GREEN BAY, Wis. -- After everything that has dogged the Green Bay Packers in their 3-4-1 start to the season, they would gladly take the kind of easy victory that’s expected of them as a 9.5-point favorite over the visiting Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
But perhaps what they really need is another one of those magical Aaron Rodgers game-winning moments in the final seconds to jump-start their season.
Like they did the last time they played the Dolphins.
Four years ago, the Packers started 1-2, Rodgers told everyone to R-E-L-A-X, and then Green Bay rattled off four consecutive wins to start the turnaround on the way to 12-4 and a spot in the NFC Championship Game. Win No. 3 in that four-game streak came at Miami, where Rodgers channeled his inner Dan Marino and pulled off a fake-spike pass to Davante Adams that set up the winning touchdown to Andrew Quarless in the final seconds.
That helped help turn the narrative that Rodgers wasn’t clutch in the clutch.
To that point, he was 4-13 in games decided by three points or less and 6-25 in games in which he trailed by eight points or less in the fourth quarter.
"I go back to 2008, we had a number of two-minute drills where we lost the game," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said, referring to Rodgers’ first season as a starter. "Obviously a lot of the pressure kind of falls back on the quarterback, but I think that year, half of them were on the defense because we went down and the opponent came right back. So since then, really since 2009, we've spent as much time as possible on two-minute [drills], even if it's just the quarterbacks in pre-practice walking the field."
Since early in 2014 and beginning with the game at Miami, Rodgers is 6-4-1 in games decided by three points or less and 7-14 when he’s trailed by eight points or less in the fourth quarter, according to ESPN Stats & Information data. To be sure, the Packers haven’t been behind entering the fourth quarter all that often compared to other teams. Since Rodgers became a starter in 2008, they have trailed entering the fourth quarter in 38 percent of their games, which is tied with the Eagles for the third-lowest rate during the span -- and that includes games in which Rodgers didn’t start. Only the Patriots (24 percent) and Steelers (34) rank lower.
Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin plays a big part in preparing the Packers for two-minute situations, and he's been on both sides of it. He was the Dolphins' head coach during Rodgers’ two-minute-drill magic in 2014.
"He's got an active mind as we all know, and I think he creates situations and he's already kind of thought about them before they've happened," Philbin said. "Mike did a good job I think, and in '08, it wasn't Aaron, but I remember us being in a ton of close games and so ever since then, we've been doing those early two-minute drills on our own and kind of just creating situations, so to speak. So he just rarely gets surprised. So, it's part of his preparation, it's part of his mindset."
It's why Adams said after the Packers lost to the Rams 29-27 on Oct. 28 that he was so sure they were going to win -- "I already worked it out in my head how everything was going to happen," he said -- if only they had gotten the ball back.
"Because we’ve done it so many times at this point -- to the Hail Marys to just going down and running a drive or scoring early and then putting it back on the defense," Adams said this week. "When you have the quarterback like that and obviously with my skill set and the rest of the receivers and the tight ends, I feel like it’s just a matter of time before things get clicking, and when you’ve been there it’s like things slow down, for me especially. I’ve had a few situations in late games where I’ve been able to make some plays. I feel really confident."
To hear Rodgers describe it, a successful two-minute drill is just another part of a successful offense.
"It’s guys being on the same page," Rodgers said. "It’s simple plays or the easy adjustments. It’s tempo. And then it’s the urgency goes up and we’ve been able to find the right matchups in those situations. It’s using stuff that’s worked in the game, or stuff that we have a million reps in."
This second half of this season might be a metaphorical two-minute comeback drive. Rodgers has led the Packers to the playoffs four times when they were under .500 at any point at least three games into a season (2012, 2013, 2014 and 2016). That’s tied with Brett Favre and Philip Rivers for the most by any primary starting quarterback in the Super Bowl era.
During the Packers’ run of eight consecutive playoff appearances (2009-16), they were .500 or below at least three games into the season in six of those seasons. However, this is the first time they are under .500 through exactly eight games since 2006, McCarthy’s first season.
"If you think about it, now Aaron's been doing that for 10-12 years, I think he's extraordinary in two-minute," McCarthy said. "I think just the way it's set up, and then on the flip side of it, the competition that our defense gives to me, that's our most important drill that we do on Thursdays on the padded practice. That's our competitive drill and those guys compete. It's fun, but it's the amount of time that we put into the two-minute drill, and I think it clearly reflects our success."