Aaron Nagler recaps the Packers' Week 3 preseason game against the Broncos and takes fans questions. (Aug. 27, 2017)
DENVER – Brett Hundley was told to be ready. This third exhibition, a setting usually reserved for regular-season dress rehearsals, was his game.
The Green Bay Packers' backup quarterback would play early Saturday night, and he would play late. When his final drive against the Denver Broncos would come, Hundley said, he didn’t know. But there he was late in the fourth quarter. Ball on the 8-yard line, 92 yards from a game-winning touchdown, with 1 minute, 40 seconds on the clock. No timeouts.
Hundley’s last-ditch drive to preserve the Packers' flawless preseason record fell short, ending with a 20-17 loss to the Broncos, but Saturday night represented the most extensive playing time in any game of his career.
For a team determined to show the NFL what its ascending backup quarterback can do, Hundley’s 3½ quarters made for a successful night. The Packers need to accumulate as much film as they can on Hundley before the regular season begins and he’s tucked away on the sideline, hidden in Aaron Rodgers’ shadow.
“The goal was to play Brett Hundley the whole evening,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “I was trying to make sure I could get Brett as much work as I possible could.”
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As he did the previous week in Washington, Rodgers started Saturday night’s exhibition. With backups rotating at right tackle, the two-time MVP played only two possessions. He was on the field for nine plays, during which the Packers gained 33 yards.
Rodgers’ final play was a sack. Von Miller, the Broncos’ All-Pro pass rusher, beat right tackle Jason Spriggs with a slick spin move to drop Rodgers 11 yards behind the line of scrimmage. When the Packers trotted onto the field for their third drive, starting at the Broncos’ 2-yard line following an interception from safety Kentrell Brice, Hundley was behind center.
McCarthy couldn’t have liked watching Rodgers being pulled to the ground at Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium, but he said the sack didn’t prompt him to remove his quarterback. His plan entering Saturday night was to give his starter two drives, then hand the game to his backup. Taysom Hill, fighting for a potential spot as the Packers' third quarterback, said he was told there might be some snaps for him late in the fourth quarter.
Instead, McCarthy stuck with Hundley until the game ended.
“I was hoping the whole game,” Hundley said. “You always think the third quarter, and then Taysom and Joe would take the rest. But to be able to finish the game was an awesome opportunity.”
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Hundley impressed more with his legs against the Broncos than his arm. His lone extended touchdown drive was set up by his athleticism. On a first-and-four from the Broncos’ 17-yard line, Hundley outran Broncos linebacker Vontarrius Dora to gain eight yards down the right sideline.
Two plays later, the Packers ran a slant-drag combo route from the 6-yard line. When it didn’t open up, Hundley was left without a receiver to target. He showed a slight pump fake, then took off for the end zone.
It was the first rushing touchdown in his preseason career.
“In the NFL, running quarterbacks,” Hundley said, “you’ve sort of got to pick and choose your poison when you’re going to run, and when you’re going to throw it and extend a play. For me to be able to get out there and score a rushing touchdown or use my legs a couple times, it felt good. I hadn’t done it in a while, and it just felt good to get out there and run around a little bit.
“I actually thought I was going to get smacked running into the goal line, but — surprise, surprise — I didn’t.”
For the third week, the Packers' backup offensive line had breakdowns in pass protection. It might have limited what the Packers could accomplish through the air. Hundley was sacked four times Saturday night, bringing his total to nine through three weeks.
At times, Hundley has been slow to release the football during the preseason. The Packers' porous protection certainly hasn’t helped. With a short passing game designed to allow Hundley to get rid of the football, he completed 20 of 30 passes for 186 yards and an 83.6 rating, averaging just 6.2 yards per pass.
“You’ve got to know how to play the game with what is happening in the game,” Hundley said. “So if we need quick passes and just take what the defenses is giving us right away, or scramble and get those checkdowns, that’s what we’ve got to do.”
Ultimately, if the Packers want to showcase Hundley to the rest of the league, they’ll need to highlight his ability to stretch the field vertically with deep throws. There have been few this preseason. Hundley’s longest pass was a 38-yard completion to receiver Jeff Janis down the right sideline in Washington, a stunning throw.
In two of his three exhibitions, Hundley has average fewer than 6.5 yards per pass.
“We haven’t had too many deep shots or stuff like that,” Hundley said. “So that’s something I would love, to be able to just drop back and sling it deep. Right now, we’re sort of quick game, and just getting everybody in rhythm I think is the biggest thing.
“Whatever play is called, we’re running it. We’ve just got to execute.”