Matt Flynn knows how bad it looked. He lived it.
“Obviously we have to play better on offense,” the Green Bay Packers backup quarterback said Wednesday. “That was awful.”
Yes, yes it was. And if the Packers have any chance of clinging to their thread of postseason life, Flynn and the offense can’t have a repeat performance Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons at Lambeau Field.
With starter Aaron Rodgers likely to miss his fifth consecutive game with the fractured left collarbone he suffered Nov. 4 – Rodgers underwent x-rays and a CT scan earlier this week and the scan did not result in him being medically cleared for game action, although he did practice Wednesday on a limited basis – Flynn is expected to get the chance to redeem himself after a horrendous Thanksgiving Day showing.
After completing just 10 of 20 passes for 139 yards with no touchdowns, one interception, one lost fumble and seven sacks (including one for a safety) for a passer rating of 51.9 in the Packers’ embarrassing 40-10 loss to the Detroit Lions at Ford Field, Flynn took all the starter’s reps in practice Wednesday – ahead of Scott Tolzien – and is poised to start his second straight game.
And you can bet the Falcons will come in with the same attitude as the Lions had: We dare you to throw the ball.
The days of Rodgers facing constant two-high safety looks while defenses ignored the Packers’ non-threatening run game and focused on stopping the Packers’ aerial attack are on hold. With Tolzien in his two starts and with Flynn now, defenses have stacked the box with eight defenders with the intent of stuffing running back Eddie Lacy, unimpressed with Rodgers’ backups’ ability to throw the ball.
The Packers have not officially ruled Rodgers out, but that word could come as early as Friday. Rodgers said himself Wednesday that being a game-time decision wouldn’t be fair to Flynn.
Because Flynn’s first two starts with the Packers – a gutty performance at New England just before the Packers’ run to Super Bowl XLV took off in 2010, and a record-setting performance in their 2011 regular-season finale with Rodgers serving as the first-half play-caller – were more than solid efforts, the Packers hope he looks more like that guy than he did against the Lions.
Although Falcons coach Mike Smith said in a conference call with Wisconsin reporters that he’s prepping his team to face Rodgers, you can rest assured he’s also conjured up a stop-the-run game-plan for if Flynn gets the call.
“People are going to load the box, we have to make them respect the pass,” Flynn said Wednesday. “We just have to execute. That’s what it comes down to – execution. Obviously, if people are loading the box on you, you’ve got to throw it and make them get out of it.
“I don’t think the mind-set is we have to throw deep. We just have to make them respect the pass, whatever that is. Take what they give us, whether that’s quick throws, deep throws, whatever it is. You have to make people respect the throw again.”
There were times against the Lions when one wondered if Flynn was capable of making the downfield throws that would demand a defense’s respect. He had problems with his right (throwing) elbow during his disappointing stint with the Seattle Seahawks after leaving the Packers as an unrestricted free agent in March 2012, but Flynn insisted Wednesday that the severe tendinitis that plagued him in Seattle and still bothered him in Oakland earlier this year is no longer a factor.
He wouldn’t say that the elbow is tendinitis-free, but he was adamant that there is nothing structurally wrong with his elbow and that suggestions that he might need it surgically repaired – including the possibility of Tommy John reconstructive surgery – were wholly inaccurate.
Instead, Flynn said his greater problem was with his brain. As the offense’s problems intensified – the Packers’ 11 offensive series spanned only 42 plays, garnered only 126 net yards and ended in six punts (including five three-and-outs), two fumbles, an interception, a safety and Mason Crosby’s 54-yard field goal – he found himself doing too much aiming and not enough throwing.
“I think I got into the problem this last week of trying to guide the ball a little too much, instead of letting it cut loose, after so many negative plays and thing like that,” Flynn said. “[I was] trying to be too precise with things, instead of just going out there and playing and cutting loose.”
Packers coach Mike McCarthy, who said his decision to go with Flynn over Tolzien was about Flynn’s greater NFL game experience and experience in the offense after serving as Rodgers’ primary backup from 2008 through 2011, said he saw Flynn struggling with his timing with his receivers, having taken only four snaps with the No. 1 offense leading up to the Nov. 24 tie with Minnesota and last week’s practice schedule being truncated because of the holiday game.
“It’s really the timing that you establish over the long haul between receiver and quarterback,” McCarthy said. “As far as his arm strength, I think he’s fine. It’s more getting in tune with who he’s throwing to, when to throw it, making the protection adjustments, particularly the way defenses have been playing us. I think it’s more of that.”
For instance, with the Packers down 33-10, Flynn had a third-and-11 throw from his own 19-yard line on the opening series of the fourth quarter. While the game was already out of hand, it would have been at least an encouraging sign had he hit wide receiver Jarrett Boykin on a deep post. Instead, the ball seemed to hang in the air too long and Boykin, who initially was open, watched backup cornerback Darius Slay have time to close on the ball and break up the pass at midfield.
“It was kind of one of those things where instead of just trusting it and cutting loose, I was getting too cute with it,” Flynn said.
While Flynn wouldn’t use the minimal prep time as an excuse for his performance, and he deftly sidestepped a question about the makeshift offensive line’s poor protection, he should benefit from the full week of practice.
“Matt was kind of joking today, 'Ah, it's actually kind of nice that we're going to run the plays [in practice] that we're going to run in the game,’” wide receiver Jordy Nelson said. “Obviously, last week all we had was pretty much walkthroughs. He's going to get more and more comfortable. Obviously, he's been here, but being gone a couple years it's still hard. So, he can make the plays that allow us to win games. He's done it in the past. Everyone in the locker room has to stand up and play better football.”
Even with surprisingly good recall of the Packers’ playbook after his time in Seattle, Oakland and Buffalo, Flynn still had only a limited menu of plays and wasn’t always certain of the play he was running.
“I’m definitely looking forward to getting some work in this week and getting some timing down and running a few of the plays I wasn’t as familiar with. But that’s no excuse. I knew where people were supposed to be and I knew the plays we were running,” Flynn said. “[It’s a matter of] just getting time with the receivers, getting timing down with some of the new plays we have here that I haven’t necessarily really run in practice, just getting timing down and getting the communication down with the O-line and the running backs and things like that – all the little things you miss out not being here a while. Just getting back on that rhythm.”
That’s another thing that didn’t happen against the Lions as the offense sputtered. Flynn never seemed to get into a rhythm, whether that was because of the protection problems or because McCarthy was unable to string together a few play calls that consisted of quick throws to get Flynn into a groove.