So, this is what it feels like.
This is what it feels like to be the Chicago Bears, starting 21 different quarterbacks – including such luminaries as Peter Tom Willis, Will Furrer, Craig Krenzel and Moses Moreno – during the Brett Favre era. This is what it feels like to be the Minnesota Vikings, trotting Gus Frerotte or Kelly Holcomb or Brooks Bollinger or Todd Bouman or Spergon Wynn or Joe Webb – all of whom have started at least one game for them since 2000 – out there and hoping to win anyway.
This is what it feels like today to be the Cleveland Browns trying to win with Brandon Weeden, or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers trying to win with Mike Glennon, or the Jacksonville Jaguars trying to win with, well, whoever they put at quarterback, not that it matters
And, if you’re old enough to remember the Bart Starr, Forrest Gregg and Lindy Infante coaching eras, you are painfully aware that this is what it feels like with David Whitehurst or Randy Wright or Anthony Dilweg or Blair Kiel or Mike Tomczak.
Yes, the Green Bay Packers and their fans are finding out how the other half of the NFL lives. Welcome to what it feels like to not greatness under center – or in the shotgun – week after week after week for two decades.
Sunday’s 27-13 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles at Lambeau Field made that reality perfectly clear. God bless ex-University of Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien, who played valiantly for a guy who arrived in town on Sept. 2, had been on the practice squad until Wednesday, took over for an injured Seneca Wallace (groin) after one series and, you know, hadn’t thrown an NFL regular-season pass in his life.
But the truth of the matter was that Tolzien’s performance, which was praised up and down by coach Mike McCarthy afterward, came with caveats like all things considered and relatively speaking.
Well, all things considered and relatively speaking, it’s pretty clear that the dude sporting the bad Movember mustache and Packers army green Salute to Service hoodie on the home sideline – injured quarterback Aaron Rodgers – really does make a difference.
“I think we all know how good Aaron is,” guard Josh Sitton said. “The offense revolves around the guy – from the pass game to the run game. That’s the type of offense we’ve turned into: Get out there, let him make adjustments and roll. We all know that. But there’s nothing any of us can do about it. Just keep playing and try to stay positive.”
Sitton repeated several times that all is not lost. And he meant it.
But how many times has the defense failed to hold up its end of the bargain – like it did Sunday – and the Packers won anyway? How many times has the field-goal kicker missed a pair of kicks – like he did Sunday – and the Packers won anyway? How many times did the medical staff have to treat a plethora of injuries – like it did Sunday – and the Packers won anyway? And how many times has the running game not been productive enough – which it wasn’t Sunday, despite its evolution into a legitimate threat in McCarthy’s pass-first, quarterback-oriented offense – and the Packers won anyway?
“I’m sure everybody around here is (spoiled),” inside linebacker A.J. Hawk said. “Of course, when you have a guy like Aaron, (and) I played with Brett for two years … When you have a stud quarterback like that, it covers up for a lot of mistakes you make as a defense.
“I don’t think we as players take that for granted, but I’m sure some people do – his greatness. We’ve seen it for so long.”
Indeed they have. For 278 straight games, including playoffs, the Packers had Favre at quarterback, as he never missed a game after taking over for an injured Don Majkowski on Sept. 20, 1992. They went 160-93 in those 253 regular-season games and 12-10 in their 22 postseason games, including a Super Bowl XXXI title.
For 94 of the previous 96 games, including playoffs, the Packers had had Rodgers at quarterback, right up until last Monday night, when he fractured his left collarbone at the end of the first offensive possession of the game. They are 57-29 in those 86 regular-season games and 5-3 in their eight postseason games, including a Super Bowl XLV title.
Before Sunday, only twice – in 2010 at New England, when Matt Flynn started with Rodgers out with a concussion, and 2011 against Detroit, when Flynn started and Rodgers played offensive coordinator in the meaningless regular-season finale – had someone started at quarterback other than Favre or Rodgers since the Majik Man went down.
And now, six days after Rodgers’ was crushed by Chicago’s Shea McClellin, the Packers have lost back-to-back home games for the first time since 2008, have watched a four-game winning streak morph into a two-game losing skid and know their season is teetering on the brink with seven games left in it.
In addition, with McCarthy’s announcement that Tolzien will start next Sunday against the New York Giants, they will start three different quarterbacks in the same season for the first time since 1991 and three different QBs in three consecutive games for the first time since the since the start of the 1987 season, when Wright started the opener, Majkowski started in Week 2 and replacement player Alan Risher started in the team’s first game of the infamous players strike.
