GREEN BAY — Mike McCarthy said it at his introductory news conference in 2006, and he’s said it over and over again in the 12 years since as the Green Bay Packers’ coach: The biggest challenge — for his program and for his players — is the challenge of handling success.
It seemed like a premature thing for him to say the day he got the job, and it seemed odd he would apply the same philosophy to backup quarterback Brett Hundley, who has certainly had his struggles since taking over for an injured Aaron Rodgers six weeks ago.
But as McCarthy sees it — and as Hundley admits —perhaps the biggest issue has been the way Hundley followed his first real success, a strong fourth-quarter performance in a Nov. 12 victory at Chicago, with arguably his worst performance, a four-turnover debacle in a shutout loss to the Baltimore Ravens the following week.
Now, coming off his best overall performance, having thrown three touchdown passes and registered a sparkling 134.3 passer rating in Sunday’s 31-28 loss at Pittsburgh, it’s reasonable to wonder how Hundley will perform this Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lambeau Field.
“For me, that’s what I’ve tried to maintain, is a constant level of preparation — going into the game, what my thoughts are, how I’m going to play, visualizing it,” Hundley said Wednesday. “I don’t want to be on this up and down roller coaster.
“If you have a bad game, your preparation changes. For me, I just try to be constant each and every week. Every week is a new week, so I’m trying to play my best each week.”
Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter, who has been playing his own backup quarterback (Ryan Fitzpatrick) in recent weeks but announced Wednesday that starter Jameis Winston will return to the lineup Sunday, saw a different player on film against the Steelers than he saw on the previous week’s tape against the Ravens.
“He did play good against Pittsburgh. I thought that was his best game since he’s been starting,” Koetter said in a conference call with Wisconsin reporters Wednesday.
“We’ve been playing our backup quarterback, as well, for the last three weeks. The main thing you want to avoid, no matter who’s playing quarterback, is turnovers. He had three touchdowns and no turnovers. If you have no turnovers in a game, you give your team a chance to win.”
Hundley didn’t turn the ball over against the Steelers, but he still enters the game having completed 113 of 184 passes (61.4 percent) for 1,185 yards with five touchdowns, seven interceptions and 21 sacks (73.3 rating). The Buccaneers entered the week fourth in the league in takeaways (20), including tied for the league lead in fumbles (11).
“I think it’s like anything in this league. You have to handle the highs,” McCarthy said. “I don’t really concern myself when players go through a low. ... These guys are going to respond. They’re always going to respond to challenges. That’s just part of who they are.
“(But) we talked about it last week: Having a little success coming out of Chicago, pushing the envelope a little bit against Baltimore, get yourself in trouble there with the turnovers. I thought he did a great job in how he responded playing against Pittsburgh. We’ve just got to keep moving forward. He has more to give, and we need it.”
At 5-6, the Packers likely have to win their final five games in order to make the playoffs. The earliest Rodgers can return from his broken collarbone is for the team’s Dec. 17 game at Carolina, meaning the Packers need to beat the Buccaneers and the Cleveland Browns on Dec. 10 to give Rodgers a reason to come back and play the final three games if his collarbone is deemed healthy enough.
And for that to happen, Hundley can’t afford to play poorly again.
“Football’s not perfect. Some weeks you’re going to have a great week, some weeks you’re not,” Hundley said. “For me, it’s just staying consistent. I would love to be lights out like that every week — three touchdowns, all that stuff — but I’ve just got to make sure I do what I’m coached to do. Stay within the game plan, don’t make the bad mistakes and just execute.”