GREEN BAY – All the talk about everyone’s confidence in Brett Hundley and the Packers rallying around their new leader is standard fare for the situation Green Bay finds itself in.
But here’s why it actually means something on a Mike McCarthy-coached team.
Back in 2000, when McCarthy was in his first year as offensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints, he lost starting quarterback Jeff Blake to an injury in a game against Oakland.
A young, second-year QB named Aaron Brooks, with whom McCarthy had worked in Green Bay the year before as quarterbacks coach, took over. And, after a close loss to the Raiders, the Saints next had to travel to St. Louis to take on the defending Super Bowl champion Rams.
With McCarthy obviously highly involved in getting Brooks ready for his first NFL start, the Saints did the unthinkable and knocked off the champs. Brooks threw for one touchdown and ran for two others in a 31-24 stunner.
Fast forward 10 years, and McCarthy had to send in a third-year signal caller, Matt Flynn, against Detroit when Aaron Rodgers left with a concussion.
After a disheartening 7-3 loss, the Packers had to travel the following week to New England to face Bill Belichick and the Patriots in prime time with Tom Brady riding a 26-game home winning streak.
McCarthy pulled out his “nobody’s underdog” line during the week, Flynn went out and threw for 251 yards and three TDs, and the Packers’ attempt to shock the league died on fourth down at the New England 15-yard line in a 31-27 decision. McCarthy even started that game with a surprise onside kick, a bold move that likely gave the team a jolt of confidence because the head coach clearly wasn’t holding back.
Even 2013 comes into play, the first time Rodgers broke a collarbone, though the situation isn’t as similar. That year, the Packers had started over at backup quarterback in Week 1, so both Seneca Wallace and Scott Tolzien were learning the Packers’ offense on the fly.
That said, even with Wallace getting injured in the first quarter of the first start without Rodgers, Tolzien could have beaten an Eagles team that went on to win the NFC East. He threw an interception at the goal line that was returned nearly the length of the field, he failed to score after the defense gave him a turnover in the red zone, and the Packers also missed two field goals in a 14-point loss. The opportunities were there.
So with all the right things being said this week as Hundley prepares to take over for Rodgers for the foreseeable future, they aren’t empty thoughts, at least not coming from McCarthy given his experience in these situations.
He knows how to prepare a new quarterback stepping into difficult circumstances, and he knows how to get his team in the right mindset. He mentioned he was “just very honest” with the players in the aftermath of Rodgers’ injury about the task at hand.
“We all have a clear understanding of what Aaron Rodgers means to our football team,” McCarthy said on Friday. “He’s a great football player. The impact he has on our football team, we’re very much in tune with that. But we’re here to win games.
“At the end of the day, we’re focused on winning. Regardless of how we have to play or what direction we need to play, everybody needs to do their job.”
Does all this guarantee the Packers will beat a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Drew Brees with a former fifth-round draft pick making his first NFL start? Of course not. The only guarantee in the NFL is there are no guarantees.
But there are legitimate reasons to believe, and they go beyond Hundley’s talent and all the verbal support being heard for a well-liked and respected teammate, as important as those are.
McCarthy has succeeded as both the teacher and the team leader in these circumstances before, and for however long Hundley is his guy, that’s going to mean even more.
“You go through those times with each and every guy,” McCarthy said, reiterating the impression Hundley made fighting an “uphill climb” to the end in Minnesota last week.
“I like the way he came through it, so hopefully we’re standing here Sunday afternoon saying, ‘Hey, this was his moment, too.’ I feel really good about Brett Hundley and the opportunity he gives us to win.”