From the moment last Monday night’s win over the Chicago Bears was complete, the Minnesota Vikings shifted their focus to Aaron Rodgers. For nearly a week they studied his tendencies and his late-game heroics as the Green Bay Packers — leaders in the NFC North — prepared to come to town.
But before the 114th Border Battle even took shape at U.S. Bank Stadium, Rodgers was knocked out — of the game, and potentially the season.
With 6:57 remaining in the first quarter, Anthony Barr brought Rodgers down after the quarterback threw a pass on a rollout toward the right sideline. He laid on the ground momentarily, was helped to the sideline medical tent, then carted off the field.
The diagnosis came quickly: broken collarbone.
The timetable? Possibly season-ending.
Save for a pair of scoring drives aided by Vikings turnovers, the Packers offense led by 24-year-old backup Brett Hundley limped out of U.S. Bank Stadium with little clarity on how they’ll deal with the loss of their franchise’s face.
The 23-10 loss was certainly secondary to the bigger-picture concern for the suddenly-vulnerable Packers.
“It’s devastating, no question about it,” said Packers receiver Randall Cobb.
“Obviously, he’s a great player,” said Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer. “It’s different when he’s not in there. There’s no doubt about it.”
The Packers (4-2) had six first downs and 128 yards in the game before Minnesota’s prevent defense kicked in, bending for eight fruitless first downs and 99 yards before Trae Waynes’ interception sealed the deal.
Hundley’s first three dropbacks were indicative of his day, which ended with a 39.6 passer rating.
Dropback 1: A tipped ball that was intercepted by Xavier Rhodes, leading to a Vikings touchdown.
Dropback 2: A broken play and a 3-yard scramble.
Dropback 3: A third-down sack that led to a Packers punt.
Hundley was sacked four times in the game and threw three interceptions. He’ll definitely face more forgiving defenses than the Vikings’ along the way — and have more time to prepare for them — but the banged-up Packers offensive line no longer has a quarterback with the same eyes-in-the-back-of-his-head pocket presence as Rodgers.
“He was shallow in the pocket in the beginning,” said Everson Griffen of Hundley, “We just stuck to the rush plan, and we got him on the ground a few times.”
Quarterback attrition is running rampant in the NFC North, and the Vikings (4-2) have ostensibly settled into their unfortunate circumstance better than their division foes.
Case Keenum, filling in for the injured Sam Bradford, played in his fifth game on Sunday and earned his third win if you include his marvelous second half against the Bears.
Despite throwing his first interception of the season against the Packers, Keenum has stabilized the Vikings offense as it presses on sans Bradford, Dalvin Cook and Stefon Diggs, who missed his first game of the season Sunday.
Keenum finished the game 24-for-38 with 239 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He is on pace for a career-high in yards per game and currently sports the best touchdown-to-interception ratio of his career (5:1).
Meanwhile, the Bears have attempted to revive their season with rookie Mitchell Trubisky but have very little talent on the roster to support the second overall pick. The Detroit Lions have lost two in a row thanks to a leaky defense and a not-100-percent Matthew Stafford. The Packers have now joined the injury club as they try to fill a gaping void with a former fifth-round pick.
This is deja vu for Green Bay. Rodgers broke his collarbone in 2013, and the Packers went 2-5-1 using Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn at quarterback. Despite Hundley’s strong preseason showings in 2015 and 2017, the Packers have no additional proof that the former UCLA Bruins star is an upgrade from their subpar quarterback play four seasons ago.
“Brett Hundley is my quarterback. Joey Callahan is the backup,” said Packers head coach Mike McCarthy. “That’s the direction we’re going.”
For a Vikings team that might have been a loss at Chicago away from hitting the panic button, they’ve climbed into the division’s driver’s seat by winning two games in six days.
While Minnesota could have its own share of quarterback drama on the horizon with Teddy Bridgewater’s return and Sam Bradford’s recovery, they are at least equipped with options who possess credible NFL track records.
Green Bay, on the other hand, is facing a pivotal intersection.
“I hate to go with the whole ‘next man up’ thing,” said Packers linebacker Clay Matthews, “but we have a lot of next men up right now who are being thrown to the wolves, so we have to weather the storm somehow, get healthy and get better.”