Colin Kaepernick. Are you still reading? Please don’t yell at me. What about Tony Romo? What’s Matt Flynn doing these days? Will Taysom Hill come back? How’s Brett Favre looking lately?
In the wake of the worst possible news for Green Bay coming out of Sunday’s devastating loss to Minnesota, that Aaron Rodgers had broken his right collarbone, those were some of the names being tossed around on Twitter as possible replacements – some jokingly and some most definitely not jokingly – after backup quarterback Brett Hundley was underwhelming in three quarters of action.
Such is the sad state of affairs in Packer Nation, following an ugly, injury-filled 23-10 loss to the Vikings. Losing the game, and especially losing Rodgers, possibly for the rest of the season, according to the team, has ramifications not only for Green Bay, but also the rest of the division and the entire NFC playoff race.
Four years ago, Rodgers broke his left, non-throwing collarbone, missed seven starts – the Packers went 2-4-1 without him – and returned in time to lift the team into the playoffs. This season, whether or not Rodgers comes back, Green Bay is dealing with a laundry list of other injuries up and down the roster. The postseason prognosis doesn’t look good.
I blame the Packers' medical and strength/conditioning staff for Aaron Rodgers' brittle collarbones. — Jimmy Carlton (@jimmycarlton88) October 15, 2017
After Anthony Barr’s late-but-legal hit on Rodgers in the first quarter, the Packers were effectively finished. It was clear, understandably, that Hundley was not prepared to play, the coaching staff didn’t help him with the game-plan, the offensive line was in shambles and the Vikings defense made big plays.
Meanwhile, Green Bay’s tackle-impaired defense couldn’t stop a Case Keenum-led Minnesota offense without its two best offensive players (Dalvin Cook and Stefon Diggs), which isn’t a new problem but becomes all the more detrimental without Rodgers to cover it up.
Without Rodgers, three-fifths of their starting offensive line and several key defensive players, the hobbled Packers were simply worse than the Vikings. Their overall team talent deficiency was evident in 2013, when Rodgers got hurt and they couldn’t go .500, and it was evident on Sunday. Green Bay was outgained, 351 total yards to 227 (a season low), got 10 fewer first downs, couldn’t run the ball against Minnesota’s fierce front seven and committed three turnovers.
It’s hard to blame Hundley; he was facing one of the NFL’s best defenses in his first career start and was not ready. He’ll be better, getting all the first-team reps in practice, going through a week of preparation as the starter, receiving more game action and experience. But it was clear that without Rodgers, Green Bay is just an inferior team. It’s unlikely Ted Thompson goes outside the organization to bring in another quarterback; the Packers have spent three years developing Hundley, and Mike McCarthy said afterward, "Brett Hundley’s my quarterback. Joe Callahan is the backup."
Coming off a dramatic and momentous win over the Cowboys last week, with their starting offensive line intact for the first time all season – that lasted about two quarters – and Rodgers under center, the mood around the Packers was upbeat when the game started on Sunday. Things certainly feel a lot more grim now.
Sign Kaepernick, Milwaukee native. #Packers — Andy Tarnoff (@AndyTarnoff) October 15, 2017
Let’s assume that Kaepernick, Romo, Flynn, Favre, Hill and even Seneca Wallace aren’t walking through the door. The Packers’ season is now in Hundley’s hands. We’ll see how that goes. In the meantime, though, let’s take a look back at Sunday’s loss to the Vikings.
Second-year defensive players Blake Martinez and Kenny Clark both played probably their best professional games. Martinez, the inside linebacker drafted in the fourth round last year, had a team-high 11 tackles, including two for loss, and he tipped the pass that cornerback Damarious Randall intercepted, besides nearly intercepting one himself, as well. Martinez is always the organizer for the Packers defense; on Sunday, he was a playmaker, too.
