Matt Flynn rebounds from early turnovers
GREEN BAY—All week, the weather report read like an obituary for the Green Bay Packers’ 2013 season.
Quarterbacks with supposed water-gun arms tend to fail in the arctic cold. Yet here in Green Bay, coach Mike McCarthy counted on Matt Flynn, the quarterback banished by three teams—Seattle, Oakland and Buffalo—to rescue the Packers’ season.
If the outside world was panicking, the Packers weren’t. At his locker, tight end Ryan Taylor is deliberate with his words.
“We’ve always known he was tough,” Taylor said. “We always knew he could do it. Nobody in this building ever questioned Matt’s ability. Nobody. I never heard anybody say anything about Matt’s ability. We always knew what he could do.”
On Sunday, Flynn delivered that maddening, ever-elusive Aaron Rodgers-less victory.
Down by double digits, temperatures in single digits, Flynn steered Green Bay to a 22-21 win over the Atlanta Falcons. He completed 75 percent of his passes for 258 yards with one touchdown, one circus interception and a 95.6 passer rating. Offensive performances don’t get any more offensive than last Thanksgiving. For Flynn, for the Packers, it was an embarrassing display of football.
On Sunday, fans booed. The Detroit Lions—in that snow globe of a game out east—held a lead. The season, again, was pushed to the brink.
And Flynn proved to be the backup capable of handling the elements.
“He never raises his voice. He never yells,” Taylor said. “He’s just always very even-keeled. It’s great to have him in the huddle. Whether we’re down, 21-10, or we’re up by one and need a first down to win the game, he’s the same even-keeled guy.”
To date, Flynn’s deep ball had fluttered and fallen short. The reason he has bottomed out elsewhere was magnified at Ford Field. On Sunday, the Packers’ plan was to run the no-huddle and let receivers do damage after the catch underneath and let Flynn take the occasional shot deep.
Eight different players caught a pass for Green Bay. Twelve of Green Bay’s 20 first downs came via the pass. Lacking a rocket arm, Flynn was able to catch Atlanta on one deep out and up to Jordy Nelson for 46 yards. McCarthy even regretted not taking more shots downfield.
The cool, careful, patient approach, however, was effective.
“If they’re backing up, there’s no reason to throw it deep especially in a game like that with weather like that,” Flynn said. “Get it in guys’ hands and let them go to work.”
That was the plan on paper. With Flynn, the benefits are between the ears.
Trailing 21-10, he led field-goal drives of 58 and 68 yards. After Mike Neal’s sack/fumble, Flynn connected with tight end Andrew Quarless for a 2-yard touchdown. Set to run a fly route, a jump ball, Quarless had a feeling Flynn might dare a throw to his back shoulder.
Both guessed right.
Said Quarless, “To show how he bounced back this week shows the character and the toughness of Matt Flynn.”
The feeling of a season slipping away was palpable at Lambeau Field. Fans jeered Flynn and the offense several times—booming, foreign disapproval in this stadium. Taylor admitted this surprised him, saying, “I did not expect that from our fans.” But Flynn was slow pulling the trigger. He stepped into sacks. A zany, deflected interception returned for a touchdown dimmed hopes.
Fullback John Kuhn has known Flynn since the Packers drafted the quarterback in the seventh round in 2008.
The quarterback possessed the personality needed to move the ball in this environment.
“I think if you see Matt, he never gets too up, he never gets too down,” Kuhn said. “He’s just that steady-eddy guy who knows how to facilitate, knows how to lead and knows how to manage the game properly in poor weather.
“He’s unflappable. He’s not going to listen to the criticism. He’s going to take it and flush it.”
Both Taylor and Kuhn note Flynn’s self-confidence. Just a few weeks ago, he was swimming in the NFL abyss of Tuesday workouts. Kuhn said Flynn “is not a negative person,” that he always looks ahead.
After Detroit, he needed to. One week after gaining 126 total yards in a dome, the Packers had 334 in this North Pole climate.
“We got our butts kicked all over the field,” Flynn said of Detroit. “That’s one of those games you just forget about and move on and don’t think about. That’s a tribute to this team, especially this offense, to come out and play like we did today.”
So starting Monday, Rodgers Watch picks up again. It took three quarterbacks over six games and three calendar months, but the Packers won a game.
Flynn proved himself. Of course, the Packers will take Rodgers back in a heartbeat.
“I know he’s itching to get out there,” Flynn said, “and with him out there it obviously gives us our best chance to make this run.”