There is a part of Matt Flynn – and not a small one, rest assured – that isn’t ready to accept that this is his lot in his football life. That this is who he is: A backup quarterback.
“Obviously that’s probably a common thought around the league or whoever is thinking about it, but I hope not. But it’s definitely me right now, for sure,” the Green Bay Packers’ No. 2 quarterback said this week, following the team’s second open organized team activity practice. “Honestly, I consider myself very blessed to even be here. The ups and downs, a lot of people don’t make it through that many teams that fast and stay alive in the league. So I’m excited for that. And I’m glad that the Packers are giving me a second chance at this thing.”
Beneath his laid-back Texan exterior, Flynn has competitive-encoded DNA. It chaps him to no end that his two previous opportunities to be an NFL starter ended in failure – losing out to meteoric phenomenon Russell Wilson in Seattle in 2012, then being traded to the dysfunctional and rebuilding Oakland Raiders before last season, only to be cut in October – and that he was on three rosters (Seattle, Oakland, Buffalo) in a 20-month span following his free-agent departure from Green Bay.
“It’s always hard to put those feelings into words,” Flynn said. “But there’s things that still eat at me, for sure.”
At the same time, though, Flynn can’t help but feel like he’s home again. The Packers went 2-2-1 in the five games he played last season after being signed in desperation on Nov. 12 after Aaron Rodgers’ collarbone injury and veteran backup Seneca Wallace’s groin injury, and the Nov. 24 tie he forged with Minnesota and the one-point victories he helped engineer over Atlanta and Dallas kept the Packers’ season afloat until Rodgers returned for the regular-season finale.
But when Flynn didn’t re-sign with the Packers right away – the team didn’t start efforting on a deal in earnest with him until after the New York Giants had expressed an interest, and the deal became official on April 15 – Rodgers started to worry that his longtime friend and runningmate might not return.
“When it didn’t happen right away I had a little bit of doubt, but I thought he played so well that he might have given himself the opportunity to go elsewhere,” Rodgers said. “Ultimately it’s great to have him here from a friendship standpoint, but I think he has a really good feel about this offense. He’s played well when given the opportunity. That’s what we need in this league. You need a quality backup and it’s great having him [back].”
That’s not to say that Flynn won’t have to earn the backup job behind Rodgers. The organization is also high on No. 3 QB Scott Tolzien, who had an up-and-down three weeks as the Packers’ primary quarterback following Wallace’s injury vs. Philadelphia on Nov. 10 and before being benched in favor of Flynn vs. Minnesota on Nov. 24. The one-year, $968,125 deal Flynn signed included only $75,000 in guaranteed money, which the Packers could easily chalk up to the cost of doing business if they opted to keep only two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster and decided to bet on Tolzien’s potential.
Then again, they could also keep Rodgers, Flynn and Tolzien on the 53-man roster, given that coach Mike McCarthy twice lost his starting quarterback on the opening series of a game last year and was one play away from having to play wide receiver Jordy Nelson at the position.
Whatever happens, both Flynn and Tolzien will benefit from a full offseason in the program. Although both quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt and offensive coordinator Tom Clements said Tolzien stands to gain more this offseason after being signed to the practice squad the week of the regular-season opener last year, Flynn also will be better prepared this year if pressed into duty.
While he was more prepared for action than Wallace or Tolzien because he’d spent four years in the offense from 2008 through 2011, he still had to unlearn three different playbooks from other teams and McCarthy had made changes to the playbook while he was away.
“Matt had obviously a background. When he got back here, we’d changed things around a little bit, but he understood what we were doing, and 95 percent of the time it came back to him,” Clements said. “It’s always good to have an offseason. For him, it’s good just to refresh some things.”
That said, the Packers basically had to revert to their 2011 playbook to get Flynn ready for his first start on Thanksgiving – a disastrous 40-10 blowout loss at Detroit on Thanksgiving – and the mistakes Flynn made (four interceptions, four lost fumbles, 17 sacks) were often the result of not knowing something schematically.
“Last year, coming here midseason, put in a game plan for me was a lot of the old stuff. We didn’t have time for me to go in and learn all the new stuff they put in,” Flynn said. “I picked some stuff up week after week, but it’s just nice to be able to be here. There’s mistakes that I made on the game tape last year, little things – misreading something or not knowing a guy converts (his route) here – that were different from when I was here. And those mistakes cost us a couple times. So it’s nice to be here and getting all the reps.”
Flynn said he never left his offseason home in Louisiana when the Giants asked him to visit, and the deal with the Packers then came together quickly. And while he wanted to return to Green Bay, he also knows that what he did last season guarantees him nothing.
In four-plus games, Flynn completed 102 of 166 passes (61.4 percent) for 1,146 yards with seven touchdowns and four interceptions (86.1 passer rating). His greatest moment came at Dallas, where he matched the biggest comeback in franchise history by completing 26 of 39 passes for 299 yards with four TDs and one INT (113.1) to rally the Packers from a 26-3 halftime deficit.
“I’m approaching it as, I’ve got to play well. I’ve got to earn my spot and make the team, just like I have every year,” Flynn said. “I’ve never gone into a camp where I wasn’t competing in some way or fashion. I’m competing to make the 53, man. But right now, I feel like I’m the No. 2 … but they haven’t really told us anything. We’re just going out there and playing ball.”
And that is when Flynn is happiest. He confessed that his bouncing around had damaged his confidence, and it was coming back to Green Bay that allowed him to rebuild it.
“I’ve always tried to keep a confidence level for myself. [But] last year was hard, at times,” Flynn said. “Coming back here and being able to put some games together – there was a lot of downs as well as there were ups while I was here – but to be able to have those ups and come away with some wins and play what I felt was pretty quality football, it just kind of reassured what I’ve always tried to keep believing. So it was good for me. It was very satisfying and gratifying for me personally – for a lot of reasons. But that’s over now. It’s a clean slate.
“This has been a good place for me and been comfortable for me. So I was glad everything worked out.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today,” and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.