Flynn was downright impressive in his first NFL start, and against one of the league’s best teams, no less. He kept the Packers in the game all night on Sunday, throwing for three touchdowns and making some plays not unlike those of his mentor, starter Aaron Rodgers.
Unfortunately it wasn’t enough as the Packers lost another down-to-the-wire contest, 31-27, at Gillette Stadium. But Flynn went toe-to-toe with the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady, who had won 26 straight regular-season home games coming in, and kept a national television audience far more entertained than it probably expected to be.
“We knew what he was capable of,” receiver Greg Jennings said. “We were hoping as an offense we didn’t hold back just because Matt was in, and we didn’t. He showed he can take us down the stretch.”
Whether Flynn will need to play in either of the two remaining games the Packers need to win to earn a playoff berth remains to be seen. Head Coach Mike McCarthy said after the game he wouldn’t have any further updates on Rodgers, who was not fully recovered from last week’s concussion and therefore couldn’t play, until probably Wednesday of this week.
In any event, there was a lot to like about Flynn’s performance. He finished 24-of-37 for 251 yards with three touchdowns, one interception and a 100.2 rating. He became the first Packers quarterback to throw for three touchdowns in his first NFL start since Anthony Dilweg back on Sept. 9, 1990, a 36-24 win over the L.A. Rams.
Flynn completed passes to 10 different receivers, and threw touchdowns to three different ones – James Jones, Jennings and fullback John Kuhn. He added 13 yards rushing, and even though he was sacked five times, he avoided others with some good footwork to keep plays alive.
“I think Flynn played an outstanding game,” Jennings said. “I know he’s going to be hard on himself because he didn’t get it done. But he was sound, very fundamentally sound. He put us in position to be successful, and that’s all you can ask for. He made plays with his feet, he made plays with his arm, he made good checks. Unfortunately, we couldn’t pull it out.”
Flynn arguably made just one costly mistake all night, throwing an interception early in the third quarter that Kyle Arrington returned 36 yards for a touchdown. He was trying to hit Jones on a slant route on third down, but Jones got bumped off his path and the ball went right to Arrington, who gave New England a 21-17 lead.
But true to his nature, Flynn didn’t get rattled. He came back and put together two more scoring drives in the second half to give the Packers a 27-21 advantage, showing the poise he’s becoming known for in his brief time as a pro quarterback.
“I was a little nervous a couple of hours before the game, but once you get out there on the field and start running around a little bit, the emotions kind of go away and you just start playing football,” Flynn said. “You get in there and the competitive juices start flowing and you just go out there, trying to make plays. I guess just one of those things that I’ve always had is being even-keeled and not getting too excited whether good things happen or bad things happen.”
Flynn said the idea from the beginning was to “cut it loose,” as the game plan was not scaled down with him making his first start. He was helped by a running game that produced 143 yards, including 99 from Brandon Jackson on 22 carries, and he stayed in touch with Rodgers on the sidelines throughout the game.
He deserves plenty of credit himself, however. He nearly drove the Packers for a game-winning touchdown in the final moments, and that would have made for an incredible capper to his night.
But the drive stalled at the New England 15-yard line when a desperate fourth-down play with the clock winding down ended with a sack. That, along with the interception, are the moments that will be hard to deal with because as Head Coach Mike McCarthy said, “He gave us a chance to win.”
“We lost, so it has to be a losing performance,” Flynn said, grading himself rather harshly but not unexpectedly, considering his and the team’s confidence coming in. “We moved the ball but, when it counted, we didn’t get it done.
“It’s a tough one to swallow and it kind of makes you sit there and think what could you have done different? Could you have made a play here? Just things that kind of eat you up that you can’t stop thinking about.”
His teammates will continue to think positively about him, though. Nothing he did Sunday night will change that.
“Matt played well,” receiver Donald Driver said. “That shows you right there what type of backup quarterback we have. He can go anywhere in the National Football League right now and be a starter and have a great career. He proved that tonight.
“His composure, the way he stepped up and played in Aaron’s shoes, that’s amazing. The way he played against a great team was amazing. I take my hat off to him. You can see regardless of where he goes from here, he has a bright future.”