Fresh off a last minute drive to victory last week against the Dallas Cowboys and a victory over Seattle already in the books, the Green Bay Packers seemed poised to make a strong claim to be Super Bowl favorites. Due to an incomplete knowledge of history, “America’s Team” has the reputation by being the New York Yankees of the NFL, but that simply is not true. They haven’t been to a Super Bowl in over two decades, and outside the Troy Aikman era when the Packers lost eight straight to the Cowboys, the Packers have actually been the dominant team in their “rivalry.”
A more important rivalry game is that between the Packers and the Minnesota Vikings; those with memories of the Vikings teams that went to 4 four Super Bowls in the Seventies (and suffered humiliating losses in all of them), may believe that the Vikings also have an advantage over the Packers, but Packers rather surprisingly dominated the Vikings in the 1980s as much as the Vikings did the Packers in the 1970s, and in winning at one point 10 of 11 games since 2010, the Packers hold a comfortable advantage over the Vikings in the win-loss column. Entering into this past Sunday’s game against the Vikings, there was reason to be optimistic about the future. The Vikings have a good defense, but the Packers scored 35 points in back-to-back games in which Aaron Rodgers was not required to light up the skies, and the Vikings were still starting a backup quarterback.
But that was then; it took only a quarter for Packer fans to face the hard reality that they are going to have to live with the fact the season may be irreparably lost. When Brett Favre was dumped in favor of Rodgers, one of my objections to this move was that Rodgers seemed to me to be injury prone. In 2006, I found it rather amusing how he broke his foot in junk time and was lost for the season, and in 2007 a hamstring injury undid what positive vibe he engendered in good play in relief of Favre when the latter was injured against the Cowboys in a battle between two 10-1 teams. Rodgers missed games due to injury in 2010 and more significantly in 2013, when he broke his non-throwing collar bone. A hamstring "problem" arguably was what prevented the Packers from nailing down a return trip to the Super Bowl in 2014. And now Rodgers may be out for the season with a broken collarbone, this time on his throwing shoulder.
This time there is no Flynn to bring in as a competent placeholder capable of winning half the games remaining on the schedule (remember that this was the guy who in 2013 overcame a 26-3 halftime deficit in Dallas and won it 37-36) and insuring a playoff appearance. Brett Hundley may be a preseason “stud,” but I doubt the Packers saw him as anything other than a junk-time option, and his regular season play prior to his first meaningful time was certainly “junk”: 3 for 11 passing for 17 yards and an interception. With 3 minutes to play against Minnesota, coach Mike McCarthy didn’t allow Hundley to throw the ball downfield in an attempt for a quick score and try to win the game, and the Vikings knew their two-touchdown lead was safe. McCarthy just wanted to see if Hundley could move the ball without pressure, and as the seconds ticked away Hundley completed 8 of 10 for 72 yards. But with the pressure on to finish, he succumbed. Outside what the Vikings’ defense allowed him to have on that last drive, Hundley completed just 10 of 23 passes for 85 yards and three interceptions. The Packers did score 10 points, but only on short fields following Viking turnovers, including a 63-yard fumble return; the final score could easily have been 30-0 instead of 23-10.
So now what? Well, it was Hundley’s first meaningful play, and maybe a full week of practice with the starting unit will turn him at least as good as Dak Prescott—or as bad as Geno Smith. Being a Packer fan, I just want the team to win, with or without him. Personally, I would feel more comfortable with Joe Callahan as a longer-term back-up solution. Like Flynn (who hasn’t been in the league since 2014), he isn’t “flashy,” doesn’t have particularly impressive physical skills or a strong arm, but he is “steady” and can play well within his limitations (like Alex Smith). But the Packers have boxed themselves into a corner with Hundley, so they will have to start him for at least another game or two.
If neither Hundley or Callahan make the grade, then what? There has been talk that the Packers might consider Colin Kaepernick, but while I wouldn’t be opposed to bringing him in as a slap to that idiot we have to call “president,” I don’t think he is a good fit for this offense, particularly for the short-term. Tony Romo’s name has come-up as well, and he might still be fit enough to play, but he is also injury-prone and it might not be worth the roll-of-the-dice. Whatever transpires, Packers fans will not have seen the likes of this in over a quarter-century.