Did the Green Bay Packers attend their own funeral on Monday night? It sure felt that way.
The 15 days leading up to the Week 9 game against the Detroit Lions appeared to be the triage, hospital stay and rehabilitation that the Brett Hundley-led Packers needed. Sure, they’d fallen hard when Aaron Rodgers got hurt, and they made things worse when Hundley was asked to take over.
The two teams — with and without Rodgers — looked completely different. We’re not just talking the movements of Hundley or flight of the passes thrown; the whole operation felt broken. Would it be fixed? Those 15 days were for that purpose alone.
The Packers entered Monday’s game at 4-3 and 1-1 in the division. Ahead of them laid games against the Lions (two) and Minnesota Vikings, the teams they were elbowing for the division. For every tough upcoming game, like the one at the Pittsburgh Steelers, there were cupcakes to be eaten, such as those against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cleveland Browns.
This felt doable. Hope was still alive.
But hope was all but pronounced dead by 10 p.m. as the Packers trailed in the waning seconds by 20 at Lambeau Field, unable to slow down Matthew Stafford or do anything in the way of matching him on the other side of the field with Hundley. A late Packers touchdown felt like the final touches of the embalming process. We knew what we saw.
The Packers technically remain on life support by virtue of their record of 4-4, which remains one game above that of their Week 10 opponent, the Chicago Bears, who sit at 3-5 coming off their bye. The Packers have not been mathematically eliminated from anything yet.
But the fact that the Bears were favored by a field goal (even prior to the Packers’ loss to the Lions) says quite a bit. The Packers were favored in 20 of the previous 21 head-to-head matchups, all games started by Rodgers. In an ugly Week 4 battle between the teams, the Packers were favored by 7.5 points and easily eclipsed that in a 35-14 thrashing, despite not having several starters for the game and losing two more to injury during it.
That game gave the Packers the lead in the all-time series between the teams (95-94-6) for the first time since 1933. The Bears can even it back up. The Rodgers injury might have taken the Packers’ heart.
This is not completely fair to Hundley, on whom the bulk of the blame is being placed. His limitations surely were evident in the Packers’ third straight loss Monday, all of which were finished by the backup QB after Rodgers suffered his broken collarbone against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 7.
The Packers had the bye week to construct an offensive design that better suited the skill set of Hundley. If that was the case, then the look of it was quite telling. According to ESPN Milwaukee’s Jason Wilde, 13 of the Packers’ 18 first-half passes against the Lions traveled 5 yards or shorter downfield. Eight of them were thrown behind the line of scrimmage. Seven of his first eight passes were no farther than 1 yard past the line.
This is what those 15 days of game prep got us.
It wasn’t until the Packers were in desperate catch-up mode that they finally stretched the field against the Lions. That says a lot going forward. A team with Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Randall Cobb at receiver and its offensive line finally intact after a season of injuries appeared unwilling to push the ball downfield when games are close.
And yet head coach Mike McCarthy still believes in his team’s post-Rodgers chances going forward.
"Brett Hundley played better tonight, and I have great faith in Brett Hundley," McCarthy said. "Brett Hundley is not our issue.
"I believe in Brett, and that's not just the press conference statement. He's got what it takes. He has it in his body, has it in his mind, and he definitely has the heart. So I believe in him."
McCarthy does have one point: It’s not just about the performance of the passing game. Certainly, the lack of downfield explosion has affected the run game, and a change in QB also has affected the way the Packers pass block — especially when it comes to feel for the scramble rules and when Hundley is trying to extend plays. The commitment to the run must be questioned, and Adams also could have hauled in an early long pass from Hundley against the Lions that might have helped.
"It's this close — the catch to Davante, stuff like that, and it's just that small window of opportunity," Hundley said. "And we've got to close that gap."
However, it also seems to have affected the defense, which has made a handful of big plays the past three games but consistently has been far too giving. They were dissected in the second half of the home loss to the New Orleans Saints and consistently gutted throughout by the Lions, despite Detroit's red-zone and run-game shortcomings. On Monday, the Lions did not punt — eight possessions, six scores — for the first time in one of their games since 1971.
This bodes extremely well for the Bears in this matchup as they try to get Mitchell Trubisky into a groove and come to Soldier Field armed with a defense that suddenly looks imposing under the fine work of coordinator Vic Fangio. Over the past three games, the Bears have forced eight turnovers and scored three defensive touchdowns. Defensive lineman Akiem Hicks (career-high seven sacks in only eight games) is dominating, and he will have more chances to feed after Packers right tackle Bryan Bulaga suffered yet another torn ACL in the Lions loss.
Since Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon ripped off a 58-yard TD run against the Bears in Trubisky’s first start in Week 5, Chicago has allowed two offensive touchdowns — both to the Saints — in 39 offensive drives. They also have given up six field-goal drives, but three of those came on short fields: drives of 20, 26 and 26 yards. On seven of those drives, Bears opponents have gained zero yards or lost yardage.
Of the Packers’ 28 offensive drives with Hundley under center, 19 of them traveled 20 yards or fewer (one resulted in a touchdown off a Vikings turnover). Hundley has been picked four times in that stretch, and the Packers have missed two field goals. Their margin of error has become razor-thin.
"[Hundley has] got what it takes," McCarthy said. "He has it in his body, has it in his mind and he definitely has the heart. So I believe in him."
But does McCarthy believe in the rest of his team? You could say that a rivalry game this Sunday might bear some answers to that. The evidence, however, suggests that the Packers might have little left in the tank in most facets even before we get there.