Aaron Nagler and Pete Dougherty talk about the Vikings takeover of Lambeau Field and what they saw from some of the young players the Packers played on Saturday night. USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
Saturday night saw a first at Lambeau Field.
Minnesota Vikings defensive end Brian Robison during a timeout, standing inside the Packers’ 10 with about six minutes to play, leading ecstatic Vikings fans at the north end of the stadium in their rhythmic “skol” chant and overhead claps, with more than enough purple in Lambeau’s bowl to make it worthwhile.
How appalling it must have been for everyone in the Packers’ football operations to witness that scene, and later, as the final couple minutes ticked off the clock, nothing but purple lining the seats behind the Vikings’ bench as they wrapped up a 16-0 victory on the Packers’ turf.
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BOX SCORE: Vikings 16, Packers 0
The Vikings came into Lambeau with the NFC North title in hand facing a team that is missing the playoffs for the first time in nine seasons. And the Vikings rubbed the Packers’ nose in it by handing them their second shutout defeat in games Brett Hundley has started this season. The last time the Packers were shut out twice in a season was 2006, Mike McCarthy’s first as coach.
“I thought we’d play much better,” coach Mike McCarthy said.
The Packers no doubt played this game severely shorthanded, starting with Hundley at quarterback for Aaron Rodgers, who’s now on injured reserve with nothing on the line, as well he should be. To have played Rodgers in this game would have been nothing short of irresponsible.
That’s why they were a nine-point underdog for most of the week against a Vikings team that’s now 12-3. Several other injured Packers starters also didn’t suit up: Davante Adams, Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Jahri Evans and Damarious Randall.
So yes, this game in some ways had the feel of a preseason game, with a number of young players getting extra snaps as the Packers begin their offseason evaluations early.
But no matter who did or didn’t play, the Packers simply didn’t have much chance with Hundley (30.2 rating) at quarterback facing probably the best defense in the NFC. He had trouble even getting the Packers past midfield and threw two bad interceptions to safety Harrison Smith, including one in the red zone, his third red-zone interception of the season.
The Packers’ best offense on this night was Hundley scrambling (48 yards on five carries). Nothing much else worked. He completed fewer than half his passes (17-for-40), was victimized by several bad drops, and overthrew all five or so deep shots he took.
“We had opportunities,” McCarthy said. “I don’t know, six, seven drops. You have to handle the football. They handled the ball better than we did. That’s a fundamental. They handled the footing better than we did. Those are fundamental aspects of the game.”
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The offseason evaluations will have to include Hundley, who is 3-5 as a starter in Rodgers’ place. He has shown some temperamental characteristics you want in a quarterback — he doesn’t give up, he’s tough and willing to stand in the pocket and take hits while delivering the ball, and he proved to be poised in close games down the stretch.
But among his eight starts there also were long stretches where the Packers’ offense wasn’t competitive and that keep alive questions whether he can read defenses fast enough to be a No. 2 in the league.
On his killer red-zone interception late in the second quarter, which took points off the board when the Packers were trailing only 10-0, he held the ball too long and then forced a throw to tight end Lance Kendricks, who by that time wasn’t even close to being open.
“Just a bad read,” Hundley said. “I could have got (Kendricks) early, held it, then just misread it.“
There’s no question this game put him in uncommonly difficult circumstances. He played without Adams, lost Jordy Nelson in the first half to a shoulder injury, and had to function with several inexperienced receivers rotating in regularly. But that’s the NFL, and based on what we’ve seen over the past couple months, the Packers at minimum are going to have to draft or sign a quarterback to compete with him for the No. 2 job in the offseason.
The Packers did use this game as a chance to look at some young players who haven’t played much this season. Trevor Davis played regularly, Jeff Janis got a few snaps, and undrafted rookie Michael Clark made his NFL debut.
Same thing on the other side of the ball, where players such as outside linebackers Reggie Gilbert and Vince Biegel as well as cornerback Lenzy Pipkins got their most extensive playing time of the season.
In fact, Clark’s appearance might have been the most anticipated for Packers observers. The former college basketball player who transferred to Marshall to play football for two years (one as a redshirt) flashed eye-catching ability to go up and get jump balls in training camp, and after spending most of the season on the practice squad was promoted to the 53-man roster three weeks ago.
McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson no doubt wanted him under the bright lights to see if he can add some athleticism to their receiving rotation next year as they decide what to do with veterans Nelson and Randall Cobb. Clark’s performance Saturday night suggests he might, though he still needs a lot of refining in the offseason.
He caught three passes (for 36 yards), including a diving, extended 19-yarder. But he also had two drops on back-shoulder throws, including one in the end zone late in the game.
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“He’s going to be a big-time playmaker for us down the road,” Hundley said.
Maybe. Expect him to get another long look next week.
Regardless, the Packers’ season mercifully comes to an end next week.