Rodgers on the mend; uncertainty reigns for Packers

By: 

Gary Seymour, Leader Columnist

With doomsday shock slowly wearing off, the Green Bay Packers and their fans look for reasons to be positive about the remainder of a lost year.

When quarterback Aaron Rodgers was carted off the field Sunday in Minnesota, with him went most reasonable expectations of making the postseason for the ninth straight season, let alone winning the Super Bowl.

Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone after a hit by Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr in the first quarter of the Packers’ 23-10 loss in Minneapolis. He will have surgery, and in the absolute, very-best-case scenario the break will heal quickly and he’ll be available, game-sharp and rust-free, toward the end of the season.

Quarterback injuries are common in the National Football Infirmary, but through the years the Packers have been charmed at this position. Brett Favre was an indestructible freak of nature, and Rodgers’ only other serious injury – also a broken collarbone, during Week 9 of 2013 – was one from which he was able to return and lead the team to a division title.

But four years ago the broken clavicle, which was called a small break, was on his non-throwing side. It would be an inspiration to have Rodgers return this year, but for the time being the Packers will push on with Brett Hundley under center, and fans will re-calibrate their expectations.

After all, there’s only so much you can expect from an unproven backup.

For the hardcore positive thinkers, though, there are a couple of examples to reference, one being the Dallas Cowboys, who not long ago also lost their starter to a broken collarbone. The Cowboys were rudderless without Tony Romo – until Dak Prescott emerged as the better option.

There is no more famous example of a team getting a bounce from a backup QB than the Patriots in 2001. New England lost starter Drew Bledsoe in a Week 2 loss to the Jets. Tom

Brady came on in relief, and Bledsoe became the Wally Pipp of the Eastern Seaboard, as Brady never left the stage.

The Patriots even did well when Brady went out for the year with an injury. New England went 11-5 in 2008 with Matt Cassel at quarterback, though this is slightly deceiving. The Patriots had Randy Moss and almost everyone else back from their 16-0 team the year before, and they had a ridiculously easy schedule in ‘08.

Hundley is an unknown quantity, but he’s mobile, he made some excellent throws last week against a very tough defense, and for three years he’s been the understudy to one of the smartest players in the game.

He’s not Aaron Rodgers, but as coach Mike McCarthy said, he’s the Packers’ quarterback now. If he’s able to lead a victory over the Saints – who come to Lambeau Field this Sunday riding a three-game winning streak – the conversation over the following bye week will be a lot different.

As for the hit that knocked out Rodgers, the Vikings were adamant in their denying that it was anything but a clean tackle. The refs seemed to agree, as no flag was thrown, although replays show that Barr re-adjusted his body angle on the way down to drive Rodgers into the ground with maximum impact. Later in the game the Vikings were whistled for a blindside block that almost took Linzy Pipken’s head off. Animated jawing among the combatants soon followed. Regardless of what’s at stake on Dec. 23, it will be an interesting rematch when the Vikings come to Lambeau.

As for this Sunday, New Orleans is favored by 5.5, but take heart. Underdogs won nine of the 14 games last week. Leaguewide, roster-gutting injuries have rendered this season a question not of who’s good, but who’s going to be good this Sunday.

The Packers’ offensive line is in tatters and the defensive backfield isn’t much better off, but they’re still 4-2. Life goes on after doomsday. A game where the Pack are battling to stay in first place is still required viewing, regardless of whether it’s from the living room or the underground bunker.

Veteran sportswriter Gary Seymour’s column appears weekly in the Leader. He can be contacted at sports@wolfrivermedia.com.