Opposing NFL teams are ready to move in for the kill. They see a wounded animal, they can smell the blood.
Especially within the division, the Lions, Bears, and Vikings are licking their chops. Green Bay, divisional champ five out of the last six years is suddenly vulnerable. Heck, even the Bears are only a game back.
The Packers have had a horrendous year of injuries. The defensive backfield has for the second year in a row been decimated by injuries. The offensive line, normally the healthiest player group, can barely field five guys. And the leader of the Pack, Aaron Rodgers, is down for at least the next two months.
The critics say Green Bay has no one to step in and fill Rodgers’ shoes. Before the Vikings’ game, Brett Hundley’s NFL stat line was three completions in eleven throws for 17 yards – for his career.
Virtually all the prognosticators have dismissed Green Bay as a contender. They’ll never make the postseason. They’ll finish below .500. Their only chance to win another game this year is when they play Cleveland.
So, do the Packers have their adversaries right where they want them?
The Underdog Advantage
Not so fast. Of all the enjoyment we get from following sports, and rooting for our team, is there any more satisfying feeling than watching an underdog rise up, defy the odds, overcome all obstacles, and go on to victory?
You know, like the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, or the “Miracle Mets” of 1969.
In fact, we Green Bay fans have been here before. No one thought the 2010 Packers would make the playoffs, much less advance when they got there. But, against all odds and despite endless injuries, that team of overachievers beat the Steelers and hoisted the Lombardi Trophy.
Want some other precedents? How about the 2001 Patriots. Drew Bledsoe wasn’t getting the job done at QB, so in week 3 the coach brought in a green quarterback, chosen 199th in the draft a year before. Tom Brady swept the team into the playoffs, even getting a bye, and then beating a top-rate opponent, the St. Louis Rams – “The Greatest Show on Turf” – to win Super Bowl 36.
You want more underdog quarterbacks? Kurt Warner worked his way up from the Arena League Iowa Barnstormers in 1995 to the Amsterdam Admirals (yes, the Netherlands) in 1997. He finally got his NFL shot with the St. Louis Rams when Trent Green was lost for the year during the 1999 preseason. Nineteen games later, Warner and his Rams teammates were Super Bowl winners.
How about those 2011 Denver Broncos? After a 1-4 start, fans were clamoring to see quarterback Tim Tebow, a legend in his college days at the U of Florida. The fans got their wish, and Tebow closed out the season with seven wins and four losses, and then prevailed against the Steelers, in typical last-second fashion in the playoffs. The dream finally ended against the Patriots.
Hundley vs. Prescott
If you think Brett Hundley is inexperienced, how about Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott last year? The 2016 fourth-round draft choice came into the league with minimum fanfare. He was supposed to undergo years of development in the shadow of Tony Romo. But Romo fractured a vertebra in week 3 of the preseason, and Prescott found himself under center in week 1 of the regular season. Displaying veteran-like pocket poise and decision making, Prescott led the Cowboys to a 13-3 record, making his team one of the favorites to play in the Super Bowl. As we know, Prescott’s and the Cowboys’ dream season was derailed by the Packers in the playoffs. Prescott, however, was named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Prescott, had zero NFL game experience when he was selected to be the starter, and he only had one preseason under his belt. Hundley has had three preseasons with the Packers, and he’s been mentored all that time by the guy he’s replacing.
What allowed Prescott to astonish everyone? He was given a smart play-calling regimen by his coaches – but it was not of the dink-and-dunk variety: Prescott averaged a healthy 8.0 yards per attempt on the year. Nor was he instructed not to run – the 6’2” 238 pounder rushed for 282 yards in the regular season, averaging 4.9 yards and scoring six touchdowns.
Despite his inexperience, Dak passed for 29 touchdowns while only throwing four interceptions. The rookie finished fourth in the league with his 67.8 completion percentage. Even in the defeat by the Packers, Dak stood tall, completing 24-of-38 for 302 yards, for three touchdowns and one interception, and for a quarterback rating of 103.2.
Hundley is also a deft runner, has an NFL-quality arm, shows exceptional poise, and has made good on-field decisions during his preseason stints. What’s not to like about him?
Backs to the Wall
The Packers are not without talent when reasonably healthy. Earlier in the season they were the top team in a number of power rankings, and going into the Vikings game, Green Bay was ranked the league’s second best team by most power rankers.
The team has indeed rallied around young Hundley. Clay Matthews had this to say last week:
“At first, you can’t help but have this kind of doomsday mentality. When your quarterback goes down, I don’t care if it’s Aaron or anyone else, that’s the thing that makes the team go… If anything, I think it’s put a little bit more focus on every other position, every other guy in this locker room. We’re all behind Brett now, and we’ve all got to pick our game up. It’s going to be tough sledding, but we’re up for the challenge.”
This is a proud team, with their backs to the wall, but their heads up proudly. I’m betting on Hundley, and on Green Bay making the playoffs. After that, anything is possible.