GREEN BAY – The kid better learn how to slide.
That’s not Brett Hundley’s thing. The kid is a football player. He thinks like a football player. Runs like a football player. Three years behind Aaron Rodgers didn’t rewire Hundley’s instincts.
There he was in Sunday’s second quarter, taking off around the left end. Hundley saw traffic between him and the end zone. He could’ve slid at the 3-yard line, no harm done.
A football player doesn’t slide.
“I’ve never been a big sliding quarterback in my career,” Hundley said.
No, Hundley didn’t back down when New Orleans Saints cornerback Ken Crawley met him at the 1. Crawley, merely lowering his left shoulder with minimal effort, surely expected the Green Bay Packers quarterback to go quietly. Instead of sliding, Hundley cut back upfield to finish his 12-yard touchdown run.
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He made Crawley look foolish earning the first Lambeau Leap of his career. Hundley is athletic enough to do that against NFL defenders.
“He got a touchdown,” left tackle David Bakhtiari said. “So I ain’t mad about that.”
But Hundley better learn how to slide. Because with the inaccuracy his arm showed in Sunday’s 26-17 loss, his legs will have to compensate. Hundley is going to run the football a fair amount this season.
And the Packers have seen what happens when their quarterback takes too many hits.
In his starting debut, Hundley showed he’s athletic and poised enough to compete against a team with a Hall of Fame quarterback on their sideline. He also showed he’s too erratic to win with his arm, at least for now.
The third-year quarterback threw half the interceptions Drew Brees tossed Sunday. Hundley also had barely a quarter of Brees’ 331 yards. Hundley completed only 12 of 25 passes for 87 yards, no touchdowns and one interception against a pass defense that ranked among the league’s six worst entering Sunday.
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Coach Mike McCarthy tried to protect his young quarterback after the game. He blamed the passing problems on coaching, not throwing. This was an offense on training wheels, not the dynamic downfield attack a healthy Aaron Rodgers leads each week.
Even still, McCarthy said he sensed his quarterback never found a rhythm.
“That was a challenge that I didn’t meet today,” McCarthy said. “He didn’t get comfortable in the pocket, and that’s my responsibility. I did a poor job coaching.”
Perhaps that’s debatable. McCarthy’s game plan simplified things for Hundley, helping him play clean until the very end. Hundley could’ve been a bull in the china shop, making a mess all over the field. Instead, his lone turnover was an interception on the Packers' final drive, when they had no choice but to throw downfield facing a nine-point deficit on third-and-6 with less than five minutes left.
Poor coaching or not, the numbers showed Hundley did a poor job throwing accurately.
Hundley said he felt “accurate enough.” He wanted a couple throws back, though that’s no different than any quarterback any other week. What was different, this week, was Hundley’s overall completion percentage.
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An NFL quarterback who doesn’t complete 50 percent of his passes can’t win.
“It is difficult,” Hundley said, “just not throwing to them since preseason. But at the same time, they’re big-time receivers. We have timing. I’ve been here for three years, so we have timing. But today we didn’t make the most of it.”
That doesn’t mean the Packers are doomed with Hundley going forward. Given a week to prepare as a starter, there was significant progress since Hundley was dumped into the fire the previous Sunday at Minnesota.
He kept his eyes downfield instead of on the rush. Most beneficial, he had enough awareness to know when to tuck and run and when to hang in the pocket. Those are tools McCarthy might be able to build with.
If a passer isn’t accurate, little else matters.
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Without athleticism, Hundley’s accuracy woes would cripple the offense. It still might anyway, but his legs made plays. It was more than the touchdown. Hundley picked up 44 yards on three carries, with a long of 22. He avoided the rush while extending plays, though his passes weren’t consistently precise on the run.
“It’s all about building chemistry with the quarterback,” Cobb said. “We’ve only had a week to do that. It’s going to be important for us to continue to build confidence in him to throw it to us in different situations. There were opportunities today, Jordy and Davante got on top all day. There were a few inside as well with myself. We’ve just got to continue to build that chemistry with Brett.”
Now they get a bye week. With one start to evaluate, the Packers should have a better idea which direction to take their offense in the Hundley era.
“He made some big, big plays with his feet,” McCarthy said, “and we’ll grow from that.”
Indeed, Hundley better learn to slide.