Packers putting blind faith in new starting QB Brett Hundley
GREEN BAY – He couldn’t believe his number was being called. Who could blame him? For more than two seasons, Brett Hundley watched Aaron Rodgers scramble outside the pocket, take hits from linebackers and pop back up. Sometimes, the Green Bay Packers quarterback would linger on the ground a little longer, need an extra moment to compose himself.
But, always, Rodgers got back up.
So Hundley watched from the sideline Sunday as Rodgers laid on his back, expecting this hit would be no different. Then Rodgers, still jawing at Minnesota Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr, started walking off the field. He was soon carted to the locker room. With no warning, Hundley was staring at an opportunity he’d waited for since the former Heisman Trophy hopeful fell to the fifth round of the 2015 draft.
Welcome to the NFL, kid. Go convert a third-and-9 with 66,000 people screaming at you.
“It’s difficult,” Hundley said. “Obviously, you prepare as a starter every week, but it’s different when you’re actually going in there. Sometimes Aaron gets nicked, and he’ll be slow to get up, and then you’re like, ‘All right.’ This time it happens, and you’re like, ‘All right, he’s going to get up.’ Then he doesn’t, and so many things start racing through your head, and you’ve got to go convert a third down.
“There’s a lot. So you just have to be ready.”
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The Packers believe Hundley is ready. Of course, they don’t know if he is. “I think you never know,” coach Mike McCarthy said. In the wake of Rodgers’ likely season-ending broken collarbone, they’ll cling to that belief.
Their belief is blind entering Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Saints. It’s built from watching Hundley behind the scenes for more than two years. Teammates laud Hundley’s competitiveness. McCarthy appreciates his young quarterback’s command.
Skeptics point out the obvious: The kid is not Aaron Rodgers.
From fans to pundits to oddsmakers, many already have written off the Packers' season. Inside Lambeau Field, the doubters are ignored. Yes, the Packers know their two-time MVP cannot be replaced.
Nobody inside their locker room Wednesday was willing to quit on their season.
“Our goals haven't changed,” Hundley said, “and they won't. Everything is in front of us, and we can still go to where we want to go to. Everybody loves '12,' but our goals are the same.”
Or as McCarthy put it: “I feel really good about Brett Hundley, and the opportunity he gives us to win.”
The Packers believe because this is not 2013.
When Rodgers went down with a broken left collarbone midway through that season, none of the Packers' backups had started training camp on their roster. Seneca Wallace, the Packers' top backup, was added after final cuts. Scott Tolzien was signed to the practice squad one day earlier. They had nine weeks — and no offseason — to learn McCarthy’s system.
Hundley has spent the past 128 weeks — and three offseasons — with the Packers. Enough time to impress teammates, even if most of those weeks were spent in the obscurity of being Aaron Rodgers' backup.
“He’s inquisitive,” left tackle David Bakhtiari said. “He asks the right questions. He’s been studying under Aaron, so there’s a lot of things he picked up on that Aaron does. His confidence is definitely high, and he definitely commands a very cool attitude, which is definitely what you want in a quarterback. You don’t want a quarterback so uneasy that can’t even stumble out the words of a play call.
“When that whole thing here was going down (in 2013), we had three different quarterbacks here under center. There were times where they couldn’t even get out the full play. I mean, that isn’t always the best situation that you want. So for (Hundley), he’s been in the system for a while. He’s definitely comfortable.”
The Packers believe because there were glimpses Sunday that Hundley can make plays that keep the offense moving and, as an extension, the team competitive.
They weren’t easy to see behind Hundley’s three interceptions and 39.6 passer rating. No, McCarthy knows, those numbers did not overwhelm anyone. As the game progressed, McCarthy said, he thought Hundley played better.
There was the back-shoulder throw to Jordy Nelson, a 26-yard pass that could’ve come from Rodgers. There was the 14-yard touchdown to Davante Adams — should’ve been two touchdowns, if not for Ty Montgomery’s drop — when Hundley stepped up in the pocket to avoid the rush, scanned downfield as he extended the play and found his receiver open to the left.
Improvisation is a staple of the Packers' offense.
Adams’ touchdown was improvisation at its finest.
“For me, it was just running my routes,” Adams said. “It didn’t come on time, so he stepped up and made a great play. That’s a veteran type play to step up in the pocket like that, and still keep your eyes downfield. He threw a great ball.”
The Packers believe because they know a quarterback can’t overcome this challenge without confidence, and Hundley has more than he should at this point in his career. He’d never played a meaningful snap in the regular season before Sunday, but Hundley has been known to compete fiercely against Rodgers in practice.
Teammates roll their eyes — “It’s like, ‘Dude, relax,’” Bakhtiari said endearingly — but that self-belief comes in handy when the pocket is closing around you.
Hundley showed more of his blind confidence Wednesday. At his locker, the Packers' new quarterback was asked why he’s so sure his team’s goals are still attainable. He hasn’t started a game in his NFL career, but Hundley let slip what he’s been thinking all these weeks behind Rodgers.
“Aaron's a Hall of Famer,” Hundley said, “and I want to be a Hall of Famer one day. I will lead this team. We're all going to have fun, we're all going to go out there and play football. It's still football at the end of the day, and our goals are still in front of us.”