GREEN BAY – Brett Hundley has his first win under his belt.
The next step is not just to get the second one, but to get one against a quarterback considerably more accomplished than he is.
That’s not meant as a slight, it’s just reality. Obviously, quarterbacks don’t really play each other, but the quarterback matchup plays as big a role in the outcome of NFL games as the turnover ratio. Passer-rating differential is a telling stat week after week.
It’s a tall order for a young quarterback with barely one pelt on the wall to outplay an accomplished veteran at the game’s most important position. But that’s how the Packers stayed in the hunt back in 2013 when Aaron Rodgers broke a collarbone the first time.
After Matt Flynn rallied the Packers to an overtime tie against Minnesota and Christian Ponder to snap Green Bay’s post-Rodgers losing streak, he later posted heart-stopping one-point victories over Atlanta’s Matt Ryan and Dallas’ Tony Romo to keep the Packers’ season afloat.
Ryan and Romo had directed their teams to a collective seven playoff appearances prior to 2013. The quarterback resumes certainly tilted toward the opponents in those matchups, but Flynn and the Packers found a way.
It’s what Hundley and the 2017 Packers must do now against a Super Bowl champion in Baltimore’s Joe Flacco. Chicago rookie Mitch Trubisky was Hundley’s starting point. Now it gets tougher.
Flacco isn’t playing at a Super Bowl level this season, with 10 interceptions and a 72.7 passer rating through nine games. But he’s a been-there, done-that guy – the only NFL teams Flacco hasn’t beaten are the Packers and Seahawks – giving him a difficult edge to overcome for any young quarterback trying to make his way.
This doesn’t mean Hundley has to play perfect football. Flynn didn’t. He threw an interception in each of those wins over the Falcons and Cowboys, even battling back from a long pick-six against Atlanta.
Flynn had a sturdy running game with Eddie Lacy to rely on, and he took advantage when his own defense took the ball away. The Packers were down 21-10 at halftime against Atlanta and 26-3 against Dallas, but Flynn kept his poise and kept plugging away.
Hundley faces plenty of challenges in this game that have nothing to do with the opposing QB. He’s an Arizona native and UCLA product playing his first true cold-weather game. The expected temperatures in the low 30s might not be all that bad, but if the cold November winds kick up, games change at Lambeau Field.
More critically, Baltimore’s defense is one of the best in the league against the pass. The Ravens lead the league with 13 interceptions and have five different players with two or more. Their opponent passer rating of 69.8 is second in the league, to Jacksonville (65.9), and their opponent completion percentage of 56.7 is also second, to Kansas City (54.8).
“They give you a lot of different looks, a lot of different types of pressures,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said this week. “They force the quarterback to play with a different time clock.”
Hundley will need his running game, which is coming off a 160-yard performance last week in Chicago, and his defense, which kept the Bears out of the end zone until the fourth quarter.
But he’ll also need to keep making progress. Hundley made four ultra-clutch plays in the fourth quarter last week, three big passes to Davante Adams and a key third-down scramble, and the value of late-game execution is immeasurable.
Yet he was so close to having a much bigger game. An early third-down pass to Nelson in the red zone just needed to be tighter to the sideline, and Green Bay’s opening drive might have ended in a touchdown rather than a field goal. Another third-and-short, inside the Chicago 10 to open the second half, got out of sync and he bailed backwards rather than giving himself a legitimate chance to convert.
The latter missed opportunity might have been due to his tight hamstring, just another item on his plate this week in the cold.
The winning feeling was as good as it gets last Sunday for Hundley, and McCarthy was the first to say on Monday the offense left a ton of production out there. Not all of that was on Hundley, but he knows there’s more he can do.
“It’s a learned skill to be able to handle success, so you can’t get too far ahead of yourself,” Hundley said of his first win. “It’s a big confidence booster, but I’m just trying to get better each and every week.
“Last week is in the past. There’s still a lot of football to be played.”
Against better quarterbacks and better opponents. Hundley needed success to start somewhere. Continuing it against these counterparts – Flacco and the Ravens’ defense – would be a significant second step.