Flynn was a godsend to the Packers in 2013, when they lost their star quarterback to a fractured left collarbone and he missed seven games. Flynn, who’d backed up Rodgers from 2008 to 2011 before signing a lucrative free-agent deal with the Seattle Seahawks, bounced around to the Oakland Raiders and Buffalo Bills before being released just in time for the Packers to pick him up -- and for Flynn to save their season.
Just as they have this year, the Packers lost their first three games after Rodgers’ injury – a 27-20 loss to the Chicago Bears in the game in which Rodgers was injured, followed by a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles with journeyman Seneca Wallace starting and a loss at the New York Giants with Scott Tolzien starting after Wallace suffered a season-ending groin injury against the Eagles.
When Wallace went down, Flynn serendipitously became available, as the Bills cut him that same week. Down 20-7 midway through the third quarter of a home game against the Minnesota Vikings, coach Mike McCarthy replaced Tolzien with Flynn, who responded by rallying the Packers to a 26-26 tie.
Including that tie, the Packers would go 2-2-1 in the five games Flynn played. Rodgers returned for the regular-season finale at Chicago and tossed a fourth-down, fourth-quarter, 48-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb in the final minute to beat the Bears and send the Packers into the postseason.
And it was Flynn who made it possible.
“I remember it vividly. It’s not an easy thing when you lose a guy like [Rodgers],” said ex-Packers guard Josh Sitton, who was on that 2013 team but is now in his second season with Chicago. “When you’re going through things and it’s kind of the same old thing and you’re not getting results, a new face does bring a renewed sense of hope, I guess. Matt did that for us when he came in.
“Anytime you lose a guy like Aaron, you’re not going to be the same team. There’s no question about that. We went through it back in 2013. The guy is a Hall of Famer, probably the most talented quarterback to play the game -- ever. So you’re not going to be able to play your style of football. [So] they have to figure out different ways to do things offensively.”
That’s what the Packers did with Flynn. Despite playing for three different teams after his record-setting performance in the Packers’ 2011 regular-season finale -- with nothing to play for, the Packers sat Rodgers and watched Flynn throw for 480 yards and six touchdowns in a victory over the Detroit Lions -- Flynn remembered enough of the Packers’ playbook when he was thrust into the lineup. His confidence -- and the team’s confidence in him -- grew each week.
“The more games I played, I was feeling a little bit more confident in myself. And from a team perspective, I had such a good, long relationship and had spent so much time with most of those guys, I think that they all had confidence in me,” Flynn recalled during a recent appearance on Wilde & Tausch on ESPN Wisconsin. “And, of course, winning helps everything.”
That’s something the Packers haven’t done since Rodgers’ went down on Oct. 15, when a hit from Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr broke Rodgers’ right collarbone. Four days later, Rodgers had surgery in which screws affixed a metal plate to his collarbone, and he was placed on injured reserve Oct. 20.
Rodgers is eligible to return in time for the Packers’ Dec. 17 game at Carolina, although there’s no guarantee he’ll play again this season, especially if the Packers don’t win some games without him. Rodgers expressed hope that he’ll be able to return late in the season, but he also admitted that it would have to “make sense,” meaning the Packers would still need to be in playoff contention.
“We did just enough during those couple of weeks to keep us afloat,” Flynn recalled. “The feeling that year was, ‘Let’s stay alive and get in this thing, and he will be back.’ It was just a matter of, ‘Man, can we do enough? Can we stay alive? Can we win some games and get in the playoff picture?’”
Unlike 2013, when Wallace and Tolzien joined the team just days before the regular-season opener after training-camp quarterbacks Graham Harrell, B.J. Coleman and Vince Young were all cut, McCarthy has -- as he’s emphasized repeatedly -- invested three years in Hundley, a 2015 fifth-round draft pick from UCLA. So far, though, Hundley hasn’t turned in a winning performance and enters Sunday’s game at Soldier Field having completed 57 of 97 passes (58.8 percent) for 489 yards with one touchdown, four interceptions and eight sacks (58.3 passer rating).
Flynn, who hasn’t taken a regular-season snap in the NFL since spending the 2014 season backing up Rodgers, has watched the Packers closely since leaving football. He can’t tell if Hundley is pressing, but believes he may be struggling with the weight of expectations.
“It’s impossible to replace Aaron Rodgers. That was one of the biggest mental hurdles that I had to overcome. ‘I need to go out here and not try to play like Aaron Rodgers and play the game I can play,’” Flynn said. “Aaron does things that nobody else can do. So there is no reason to go out there and try to imitate him. You’ve got to go out there and play your game.
“It’s a tough thing to do. He gets a chance to go out and show what he can do, which is cool. But he needs to understand, don’t try to mimic Aaron, just play your game. And he will be fine.”
So far, though, Hundley hasn’t been. The Packers are 4-4 with eight games to play, and while there will surely be disappointments in the second half of the season, Hundley doesn’t have to win them all – or do it alone. In 2013, Flynn led come-from-behind victories over the Atlanta Falcons (22-21, erasing a 21-10 halftime deficit) and the Dallas Cowboys (37-36, after trailing 26-3 at halftime).
But the Packers must have the confidence and belief they can win games like that with Hundley, and a win over the Bears on Sunday would certainly help.
“I remember in that Dallas game, there wasn’t anybody hanging their heads,” Flynn remembered. “I just remember looking at the offensive line and I told them, ‘Just believe.’ That’s how confident we were. We come out and first drive [of the second half], we score. You don’t do that unless you have confidence in the people around you and what you’re doing. And I think that was evident through those four, five games that I was playing.”
Editor’s note: Jason Wilde covers the Green Bay Packers for ESPN Wisconsin and hosts Wilde & Tausch with former Packers offensive lineman Mark Tauscher weekdays on ESPN Milwaukee and ESPN Madison.