Packers are not done, but must be different with Hundley at helm
With just one hit, the Green Bay Packers' hopes for the 2017 season were put on the shoulders of a largely unknown quantity.
Green Bay's nightmare scenario came to fruition on Sunday whenÂ Aaron Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone as he was bundled to the ground by Minnesota Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr in a 23-10 defeat that dropped them to 4-2 on the season.
The loss of Rodgers cannot be overstated. Along with Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, he is the gold standard of modern-day NFL quarterback play, a man whose mere presence has seen even the most injury-ravagedÂ Packers teams remain contenders, with his remarkable proclivity for HoudiniÂ acts rescuing Green Bay time and again.
Even the most optimistic of estimates gives Rodgers only a slim chance of returning this season and his absence has already led most to write off a Packers team that will now be led by backup Brett Hundley.
Hundley will be unfamiliar to those who are not regular viewersÂ of the questionable spectacle of preseason football or ardent fans of the UCLA Bruins.
But, while it would evidently by foolhardy to expect the 2015 fifth-round pick to fill the chasm left by Rodgers, Hundley's performance in a losing effort provided indicators that a quarterback who led UCLAÂ to a Pac-12 South title and two Bowl Game victories can at least keep them competitive.
Though Rodgers has consistently been able to make an impact with his legs as well as his arm, Hundley is the far superior runner and offers the Packers a legitimate dual-threat option.
His mobility was quickly on show in Minnesota, with Hundley successful in making a number of throws on the run.Â
Rodgers' leadership and composure in the biggest moments, which was on display eight days ago as he led another stunning late game-winning drive to defeat the Dallas Cowboys, will be understandably tough for the inexperienced Hundley to replicate.
However, there was reason to be encouraged by the poise Hundley demonstratedÂ against the Vikings, as he showed aÂ willingness to hang in the pocket and the awareness to know when to step up and avoid the pass rush, doing so on his sole touchdown throw to Davante Adams.
It would be unfair to expect Hundley to be able to reproduce the astonishing feats that have become almost routine to Rodgers, yet he has the arm to push the ball downfield and demonstrated some chemistry with top receiver Jordy Nelson, hitting him on a perfectly timed back shoulder throw to the sideline.
For all the positives in Hundley's showing, a glaring failing that inhibits many young quarterbacks was also evident when he stared down his target on a pass intercepted by Harrison Smith.
Smith took advantage as Hundley failed to scan the field properly and look the safety off.
Now the Packers have quickly made the decision to stick with Hundley rather than bring in a free agent who would have to learn the offense, these are the growing pains they are going to have to live with.
And they will have to do so while losing Rodgers' flair for the unimaginable and an ability to catch defenses off guard mid-substitution that is unmatched throughout the league.
But head coach Mike McCarthy believes the offense can work with Hundley at the helm.
"I have confidence in Brett Hundley, but more importantly it's how it all fits together," McCarthy said in his post-game media conference. "So we're going to have strengths as an offense, we're going to focus on those, look at the matchup of our opponent and then we're going to go get it."
Such forthright confidence may bring ridicule, but McCarthy is right. Hundley has strengths that, utilised by other quarterbacks, have confounded NFL defenses before andÂ which areÂ possessed by a manÂ the Packers have opted not to sign in Colin Kaepernick.
Kaepernick's potency with both arm and legs has tormented the Packers in the past, beating them twice in the play-offs with the San Francisco 49ers. Now McCarthy and the Packers may have to produce a gameplan that would be perfectly tailored to him.
Hundley will never be Aaron Rodgers, but he doesn't have to be. The onus is instead on McCarthy to change the offense into one that has beaten him many times before. The Packers are not done, they just have to be different.