As for Clark, the 2016 first-round defensive tackle who just turned 22, he was a penetrating, disruptive force against the Vikings. Clark lived in Minnesota’s backfield, applying pressure all day, and finishing with a career-high six tackles, including for loss, as well as the forced fumble Clay Matthews recovered and returned 63 yards in the second quarter.
He doesn’t really deserve the blame, but it’s still accurate to say Hundley was not good. A preseason phenom the last two campaigns, the third-year quarterback just didn’t make a positive impact against the Vikings. Hundley completed 18 of 33 passes for 157 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions and a passer rating of 39.6. The interceptions were very unlucky; a dropped pass tipped into the defender’s arms, a spectacular diving catch from All-Pro safety Harrison Smith and a pick – by Kenosha’s own Trae Waynes – that came as he was obliterated by two Vikings defenders.
The Packers coaches really like Hundley, and it’s safe to assume he’ll be more prepared and effective next week. It certainly didn’t help Hundley to play against one of the league’s best defenses and, most of the second half, be without starting tackles David Bakhtiari (hamstring) and Bryan Bulaga (concussion), as well as left guard Lane Taylor (ankle/knee).
Green Bay went into Sunday without three defensive backs, cornerbacks Davon House and Kevin King and veteran safety Morgan Burnett. Then the team lost Quinten Rollins during the game. The struggling secondary was in trouble, even against the unimposing Keenum. And Lenzy Pipkins stepped up.
The undrafted rookie cornerback made six tackles, tied for the most among defensive backs, and was not overmatched in coverage. At 6-feet, he’s more physical than Rollins and seems more aware than Randall. On Sunday, he was one of the only positives in the Packers secondary.
(Mike McCarthy isn't renowned for his play-calling, having fired and then rehired himself for that role in the past, but he does still call the plays. Here we rate his coaching performance, on a score from one to 10 McCarthy heads.)
Nobody was prepared for Rodgers to go down, and fair enough that losing one of the best players in football was going to affect the game. But McCarthy didn’t put Hundley in a position to succeed, appearing to keep the training wheels on his backup quarterback until late in the fourth quarter. Every drive in the second and third quarter seemed to go: run, run, pass. Repeat. That’s the kind of predictable and unimaginative playcalling that allows defenses to dictate the tempo and tee off on the backfield.
Hundley was sacked four times, the running game averaged 3.0 yards per rush and the Packers looked shell-shocked and hopeless after Rodgers left the game. Afterward, McCarthy himself admitted that the game plan didn’t help Hundley and took responsibility for his coaching performance. Three heads.
Sign one of the above named quarterbacks.
"I've been preparing for this moment for a long time. Obviously didn't get the job done, but we'll be better" – Brett Hundley
Um, well … the Packers have a bye after this week’s game. And, um … the team itself said there was only "a chance he could miss the rest of the season." ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Injuries. Injuries, injuries, injuries. It’s extremely annoying to say this every week, and – as hard as it is for Packers fans to hear this – every team has injuries, and Green Bay is not adversely, increasingly or disproportionately impacted, but geez. Rodgers’ was the worst and the most damaging for the team, of course, but Bakhtiari, Bulaga and Taylor going down, the secondary being depleted, several Vikings players getting hurt too. Maybe Packers fans don’t care about other players’ injuries, but sometimes it’s hard to understand/remember why watching football is fun. The games are brutal, seasons are, more than ever, wars of attrition and watching feels gruesomely approving of it all. But hey, maybe that’s just FOOHBAWL!
What a stupid sport we all love so much. Can't wait to tune in again next week for "Injured people on FOX" — Jimmy Carlton (@jimmycarlton88) October 15, 2017
With a full, regular week to prepare, the Packers (4-2) will host the New Orleans Saints (3-2), who come to Lambeau with the NFL’s seventh-best offense and its fourth-worst defense. The game is Sunday at noon on FOX, and the next week Green Bay is on a much-needed bye.
Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.
After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like CBSSports.com, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.
Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.