Green Bay Packers quarterback Matt Flynn runs during the second half of Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings. / AP
The bottom line is there wasn’t a bottom line at Lambeau Field on Sunday.
The Green Bay Packers changed quarterbacks yet again, this time by coach’s decision, and rallied from a 16-point fourth-quarter deficit. But in the end, they were left a little bewildered and more down than up after missing a chance to put away the game in overtime and finishing in a 26-26 tie with the Minnesota Vikings.
After the game, the Packers seemed to have trouble determining whether the tie helped them in an NFC North Division race that saw Detroit and Chicago lose, leaving both 6-5, while the Packers picked up a half-game at 5-5-1. About the only thing Sunday determined was that if Aaron Rodgers doesn’t return from his broken collarbone for Thursday’s game at Detroit, Matt Flynn probably will be their starting quarterback after Scott Tolzien put up only seven points in seven series before being replaced.
“It’s an empty feeling,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “You go out there and you didn’t lose the game, but you feel like you didn’t really accomplish what you set out to do. The reality is it’s tagged on at the end of your record. We’re 5-5-1. We’re aware of what went on in the division today.”
Unlike three weeks ago against Chicago, when he announced at his postgame press conference that Tolzien would start the next game, McCarthy was mum about his starter for Thursday. Flynn and Tolzien said they had no indication either. McCarthy, though, said his coaching staff would grade the game film as soon as he finished his postgame press conference and suggested he’d have a decision not long after.
But it seems a given McCarthy will go with Flynn, assuming Rodgers won’t be ready to play 3½ weeks after sustaining his injury. Flynn put up more points than Tolzien (19 to 7), moved the team better (21-for-36 passing to Tolzien’s 7-for-17) and because of his four seasons with the Packers from 2008-11 allowed McCarthy to operate in his no-huddle offense, which is the coach’s preferred tactic when Rodgers plays.
“I spent four years here, I grew so much in those first four years as a quarterback,” Flynn said. “I just feel so comfortable in this offense, comfortable with the guys here. It did seem kind of like old times a little bit. But there’s some things that, I kind of got the play call and wasn’t exactly sure where people were going to be.”
Said guard Josh Sitton: “We love running the no-huddle offense, it tires the defense out. You just get up there and get to the line and pick your best play based on their defense, and they’re not able to sub guys.”
Still, even after the fourth-quarter comeback, the Packers are winless since Rodgers’ injury on the first series against the Bears on Nov. 4. Facing a Vikings team that came in with a 2-8 record and enduring a weekly melodrama because of poor play at quarterback, the Packers failed on a great chance for a win that would have given them part of a three-way tie for first place in the division with five games to play.
The day started well when Tolzien led a touchdown drive on his second series. His 6-yard, get-it-done-any-way-necessary scramble for the score looked like it might lift the team to its best performance without Rodgers. But after that, he failed to move the team.
If Tolzien (60.4 rating) avoided the big mistake Sunday (zero interceptions) after throwing five interceptions the last two games combined, he also didn’t hit any of his throws downfield after the touchdown drive. More importantly, he was off target on a couple of shorter throws that would have kept drives alive and had a pass knocked down at the line of scrimmage.
“Missed some throws,” Tolzien said in summing up the difference between Sunday and his previous two games.
Flynn’s been with the team only two weeks this season and said he had four snaps with the No. 1 offense in practice last week, though he and McCarthy had 2008-11 to fall back on. So when Flynn took the field for his second series, the Packers were down 23-7 early in the fourth quarter and went to the no-huddle, presumably mainly to save time. Flynn led two touchdown drives, a drive for the game-tying field goal with 46 seconds left, and then a drive for a field goal on the first possession of overtime.
“It was the right time,” Tolzien said of the quarterback change. “Matt did an awesome job. That’s not an easy situation. He came in, and the season’s really on the line at that point. Got in a rhythm, got the offense in a rhythm, and I thought he did a real awesome job.”
So coming back and getting the tie might have saved the Packers’ season if nine victories ends up winning the NFC North — a 9-6-1 record beats 9-7. But if it takes 10 wins for the division title and the Packers finish with only nine, they’ll look back at this as the game that cost them a playoff berth, assuming it also takes 10 wins to get one of the two wild-card berths.
The Packers’ best chance for the win was in overtime, when from second-and-goal from the 3 they were unable to get the touchdown that would have ended the game. Halfback Eddie Lacy, who rumbled for an impressive 110 yards on 25 carries, picked up only one yard on second down. Then on third down, Flynn overthrew Jordy Nelson on a fade route to the back right corner of the end zone.
“We haven’t handled Aaron Rodgers’ departure,” McCarthy said. “I haven’t talked about it on purpose; that hasn’t worked, and we all need to step up as a football team and take advantage of these opportunities. We let one, not get away from us, I don’t want to discredit Minnesota. We’re a peak-and-valley football team right now.”
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @PeteDougherty.