Dougherty: Unless Aaron Rodgers returns, Packers' season over

Pete Dougherty
Packers News
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Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) yells after walking back to the sideline following  hit by Minnesota Vikings outside linebacker Anthony Barr that broke his collarbone during the first quarter of their game against the Minnesota Vikings Sunday, October 5, 2017 at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn.

Pooof. That very well might be it for the Green Bay Packers’ Super Bowl hopes this season.

The early news on Aaron Rodgers’ injured shoulder is grim. The Packers announced during the game that his broken collarbone might be season-ending. They never, ever say injuries might be season-ending during the game. So that’s a bad sign.

Now, we have to leave open the possibility that they made an exception this time. Maybe they wanted to preempt the self-inflicted, weekly will-he-or-won’t-he-play soap opera they endured in 2013, when he broke the collarbone on his left (non-throwing) side, missed seven games and returned for the regular-season finale and playoffs.

But this time the injury is on his right side, his throwing side. That means the recovery will take longer, maybe a lot longer. There are only 12 weeks from now to the playoff opener. So this looks bad.

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And do we even need to say it? If Rodgers is out for the season, the Packers aren’t coming back to Minneapolis in February to play in the Super Bowl. This is taking Michael Jordan off the Bulls.

If I’m the Packers I’d dismiss the notion of bringing in a quarterback from the outside. They drafted and developed Brett Hundley just for this purpose. They need to give him the team and see what he can do.

If the Packers know Rodgers is done for the season, signing someone else should be a non-starter. What would be the point? Nobody on the street can take this team to the Super Bowl. There probably are only two quarterbacks in the game who could: Rodgers and Tom Brady.

And even if there’s hope Rodgers could return in January, it still doesn’t add up.

Colin Kaepernick is a talented player and put up decent numbers last year with San Francisco (90.4 passer rating, 16 touchdowns and only four interceptions). But he also was 1-10 as a starter. When he won with the 49ers in 2012 and ’13, he had a top-tier defense and a Pro Bowl running back. The Packers decidedly have neither. Maybe Kaepernick is better than Hundley, but maybe he’s not. We don’t know yet. But if he is, it’s not enough to matter. He’d have to carry the Packers, and there’s nothing to suggest he could do that.

Tony Romo? Same thing. He had more talent around him in Dallas than he’d have with the Packers, and he never got past the divisional round of the playoffs even in his prime. He’s 37, has a history of back problems and broken collarbones, basically didn’t play last season (four pass attempts) and now is working as a TV game analyst. He’s a fast-declining player and an injury waiting to happen.

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Really, even in a best-case scenario of Rodgers returning in January, what are the chances a Kaepernick or a Romo could come in cold, with no background in Mike McCarthy’s offense, and get this team to the postseason? I’d say nil.

It’s not like the Packers can change their identity and become a defensive-oriented, run-first team. They don’t have the players. And with all the injuries on the offensive line (the Packers finished this game with three backups in their front five)? Whoever their quarterback, he’s going to have to be a pretty good playmaker for this 4-2 team to finish even .500.

Let’s face it, everything this team does, and everything it hopes to accomplish, depends on Rodgers being on the field.

The only real choice is Hundley. He’s in his third year in the system. McCarthy knows his strengths and weaknesses, and starting this week he can game plan around them. Hundley’s chances of winning are better than anyone the Packers can bring in at this point.

So Sunday the Packers started living their worst nightmare. The guy who makes them a perennial title contender is out for a long while, and probably for the season, though no one’s saying for sure.

Now the Packers are going to find out a lot about the rest of their roster.

It’s going to be rough. Welcome to how most of the NFL lives.

Hundley flashed some playmaking Sunday after Rodgers went down in the first quarter. But he also threw three interceptions and had a tough time moving the ball.

A week of practice as the starter should help, but he has a ways to go. In a similar spot in his third year, Rodgers replaced an injured Brett Favre in Dallas and looked pretty good in a 37-27 loss to a Cowboys team that finished 13-3. Hundley didn’t look like that Sunday.

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And even with three years of NFL experience and an offseason working as the man, Rodgers went only 6-10 in his first season as a starter. So things look bleak for the 2017 Packers.

But as a regular emailer astutely wrote to me Sunday evening, adversity reveals as much as it teaches. Now we’ll find out for real about Hundley’s makeup and skill set, as well as the players around him.

The Packers were early in what had all the signs of a very, very promising season. Rodgers looked like a man on a mission through five weeks. He might have been on his way to another MVP year. And there was some young talent on defense that had a chance to develop and at least make that side of the ball good enough to win a championship.

But Sunday might have dealt that a mortal blow. Odds are, Rodgers is finished for the season, and if that’s the case, so are the Packers. 


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