FOXBORO, Mass. — The Packers are a doubly unfamiliar opponent for the Patriots, in that the two teams only meet once every four seasons, and the Pack have been saddled with a flurry of roster-altering injuries.
So, we summoned Bill Huber, who covers the Packers for Packer Report, Scout.com and FoxSports.com. Huber discussed those injuries, gave us the book on backup quarterback Matt Flynn and passed along some knowledge on the other goings on in Green Bay.
NESN: Is there one injury this year that has doomed the Packers more than the others?
Bill Huber: Wow, where to choose from with a league-high eight starters on injured reserve? I’ve got to go with Jermichael Finley, the big, athletic tight end who is a more polished version of Aaron Hernandez, for sake of comparison. Finley had a monster second half of last season and absolutely destroyed the Cardinals in the playoff game.
The Packers spent the offseason catering the offense to Finley’s unique skill-set, only for him to be lost on the first play of the Week 5 game at Washington. It took a while for the offense to get back on solid footing, and by the time it did, the team had lost two straight — both by three points — to fall to 3-3. Win one or both of those games and the Packers’ outlook is much, much brighter.
NESN: What is the mood like around this team, considering how they looked like a genuine Super Bowl contender in Week 1, and now they might not make the playoffs due to bad luck with injuries?
B.H.: You know how it works. These guys aren’t like you and me, and I’m not just talking athletically. Digging for a comparison on Wednesday, I asked Bill Belichick about the loss to the Browns and how the Patriots rebounded and he said it was just a mindset of moving onto the next game, win or lose. That sounds like such a pile of coach-speak, but it’s true.
It’s the same thing for the Packers, who remain very much in the playoff hunt even after a hideous loss to Detroit last week. Who’s got time to pout when you’re spending your afternoons watching film of the Patriots?
NESN: Head coach Mike McCarthy has given some ominous news on Aaron Rodgers’ status, so what type of scouting report could you give us on backup quarterback Matt Flynn?
B.H.: First, some history: Flynn took over at LSU after JaMarcus Russell went No. 1 overall to Oakland. All he did was lead the Tigers to the national championship during his only year as the starter. So, the guy knows how to play. The Browns wanted him during the offseason to be their starter, but the Packers wouldn’t listen to any offers.
I think I was the only guy in the media to be tough on Flynn after the Detroit game. He blew a few chances to make plays that might have led to a different outcome. With that said, now that he’ll have a week’s worth of practice reps, that obviously will help with the timing with his receivers.
As for the scouting report: Decent arm, decent mobility, but a real gamer. He won’t wow anyone with his skill-set, but he knows how to play.
NESN: Discipline (18 penalties) was an obvious issue during the Packers’ loss to the Bears. Has that trend continued, and if so, how much heat does McCarthy receive for it?
B.H.: Ancient history. The Packers rank ninth in the league in accepted penalties (69) and seventh in penalty yards (541). It’s a dramatic improvement from some previous McCarthy-coached teams. The 2007, 2008 and 2009 teams rank fourth, fifth and second, respectively, in season penalty yardage in franchise history.
NESN: What is your prediction?
B.H.: The Patriots win this game, regardless of who starts at quarterback. Until what happened last week, I figured this game would go a long way toward determining who would be named MVP and coach of the year. Not anymore, obviously. If Flynn starts, the Packers are going to need some big plays by their defense to stay in the game. If Rodgers starts, how well might he play with no practice reps all week?
Either way, the Patriots haven’t lost a home game in, what, a century? That must mean something.