By: Steve Balestrieri
Yesterday’s events were a prime example of why Bill Belichick doesn’t rest his starters on Week 17 prior to a bye week. Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers wasn’t sharp and so wasn’t his timing with many of his receivers as the 15-1 Packers lost to the New York Giants in the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs.
Rodgers sat out Week 17 as the Packers didn’t have anything to play for as far as seeding in the playoffs was concerned. But did the two week layoff hurt him and the Packers? It certainly appeared so; Rodgers looked little like the player who lit up the NFL to the tune of 45 touchdowns during the regular season.
Many of his throws were uncharacteristically off, high or well behind their targets. And his receivers dropped an inordinate number of passes. While much of the credit has to go to the Giants for playing a fantastic game on Sunday, one has to wonder how much rust is to blame as well.
Belichick frequently comes under fire for playing his starters for “meaningless” games late in the season and many comments were heard to rest Tom Brady, who had been nursing a sore left shoulder during the final game against Buffalo. But Belichick played Brady, who played the entire game, save for a couple of kneel downs at the very end.
Brady then had a week to rest up and re-charge his batteries; he was even excused from a practice during the extra week. And the results were vastly different. Brady came out focused and sharp, going 26-34 for 363 yards and 6 TDs as the Patriots put the Broncos away early with a convincing 45-10 win.
While no one is suggesting that the Giants and Broncos defenses are anything similar in terms of proficiency, the bottom line is Brady came out hitting his throws with accuracy, placing the ball exactly where he wanted to. Rodgers, even with players wide open was late or well behind. The layoff as well as a superb Giants defense had a lot to do with that.
This isn’t a new development, the Indianapolis Colts with Tony Dungy did the same thing with Peyton Manning late in the season, resting him down the stretch and then coming out flat with subpar playoff performances to find they were going home, well rested.
Belichick’s mantra of there being 16 games in a season for a reason is entirely correct. Players need to play and maintain their edge, the Packers rolled through a 15-1 season only to be bounced out in their first game. Was it a great Giants performance or because they rested Rodgers for two weeks and he wasn’t on his game?
The debate will continue, however Patriots fans won’t have to worry about that as long as Belichick roams the sidelines in Foxboro. The risk of players getting hurt is there ala Wes Welker in 2009, but it is no higher than any other game. Then the question is do you risk your players getting hurt or risk throwing away a 15-1 season because your players don’t have the edge and aren’t ready to play?
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