Tolzien took over after Wallace completed all five of his passes during the opening drive, which ended in Mason Crosby’s 53-yard field-goal attempt clanking off the right upright. On the ensuing possession, the Eagles took a 7-0 lead when Eagles quarterback Nick Foles threw deep to DeSean Jackson into double coverage – and the ball bounced off cornerback Tramon Williams and past safety Morgan Burnett into the waiting arms of Jackson for a 45-yard touchdown.
The Packers went three-and-out on Tolzien’s first series, but after the defense forced a punt, Tolzien marched the Packers from their own 4-yard line to the Philadelphia 5-yard line, a 91-yard drive that began with a heavy dose of Eddie Lacy (four carries for 14 yards to start the possession), included a 36-yard Tolzien-to-Jarrett Boykin strike and stayed alive with a fourth-and-1 conversion by fullback John Kuhn.
But the drive ended with Tolzien trying to get the ball to Jordy Nelson on a quick out to the left in the end zone, where cornerback Brandon Boykin jumped the route and intercepted it. While the Eagles didn’t score after his 76-yard return, it was the kind of mistake Rodgers, with 50 career INTs, very rarely has made.
“I thought Scott Tolzien played as well as could be expected. He had just the one throw down in the end zone he probably wishes he had that one back, but other than that he did a lot of good things,” McCarthy said of Tolzien, who finished the game having completed 24 of 39 passes for 280 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions, one sack and a 70.5 quarterback rating.
McCarthy then went on to name Tolzien the starter for next week – he wouldn’t say whether Wallace’s injury was in any way a factor in the decision – before taking exception with the suggestion that the team has to rally around its fill-in quarterback.
“I understand the importance of the quarterback position, but it was important for everybody to go out and do their job today and play the best that they can and do the little things,” McCarthy said. “That’s really what we tried to stress as a football team going into it: ‘Everybody just needs to do their job and do it the best they can, and we would win the game.’ And I felt that in my heart. And if we would have been able to accomplish that, I think we would have gotten that done.
“The quarterback’s a very important position, but there’s men that play quarterback, there’s a group of people that coach the quarterback and we’ll make sure that quarterback’s ready. Yes, it’s unusual. I’ve never lost the quarterback after the first series two weeks in a row. It’s an unusual situation. But there was plenty of production offensively to give our team a chance. We need to just focus on our jobs. “Everyone needs to take a harder look – which I thought we did this week inside – and we need to do our jobs better. And it starts with me because I didn’t get it done today. I full expected to win that game regardless of what happened. We had a lot of guys go down. I mean, we had a lot of guys go down.”
That they did. After losing Wallace, the Packers lost center Evan Dietrich-Smith to a knee injury, nickel cornerback Casey Hayward to a hamstring injury, right tackle-turned-right guard Don Barclay to a knee injury, defensive end Johnny Jolly to a groin injury and outside linebacker Nick Perry to a foot injury. Only Jolly was able to return to the game.
Dietrich-Smith’s injury meant moving right guard T.J. Lang, who’d barely practiced all week after suffering a concussion against Chicago, to center, Barclay to right guard and bringing Marshall Newhouse off the bench. When Barclay went down in the second half, undrafted rookie Lane Taylor came off the bench and the Packers were out of offensive linemen.
“I feel stupid saying it, but of course we’re going to keep fighting,” Hawk said of all the adversity the team is facing. “We’re 5-4 now, and I’m sure everybody is writing us off. Which is fine. I don’t care what’s happening around us. Sometimes through adversity teams band together. Look at (the movie) Miracle. (about the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team). When they hated the coach (Herb Brooks), they banded together.
“So maybe with the craziness going on around us and people not giving us a chance, who knows? We’ve done that in the past. Hopefully we come through this. When you come through situations like this and get on a run, it feels that much better.”
But to get on that run, they’ll have to find a way to win without Rodgers, then hope he’s back with enough time left in the season to help get them into the playoffs. In the meantime, Rodgers will be on the sideline, trying to help Tolzien any way he can.
“I don’t know if it was one specific thing,” Tolzien replied when asked what Rodgers had said to him to help him during the week or on Sunday. “But I think myself – and I probably speak for a lot of guys in the locker room – we just feed off his poise, his inner confidence and just the way his demeanor is. I think guys feed off of that. There’s never a sense of panic with him, and I think that’s what I take from him. I think a lot of guys would say the same.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.