GREEN BAY – For the first time on Saturday night, Packers quarterback Brett Hundley will be facing an opponent for the second time.
A lot about the rematch with the Minnesota Vikings will be different, though, and not just the outdoor venue and cold conditions.
“It was a bit of a shock,” Hundley said of getting thrown into his first extended NFL action two months ago at U.S. Bank Stadium after Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone. “Obviously nerves are running high, my heart is about to bust out of my chest.
“Now, I feel comfortable. I feel like I’m playing my game, and I’m just having fun.”
The more experienced Hundley also will have a more stable offensive line in front of him, one that has settled in with four of the expected starters from the beginning of the season, plus second-year pro Jason Spriggs at right tackle.
Back on Oct. 15, the Packers were shuffling linemen in and out all game due to injuries, an issue Minnesota’s defense exploited during much of the second half of a 23-10 decision.
Hundley also could be without his favorite target, though, as receiver Davante Adams hasn’t practiced this week while in the concussion protocol. As he did last week, Geronimo Allison is likely to join Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb in the Packers’ primary three-receiver group.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the Vikings’ defense. A unit that ranks in the top three in the league in most major categories (rushing, passing and total yards, plus first downs and points allowed) will certainly bring its best with Minnesota fighting for a first-round playoff bye and possibly the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC.
The player who gave the Packers the most trouble in the first meeting was safety Harrison Smith, who is surprisingly not on the Pro Bowl roster while three of his defensive teammates are (defensive end Everson Griffen, linebacker Anthony Barr, and cornerback Xavier Rhodes).
Smith was the most dynamic player on the field back in Week 6, charging from the slot as an unblocked blitzer and making plays on the ball in the back end. He was credited with 1½ sacks, one other tackle for loss, plus an acrobatic interception and an additional deflected pass.
“He’s all over the field, and you always have to account for him,” Hundley said of Smith. “We’ll have something where it won’t be like last game, where he’s free running around. We’ll have something.”
As for Barr, whose takedown of Rodgers in the first quarter broke the two-time MVP’s collarbone and changed the landscape of Green Bay’s season, Hundley won’t be going out of his way to test him.
“I don’t have to keep an eye on him,” he said. “I’ll just play my game, and if he’s coming after me, I’ll get down. That’s it.”
With temperatures expected in the teens at kickoff and dropping to single digits through the evening, Hundley will be playing in the coldest game of his career.
The UCLA product believes his previous coldest was at Utah in college, around 30 degrees, give or take. Games this season against Baltimore at Lambeau Field and at Cleveland were in the high 20s.
Any adjustments? “I guess we’ll see,” he said. “You just play. Cold, hot, rain, snow. Do what you’ve gotta do.”
That’s the approach Hundley believes the team as a whole is taking with its own postseason prospects gone. Saturday night won’t be about playing spoiler or avenging Rodgers’ injury. It’ll be about playing the game because it’s both a job and a passion.
“Everybody was raised playing football, loving what they do, and I would imagine everybody in this locker room plays football because they love it,” Hundley said. “No matter the opportunity, we’re still here, and we’re still blessed to be able to play.
“This isn’t a game we’re just going to roll over. We’re giving it our best shot, and that’s the only way we know how to play football.”