Head Coach Mike McCarthy said on Wednesday that quarterback Aaron Rodgers would not practice until Friday at the earliest, and he may not practice at all this week.
Either way, a decision on his playing status for Sunday’s game at New England won’t be made until Saturday, so until further notice, backup Matt Flynn is spending the week getting ready for his first NFL start.
“I think I have to be fair to my teammates and myself and I have to go in there (at practice) like I’m going to be playing,” Flynn said. “If not, that’s great, Aaron will be back. But I’m going to go in there like I can, prepare as much as I can and as well as I can.”
Preparation is something Rodgers will have little to none of, even if he’s medically cleared to play by the end of the week. Rodgers suffered his second concussion of the season last Sunday, and he was not in any meetings or film-study sessions on Wednesday, nor did he attend practice. Rodgers, who has started 45 straight games, returned to practice on Thursday back in Week 6 following his first concussion and was pronounced “probable” on the injury report Friday prior to playing that week, so the timetable this time has clearly changed.
McCarthy, who called Rodgers’ chances of getting on the practice field Friday “slim to none,” didn’t speculate on whether he would start Rodgers on Sunday if he’s cleared over the weekend. Rodgers did start a game in 2008, his fifth NFL start vs. Atlanta, when he missed an entire week of practice with a shoulder injury, but with this involving a head injury and also limiting his off-field preparation time, the circumstances are different.
“We understand the importance of the quarterback position,” McCarthy said. “But this is about Aaron Rodgers, first, No. 1, being healthy, and then after that we’ll make a decision on whether he’ll play or not.”
In the meantime, all eyes are on Flynn, who played the final series of the first half and the entire second half in Rodgers’ place last Sunday in Detroit but fell short in a 7-3 defeat. The circumstances are different for him too, going up against the NFL’s hottest team in the 11-2 Patriots on the road in prime time, but he’s also getting an entire week of practice snaps with the first-team offense rather than getting thrown into a game during an emergency situation.
“It’s extremely valuable,” Flynn said of the practice reps. “I go from getting just a handful of plays during the week to getting most all of them, so it’s been good. Just getting the timing with the receivers … working snap count with the offensive line. Everyone’s snap count is a little different. Just small things like that, and if I get my chance and get in there, I think the timing will be a lot better than it was last week.”
In the most meaningful action in his three-year NFL career to date, Flynn’s performance in Detroit was up and down. He moved the offense well on three of six drives but only produced one field goal.
In completing 15-of-26 for 177 yards, Flynn probably would like a do-over on three of his throws. First was an end-zone interception that wasted a promising 81-yard drive. Then, in the final 2-minute drill with the offense needing a touchdown to win, a third-and-1 pass to a crossing Donald Driver slipped out of his hand. On the next snap, a do-or-die fourth down, he overthrew Greg Jennings deep down the left sideline when Jennings had a step on his man.
The interception was clearly the biggest blunder, costing the Packers at least a field goal, but it hasn’t cost him the confidence of his offensive mates, who all stood steadfastly behind him on Wednesday and are taking the potential quarterback change as nothing but the business at hand. They believe everything that happened last Sunday was a valuable learning experience that Flynn will undoubtedly apply to his next opportunity.
“I’ve seen this kid grow, from LSU to preseason games here to playing in the game on Sunday, and he proved that he can play,” Driver said. “If he didn’t make that one mistake in the game, he had a great game, and I told him, ‘We all make mistakes. We all have our bumps and bruises, but it’s how we bounce back from them.’ I think he’s going to be able to bounce back from that mistake and play a great game.”
Quarterback of LSU’s national championship team in 2007, Flynn isn’t likely to get flustered by the prime-time, national-television spotlight that comes with Sunday’s game. Nothing much has phased him since arriving in Green Bay as a seventh-round draft pick fighting for a roster spot in 2008, when he beat out second-round pick Brian Brohm for the No. 2 job behind Rodgers.
Trying to beat a Patriots outfit that has vanquished two nine-win teams in the New York Jets and Chicago Bears the last two weeks by a combined score of 81-10 is another matter. New England head coach Bill Belichick might be cooking up a whole menu of unscouted looks and exotic blitzes on defense to expose Flynn’s lack of experience as much as possible.
But his teammates believe it’s not all on Flynn to step up his game, it’s on all of them, and they’re ready to go to battle with him to try to win a game that’s important to the team’s playoff hopes.
“I can’t speak for everyone, but I will speak for the receivers – we’ve got all the trust in the world in Matt,” Jordy Nelson said. “We said it last week when he came into the game against Detroit. He would take a couple throws back, but I thought he performed very well.
“I told him on the bus, ‘Right now, the receiving corps, we believe in you.’ We felt that actually from his rookie year when he came in and played well in the preseason and moved up and got second-string quarterback. We know what he can do. He won a national championship in college, and you have to be a good quarterback to do that.”
As for a backup to Flynn, McCarthy indicated practice-squad quarterback Graham Harrell could be signed to the active roster on Saturday if needed, depending on Rodgers’ situation. To this point, Harrell has done everything an active third quarterback would do, going to all the meetings and traveling with the team on road trips.
If Rodgers is unable to play, this trip will have an entirely different feel to it. But one way the players are preparing mentally is to remind themselves how many injuries the team has endured this season already, yet they’re still in the playoff hunt. None of those situations compares to losing Rodgers, of course, but stopping to think about it too much isn’t going to help overcome it.
“You’re going to face some adverse situations during the year,” Jennings said. “This is one. This isn’t the first one we’ve faced this year, but you have to treat it like a speed bump. I remember Coach saying early on this year, ‘You’re either going to slow your car down and then creep over it, or you’re just going to run right over it.’ And that’s what we have to do, just run right over it.”
Perhaps with Flynn at the wheel, but only after an intensive week with the coaching staff, which as McCarthy said is trusting the process, training and preparation that have always been in place.
“It’s important when we get on that plane Saturday to go to New England that he is fully prepared and ready to go to perform Sunday night,” McCarthy said. “That’s our approach, and we are very confident in Matt’s abilities.
“Nobody knows Matt better than Tom Clements, Joe Philbin and I, and it’s important to make him successful. We’re a quarterback-driven system offensively. We have been since Day 1, and it will be no different when we play Sunday.”
Additional coverage – Dec. 15