CINCINNATI – Afterward, both of them did their best to dismiss it. They chalked it up to such positive words as passionate and competitive.
In the end, though, the truth was still the truth: The Green Bay Packers head coach, Mike McCarthy, and their star quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, wound up yelling at each other on the sideline during the second quarter of their 34-30 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday afternoon, and FOX Sports’ cameras caught them in the act.
For Rodgers, his clash with his coach was just one his problems. After going 41 consecutive regular-season games without throwing two interceptions in a game – the longest such streak since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger – he threw a pair of interceptions during the second half Sunday, then wasn’t able to muster a come-from-behind victory after the game turned on halfback Johnathan Franklin’s fumble that was returned for a touchdown. Same with McCarthy, whose team is now 1-2 entering the bye week and looking up at the Chicago Bears (3-0) and Detroit Lions (2-1) in the early season NFC North division standings.
Nevertheless, it was difficult to simply brush the exchange off, although both tried.
“He’s competitive, man. That’s what I love about him,” McCarthy said. “I didn’t really think it was that big of a deal, frankly.”
Said Rodgers: “We’re both passionate about the game and competitive. We want to win very badly. I went over and talked to him after that and just got on the same page. We needed to talk and we did and we moved on.”
The issues started when the Packers, down 14-10, got the ball with 9 minutes 43 seconds left in the first half following the Bengals’ fourth consecutive turnover. After a first-and-goal play from the 5 ended in Rodgers throwing the ball away after no one was open, the quarterback was demonstratively agitated toward the Packers’ sideline and McCarthy after a 2-yard run by James Starks set up third-and-goal from the 3.
On that play, Rodgers rolled to his right expecting wide receiver Jeremy Ross, who had lined up in the backfield, to be open just across the goal line. When he wasn’t, Rodgers ran for the right pylon and took a helmet hit from safety Reggie Nelson and was stopped at the 1-yard line. That’s when Rodgers came to the bench and got into it with McCarthy, with the FOX Sports cameras catching the exchange and then replaying it after returning from a commercial break.
It appeared defensive tackle B.J. Raji and wide receiver Randall Cobb tried to calm both men down before things escalated.
“I think any time you get into a situation where there’s a change in rhythm and personnel and play-calls, things like that, it’s frustrating,” McCarthy replied when asked what prompted the confrontation. “I had called a play in a certain situation and he was frustrated by it. I feel good. One (argument) every three weeks would be awesome.”
Rodgers had multiple instances last season where he showed irritation with the coach. Whether it was questioning decisions in interview – such as McCarthy’s call of an across-the-field lateral on a punt return at Chicago, or hesitating to activate running back DuJuan Harris, who emerged as the team’s top back late in the year – or yelling at McCarthy on the field in the Dec. 30 regular-season finale at Minnesota for throwing the red challenge flag when he shouldn’t have, the two haven’t always seen eye-to-eye.
After the initial argument, FOX Sports’ cameras later showed McCarthy and Rodgers talking on the sideline, although neither man appeared happy.
“I’m going to leave that between Mike and I,” Rodgers replied when asked what was said. “We’re both competitive. I think we were both frustrated all day that we couldn’t have a lot of success in the red zone and kicked way too many field goals and turned the ball over.”
That certainly was a frustration for all involved. The Packers converted only two of their four trips to the red zone into touchdowns, while Rodgers had his lowest passer rating (64.5) and his first two-interception game since the 2010 NFC Championship Game against Chicago. Then, a fourth-quarter comeback ended with back-to-back passes being batted at the line of scrimmage on third- and fourth-down plays from the Cincinnati 20-yard line.
“I was frustrated because I didn’t play very well,” Rodgers said. “I’m competitive and expect to play well every week and this week, it didn’t happen. So, it was frustrating we couldn’t convert. We got into a rhythm there in the third quarter, looked like we were going to blow the game open, and turned the ball over twice, turned the ball over again in the fourth quarter, and that’s why we lost.”
Rodgers’ first interception came on a slant to James Jones, with Jones taking the blame.
“The first interception was my fault, hands down. I stopped on the route on him,” Jones said. “(You) can never do that. Put the quarterback in bad situation right there where I’m giving him mixed reads and that was completely on me. I have the slant route. I’ve got to cross the defender’s face. I can’t do that the quarterback. That was completely my fault.”
On the second, a throw down the sideline to Cobb, Rodgers simply didn’t put the ball where he wanted to, and Leon Hall picked it off.
“I didn’t the full play, but I don’t know if the throw was far enough outside. We’ll take a look at it,” McCarthy said. “I’d like to think we go through the season and he doesn’t throw very many interceptions. But if you’re going to play a wide open offense, sometimes that’s going to happen. He took a shot on the second one. The first one was a three-step drop, was a base play and it just didn’t look like we were in sync.”
Nonetheless, as the league’s highest-paid player at a position that generally gets more credit and more blame than it deserves, Rodgers knows it comes with the territory, even if his teammates took some of the heat for him.
“We all know what type of player he is, and there’s going to be days when he’s not going to go and play at an all-star level. It’s part of the game, it’s going to happen,” left guard Josh Sitton said. “That’s why we have 10 other people on the field to pick him up. And I think we were doing that at times. And I thought we got away from it sometimes. So it’s frustrating.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.
There are no games scheduled for today.