Aaron Nagler speaks with Ryan Wood of the Green Bay Press-Gazette to get his takeaways from Mike McCarthy's season-ending press conference. (Jan. 4, 2018) USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
GREEN BAY – It wasn’t what the Green Bay Packers wanted, the sight of quarterback Aaron Rodgers being carted to that visitors' locker room in Minnesota. He is their franchise. Their hope. Any Super Bowl aspirations rest on him.
But if their 2017 season hit some turbulence back in October, there was reason at the time to believe the Packers would come out of it intact. Three years were invested in their backup quarterback. Brett Hundley had two purposes on the 53-man roster: develop into a trade chip for this spring, and keep a contender in contention should the franchise quarterback get injured.
In hindsight, neither goal was accomplished.
No, a team won’t be trading for Hundley to be their starting quarterback this spring, and the Packers' three-year plan — to trade Hundley for a higher draft pick than the fifth-rounder they used in 2015 — fell apart as their contention crumbled. The Packers finished 7-9 and missed the playoffs, wasting another year with Aaron Rodgers because, among other reasons, their backup quarterback didn’t play well enough.
“I felt that he should’ve been better prepared for the situation that he was put into,” McCarthy said Thursday, relaying the message he shared with Hundley this week in their exit interview.
That Rodgers returned Week 15 in Carolina with a chance for the Packers to run the table into the playoffs doesn’t excuse their failure to create enough competition at the backup spot this offseason. Taysom Hill, the undrafted rookie out of BYU, outplayed Hundley throughout August. At the end, Hill was released and eventually found a home in New Orleans, while the Packers clung to Hundley and their three-year plan.
Plenty of blame can be spread for the Packers’ offensive struggles. Edgar Bennett was reassigned from the offensive coordinator position he held the past three seasons, though he remains under contract and McCarthy said he’s hopeful Bennett will remain on his staff, albeit in a lesser capacity.
Hundley has a chance to retain his job in 2018. But entering his fourth season, Hundley faces a different reality than one year ago, when the Packers predetermined he would be No. 2 on their depth chart. McCarthy opened the door for Hundley to face real competition this offseason for the backup quarterback job.
“We need to have the most competitive 90-man roster in the league,” McCarthy said. “I don’t think you can ever have enough quarterbacks. The quarterback is the most important position in the building. You’d like to have four real guys in training camp. I think that’s something that you focus on and try to improve.”
In placing the onus on Hundley for his preparation, McCarthy made it clear his young quarterback did not effectively use his three years learning behind Rodgers.
It didn’t help that Hundley missed most of his second preseason with an injury, a critical time in his development. Regardless, McCarthy asserted Hundley should’ve been more ready when he was unexpectedly thrust into the huddle.
Of course, the head coach could assume some blame for Hundley’s lack of development. And if Hundley was unprepared, the Packers misjudged his readiness. Immediately following Rodgers’ broken collarbone, McCarthy never publicly allowed any notion the Packers might search outside their roster for a replacement. He emphatically supported Hundley, pointing to his backup’s three years in the system as reason to believe he was the only choice to be the Packers' interim starter.
As the weeks went by, it became clearer Hundley could not produce enough big plays or consistency to give the Packers a chance to beat even average competition. Their three wins came against Chicago, Tampa Bay and Cleveland, teams that finished 2017 with a combined 10-38 record. They needed overtime on the road to beat the winless Browns, only the second team in NFL history to finish a season 0-16.
With Hundley at quarterback, the Packers lost all seven games against opponents with a winning record, and were outscored by more than 100 points (184-83) in those losses. The worst might not have come until last. After the Vikings handed them their second shutout in three home games, the Packers mustered only 11 points in a blowout loss at Detroit.
Yet McCarthy softened his public analysis of Hundley’s performance this season, saying he improved after getting the starter’s share of practice reps.
“Once he got the opportunity,” McCarthy said, “I thought he did a heck of a job. I thought he really improved. So you can see with the reps and the primary attention and all the things that when he got his opportunity he really maxed it out.”
In regard to the Packers' final two games, McCarthy reiterated what he said after each, that there was plenty of blame to share. Particularly, McCarthy said teammates made things even harder for his quarterback.
“I’m not making excuses,” McCarthy said, “but I don’t know if I’ve ever coached an offensive game where we had 13 drops in two games.”
Drops alone couldn’t account for Hundley’s poor production. Among qualified quarterbacks, Hundley ranked 30th in the NFL with a 70.6 passer rating, 31st with 5.81 yards per pass, and 32nd with 167 passing yards per game. With nine touchdowns and 12 interceptions, Hundley was one of four quarterbacks who started at least half the season and ended with more interceptions than touchdowns, joining Cleveland rookie DeShone Kizer (11-22), Denver’s Trevor Siemian (12-14) and Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota (13-15).
McCarthy said Hundley did “a lot of good things” this season. Clearly, they didn’t contribute to winning. Through the upcoming offseason, Hundley will be fighting for his future in the league.
“You have to look at the whole pictures,” McCarthy said. “He’s running an offense. It isn’t like we cut everything back and played bland football. A lot of good things to learn from, he’ll improve from it. I look for him to have a great offseason.”
Aaron Nagler hosts a Facebook Live session with readers to discuss Mike McCarthy's season-ending news conference and take questions on the Packers. (Jan. 4, 2018) Aaron Nagler | USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin