MINNEAPOLIS — Whether he didn’t want to admit he knew or genuinely didn’t, Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb’s reaction when asked about Aaron Rodgers’ health was likely one that was playing out in the homes of fans all across the country. He almost went through all the various stages of grief from denial to anger to acceptance in the very quick back-and-forth with reporters.
Cobb: “He’s going to do everything he can. I don’t know what the injury is. I haven’t had chance to (check on that).”
Reporter: “It’s a broken collarbone.”
Cobb: “Is that confirmed?”
Cobb: “I don’t know. I’ll never trust sources.”
Reporter: “That was your team.”
Cobb: “Team issued? OK. Well, I don’t know. We’ll have to put the pieces together and see what we can do.”
Like everyone else, Cobb was being forced to think about life without one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. When Minnesota linebacker Anthony Barr drove Rodgers into the ground on the second drive of Sunday’s game it altered not only what played out the rest of the way, but also what the rest of the season can be for a Packers team so dependent on the right arm of No. 12. The news that he broke his right collarbone on the hit and could miss the rest of the year is as debilitating of an injury as any NFL team can suffer.
“He’s the heartbeat of this team,” wide receiver Davonte Adams said. “It runs through him. He’s the best doing it in this game.”
We were treated to the greatness of Rodgers just seven days ago in Dallas, with the two-time NFL MVP leading a game-winning drive that showcased all of what makes him special and what made the Packers so dangerous. But standing inside the visitors locker room Sunday afternoon after a 23-10 loss to Minnesota, that vision of Rodgers screaming, “That’s what we do” over and over again couldn’t seem longer ago. Instead of being asked about how Rodgers makes the impossible happen, teammates were being tasked with figuring out how to move on without their leader.
“It’s devastating. No question about it,” Cobb said. “We still have to play football. We have a long season ahead of us to figure out what we are going to do.”
What they’re going to do is hand the keys of the offense to Brett Hundley. The ridiculous suggestions of coaxing former Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback Tony Romo out of the TV booth were put to rest as soon as coach Mike McCarthy took to the podium after the game.
“Brett Hundley and Joe Callahan are my quarterbacks,” McCarthy said when asked if they’d bring someone in from the outside. “That is what I am focused on. I am not here for any personnel comments or ideas. Brett Hundley and Joe Callahan — that is what we’re going with.”
Hundley, placed in a tough situation against a very good defense and behind a patchwork offensive line, was up and down after replacing Rodgers. He was 18 of 33 for 157 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions, though two of the turnovers came on tipped passes. He didn’t take a single snap with the first-team offense in preparing for the game, and the plan going in wasn’t necessarily suited to his skillset. Both of those will change before he’s under center next Sunday against New Orleans.
“I’ll be better, especially with a week to prepare,” Hundley said. “For the offense, I trust in the offense. I believe in them. I love them. And they know I’m going to give them my best and they’re going to do the same. We’ll be better with a week of preparation. We’ll for sure get some things done.”
But no matter how well prepared Hundley and the team are, we know this won’t be easy to navigate for Green Bay. We saw it play out in 2013 when Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone on his left side and missed seven games. The Packers managed to go just 2-5-1 in his absence, including the game he got hurt, with three different quarterbacks — Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn — getting a start.
While unproven, the team feels better about Hundley now then they did any of those three, but he won’t be playing with a full deck. It’s that uncertainty around him will surely hurt his chances to shine. The running game, outside of the Dallas win, has been non-existent this year. And by the time Sunday’s game was over the Packers were missing three starters along an offensive line that has been juggling bodies all year.
It’s not an ideal situation, but it’s the situation the team finds itself in — having to somehow replace the irreplaceable Rodgers.
“Losing Aaron Rodgers speaks for itself,” McCarthy said. “In my opinion, he is the best player in football, but this is a team game. This is the ultimate team game, and we need to be better with the 11 people on the field that we have regardless of the phase that we’re in. Ultimately that’s my reasonability.”