The question was asked in jest. How do you put back on the bench a guy that just turned in the greatest passing performance in Packers history?
“I think we understand that Aaron Rodgers is the best football player in the NFL. We’ll see where Matt ranks. He’s definitely off to a good start,” Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy said following a 45-41 win over the Detroit Lions that capped the Packers’ regular season at 15-1 and likely launched Flynn’s career as a starting quarterback … for somebody else.
Rodgers, who was deactivated for Sunday’s game and finished the regular season with the NFL’s all-time passer-ratings record, stood along the sideline and helped guide Flynn in a performance that included for 480 yards passing and six touchdown throws. In the end, Flynn had done something no quarterback in Packers history, not Bart Starr, Brett Favre or Rodgers, had ever accomplished.
“It was definitely one of the best performances I’ve been a part of. The whole world got to see what we see every day. I thought the two throws he made in the two-minute drill were special. When it counted the most, he was right on point,” McCarthy said of Flynn.
Trailing 41-38, Flynn led the Packers on an eight-play, 80-yard, game-winning touchdown drive. He pitched the game-winner, a four-yard strike, to tight end Jermichael Finley with 1:10 to play in the game.
Flynn is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent following the season. His performance against the Lions, coupled with what he did against the Patriots last season, might make Flynn the hottest property in free agency.
McCarthy said his decision to rest Rodgers was “an easy call. It was more important for Aaron to go through the week and prepare for the Lions.”
The Packers would face the Lions, again, in the divisional round of the playoffs, if the Lions were to win in the wild-card round. The Lions will go into the NFC playoffs as the No. 6 seed; the Packers had clinched the No. 1 seed a week ago.
“I’m pleased with the way the week went and what we accomplished today,” McCarthy said.
Offensively, being pleased would qualify as an understatement. Playing without Rodgers and Greg Jennings, the Packers posted 550 yards against the Lions. Jordy Nelson continued his rush to stardom by catching nine passes for 162 yards and three touchdowns. Finley showed good hands in grabbing seven catches including the game-winner. Running back Ryan Grant rushed for a workmanlike 48 yards and went 80 yards with a screen pass for a touchdown, a play that defined Flynn’s performance, as he picked up the blitz from that side of the field and beat it.
Everything about the way the Packers heading into the playoffs says the offense is on a roll. The Packers even welcomed back left tackle Chad Clifton, who passed his test with a quarter of play that caused McCarthy to give Clifton a thumbs up.
“I watched Chad a lot. Once he got into the flow of the game, he did very well in pass-protection. It’s definitely what we needed,” McCarthy said.
The offense was so overpowering on Sunday that it’ll beg the question among national media: Can the Packers be stopped?
An opposite question, however, will be asked of the Packers defense following its worst day of the season. It allowed 575 yards of offense, five touchdown passes and 32 first downs. It was a performance that’ll likely leave the Packers defense No. 32 in the league in total yardage.
Two aspects of the defense’s play against the Lions give the Packers hope: 1.) It made the big play to clinch the win with an interception at crunch time. 2.) It was without Charles Woodson and Clay Matthews, both of whom were deactivated.
“Clay and Charles not being there definitely makes a difference,” McCarthy said.
Cornerback Sam Shields made the game-clinching interception at the Packers 20-yard line with 25 seconds to play in the game. It was one of four takeaways for the Packers.
“Our identity has been taking care of the football, taking the ball away, quarterback differential; we won that today,” McCarthy said.
Flynn outpointed Matt Stafford, 136.4 to 103.8. Stafford’s 520 yards passing, however, is a sore spot for the Packers defense. It included 11 catches for 244 yards and a touchdown by wide receiver Calvin Johnson, and seven receptions for 116 yards by tight end Brandon Pettigrew. Stafford moved the Lions 93 yards in six plays to take a 41-38 lead with 2:39 left to play.
“It sends us into the playoffs with the right mindset. We don’t do everything exactly right, but it’s a very accountable group of men,” McCarthy said. “The most important thing is that when we step onto the field in two weeks, we play our best football.”
The Packers offense is certainly playing its best football as it heads into the playoffs. Additional coverage - Jan. 1