GREEN BAY — Eleven years to the day. That’s how long it’d been since the Green Bay Packers had walked out of Lambeau Field — or any stadium — with the same number of points as they’d started the day with.
Back then, Mike McCarthy was a rookie coach whose first Packers team had already been blanked once before — an ignominious head-coaching debut in the regular-season opener against the Chicago Bears. This time, his team had been shut out by the mighty New England Patriots, and he’d lost both his quarterbacks in the process: Future Pro Football Hall of Famer Brett Favre to an elbow injury, and second-year apprentice Aaron Rodgers, who played the second half of the blowout loss on a broken foot after coming on in relief.
Afterward, McCarthy was asked how he felt about Rodgers, who’d seen only mop-up duty in one game earlier that season, and where his confidence was in the 2005 first-round pick.
“Full confidence,” McCarthy replied that day. “He’s got talent; he has ability; he has know-how. When his opportunity comes, I want to put my foot on the gas and go with him. The only thing you don’t know with a quarterback until he gets a chance is if he can lead your offense.”
Fast forward 11 years to Sunday’s 23-0 shutout loss to the Baltimore Ravens at Lambeau Field. Since losing Rodgers to a fractured right collarbone Oct. 15 — with the hope of getting the two-time NFL MVP back off injured reserve sometime next month — McCarthy has expressed similar confidence in Rodgers’ backup, Brett Hundley, as he had in Rodgers way back when.
But if what McCarthy said that day in 2006 is true — that you don’t truly know if a quarterback can lead your offense until he gets a chance — then after 4½ games with Hundley running the show, it’s getting harder and harder to claim that Hundley can do the job.
After making two sensational, Rodgers-esque fourth-quarter throws in last week’s win over the Bears, Hundley couldn’t parlay that performance into a second straight victory. Instead, he made mistake after mistake and wound up turning the ball over four times — three interceptions, one sack-fumble — as the Packers fell to 5-5, and 1-4 without Rodgers.
“Brett Hundley’s our starter. I believe in Brett Hundley,” McCarthy said after watching Hundley complete 21 of 36 passes for 239 yards with no touchdowns, the three interceptions and endure six sacks — for a passer rating of 43.6. “It didn’t go very well, obviously. We understand the standard that’s been set here. We’re all part of it. Brett Hundley’s part of that, too. So we’ll burn the tape.”
As right as McCarthy wound up being about Rodgers, it certainly does not appear Hundley has developed as much as expected since the Packers felt they stole him in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft. For the season, Hundley is now 96 of 158 (60.8 percent) for 940 yards with two touchdowns, seven interceptions and 17 sacks (63.2 rating).
Once again, he struggled to evade pressure he should’ve seen coming, seemed indecisive after getting into a nice rhythm on the ultimately disappointing opening drive, and was part of an offense that turned the ball over on each of its first three possessions — the first time that’s happened since a 1982 win over the Los Angeles Rams, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
“You’ve got to keep consistent as a quarterback. You can’t have that kind of game in Chicago and then come here and have this kind of game,” Hundley said. “It doesn’t work.
“That’s something that I’ve got to learn, and that’s something that I will learn and get better with.”
He’d better do it fast. From their win over the Bears to Rodgers’ unexpected rehabilitation session before their eyes during Wednesday’s practice, the Packers seemed to have an extra spring in their step all week long — and once again, McCarthy spoke after the game about what a wonderful week of practice the team had had.
But against the up-and-down Ravens (5-5), the Packers made too many mistakes and squandered an unusually strong defensive performance. Despite outgaining the Ravens (265-219), picking up more first downs (16-14) and being more effective on third downs (the Packers hit on 31 percent, the Ravens 21 percent), the turnovers undermined the Packers time and time again. Green Bay’s first six possessions ended thusly: Interception, interception, fumble, punt, punt, fourth-down failure.
“You have to take care of the football. That was, offensively, way too much for us to overcome,” McCarthy said. “I thought our defense played very well. I thought our run defense was very good and I thought the adversity defense was very good. So they kept us in striking distance. But we just couldn’t get it going on offense.”
Much of that fell on Hundley. The Packers chalked up his first interception to a terrific play by veteran cornerback Jimmy Smith, who diagnosed the play, dropped his coverage off wide receiver Davante Adams and snared Hundley’s end zone pass for Randall Cobb, who should have been wide open for the touchdown. But Hundley’s second pick was a horrible throw-it-up-for-grabs heave downfield, and the Packers’ next possession ended with rookie running back Devante Mays fumbling on his first NFL carry.
“Early turnovers are definitely not something that you want because it kind of kills the momentum,” said Adams, who caught eight passes for 126 yards. “I feel like you can’t let that type of stuff rattle you the whole game, but it indirectly does sometimes.”
While the Packers were fortunate to only be down 6-0 at halftime, they never seriously threatened. The Ravens took the second-half kickoff and drove for a 21-yard Joe Flacco-to-Mike Wallace touchdown pass, and when McCarthy decided to go for it on fourth-and-6 from Baltimore’s 41-yard line, Hundley rolled to his right and took an 8-yard sack. After that, it was just a matter of whether the Packers would score, and whether McCarthy would go to third-stringer Joe Callahan — something the coach said afterward he never contemplated doing, even as boos rained down.
“We needed more from all three phases, and we’ve got to take part (as an offense). That’s terrible for us not to score any points, especially when we’re at home,” left tackle David Bakhtiari said. “We’ve got to understand where we’re at — we’re at .500 now — and we’ve got to put it together.”