player to reach 10,000. The distinction of being the youngest still goes to Drew Bledsoe, who was 23 years, 299 days … Sunday’s No. 1 games for Fox and CBS both turned into duds. Packers-Chiefs was probably Fox’s No. 1 protected game of the season, but now we won’t get the much-hyped Mahomes-Rodgers showdown. And I’m betting that CBS didn’t expect the Bengals to be coming off a loss to the Jets, and the Browns to be releasing Beckham, when it assigned Jim Nantz and Tony Romo to call the Bengals-Browns game … The Sports Museum’s 20th annual fund-raising gala, The Tradition, will honor former Patriots tight end Ben Coates at this year’s ceremony, Dec. 8 at TD Garden. Also honored will be David Ortiz, Kevin McHale, Angela Ruggiero, Mike Milbury, and Taylor Twellman. Tickets are on sale now at www.sportsmuseum.org/events/the-tradition.

Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com.