By Marcela Vargas // @ethne88
Minnesota 23 – Green Bay 10
I woke up this morning with a gut feeling that if the Packers beat Minnesota today, the road to claiming the NFC North would be a walk in the park. A few hours later, the game began and it didn’t look too bad for the Packers. True, the team’s injury roster has gotten longer with each passing week, but the presence of amazing rookie players and the optimism that invaded the fans after that Dallas game seemed enough to get us through.
And then quarterback Aaron Rodgers got sacked and injured on Green Bay’s second drive in the first quarter. The shoulder injury turned out to be a collarbone fracture that could keep him off the field anytime from four weeks to the rest of the year. Worst news of the 2017 season.
The good news? Backup QB Brett Hundley stepped up with one touchdown pass to wide receiver Davante Adams. It was a tough evening against a solid Vikings defense, even with good performances by wide receiver Jordy Nelson (six catches for 60 yards), running back Ty Montgomery (10 carries for 28 yards and one almost-TD), rookie running back Aaron Jones (41 yards on 13 carries), and Adams himself (5 grabs and 54 yards). There were standout moments by Green Bay’s defense as well, such as linebacker Clay “Thor” Matthews’ fumble recovery and return for 63 yards.
Sadly, the Vikings ended up beating the Packers 23-10. By the end of the game, Green Bay’s fate seemed sealed for the rest of the season. For the past few years, I’ve been saying that even though I love Rodgers, it scares me how reliant the team is on him. The Packers defense has gotten a bit better over the past couple of seasons, but it still has a long way to go. The same could be said of the offensive line. The Packers have had no trouble on the running and receiving ends, but it isn’t practical to always rely on the one man to pick up a losing game and turn it around during the second half of it.
So, what comes next?
According to head coach Mike McCarthy’s post-game conference, he’s working with one thing in mind: Brett Hundley is Green Bay’s QB, with quarterback Joe Callahan as his backup. For now, his offensive line is lacking three key players due to injuries: Guard Lane Taylor (knee/ankle), tackle Bryan Bulaga (concussion) and tackle David Bahktiari (hamstring). An offensive line hurt like that will always hurt the QB it’s supposed to be protecting. Hundley was sacked four times and threw three interceptions. He’s young and resourceful, but he and the team definitely need to step up. They can’t afford to be seen as a weak team that can’t handle itself without their QB.
McCarthy said it perfectly: “… this is the ultimate team game. We need to be better with the 11 on the field that we have, and ultimately that’s my responsibility”. He needs to show his worth as a strategist, at a time when the fans have doubted his leadership.
There’s no time for the team to lick their wounds. Green Bay is 4-2, tied with the Vikings for NFC North. There is plenty of time to learn from mistakes and take on this humongous challenge. Is NFC North lost? I don’t think so. Green Bay must get back on their feet and show everyone the great team they can be, with or without Aaron Rodgers.
Talk Packers with Marcela on Twitter // @ethne88