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Packers vs Saints Preview: Don’t sleep on the Mike McCarthy/Brett Hundley duo

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The coach thrives on adversity and has a proven track record with quarterbacks.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Game 1-WA.

“WA” as in “Without Aaron.”

The Green Bay Packers will be taking their first full step into a brave new world Sunday when the face the New Orleans Saints without Aaron Rodgers, the team’s all-world quarterback.

It will be the first career start for new starting quarterback Brett Hundley as Rodgers is out for a minimum of the next eight weeks while he recovers from surgery on his broken right collarbone.

Losing your franchise quarterback basically for the rest of the season is never a good thing, especially when you have a transcendent player at the position such as Rodgers. This situation can cripple even the most talented teams. Quarterback play makes the world go round in the NFL and poor play there can throw a huge wrench into a team’s season.

It’s apparently such a dire situation that many sports pundits and even some Packers fans have declared the season over for Green Bay and they may as well just play for a high draft pick.

To those that have already written the season off, pump the brakes for a moment. The 2017 season is by no means a lost cause at this point.

The Packers have groomed Hundley for two plus years for this exact moment. After the team got caught with its pants down when Rodgers broke his left collarbone in 2013, the team kept Matt Flynn for one more season then selected Hundley in 2015 to mold as the backup behind Rodgers long-term.

You never hope the starter goes down, but things happen in the NFL. It’s now Hundley’s team and don’t forget the Packers were able to tread water four years ago with Scott Tolzien and Flynn (Seneca Wallace’s disastrous short stint doesn’t count). Hundley is most certainly at least as good as Flynn and perhaps even better.

The Packers don’t need Hundley to be Rodgers. There’s more talent in the backfield with Ty Montgomery and Aaron Jones sharing carries. They’re fine at receiver with Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Randall Cobb plus underrated Geronimo Allison.

The only thing that could severely hamper Hundley is the offensive line but even Rodgers would struggle behind what the Packers have had to do this season. Now that Green Bay has finally gotten tackles Bryan Bulaga (concussion) and David Bahktiari (hamstring) back, they of course could potentially now be out with center Corey Linsley (back) and guard Lane Taylor (ankle). The Packers continue to struggle to get their season opening starting offensive line on the field at the same time, and this remains the biggest roadblock Hundley could face.

That is what could cause the season to unravel. Not the quarterback’s play, but that their won’t be enough talent around him to protect him.

On the plus side, Hundley clearly has his head coach in his corner. One needs to look no further than head coach Mike McCarthy’s terse response to a reporter earlier in the week when he was asked if the team would consider bringing in a veteran quarterback when the coach made it clear Hundley was his guy and Joe Callahan was the backup.

Whether you agree with the non-move to bring in a veteran or not, you have to admire McCarthy’s willingness to publicly stand by his players.

The last time McCarthy was this adamant about a quarterback? It was Rodgers in 2008 during the whole Summer of Favre drama. That worked out pretty well for the Packers, so fans would be wise to trust the coach.

McCarthy works wonders with quarterbacks. He fixed Brett Favre after a disastrous 2005 season. He molded Rodgers into the legend he is today. He got more out of Flynn and Tolzien than anyone else did in their other stops in their careers. Heck, he even made Aaron Brooks a look good in New Orleans. McCarthy knows quarterbacks, and if he is content to go all-in on Hundley, that means he knows something we don’t. You might have your own apprehensions, but McCarthy’s track record shows otherwise. If Hundley plays poorly, then he can face rightful criticism. Until then, it’s best to trust the process.

The coach may also have a chip on his shoulder. Don’t you think McCarthy wants to prove some people wrong? He gets knocked so many times for only being so successful because he’s had Favre and then Rodgers as his quarterbacks. McCarthy will want to make a statement that he is indeed one of the best coaches in the league and not just because of his quarterback. The coach has something to prove here as well.

Nobody coaches better with his back against the wall than McCarthy. Remember, they nearly beat the New England Patriots at Foxboro without Rodgers in 2010. Then they won the Super Bowl with a third of an active roster on injured reserve. This season, he had an offensive line consisting only of guards and a center and still handily beat the Chicago Bears. McCarthy doesn’t flinch in the face of adversity and that should give fans some comfort.

The game against the Saints Sunday marks the first step in a new direction for the Packers. Talking about bringing in Colin Kaepernick or another veteran makes for good water cooler discussion, but at the end of the day Hundley makes the most sense as the quarterback until Rodgers returns. There’s really not much to debate about that.

The coaches are willing to ride Hundley to the grave. It’s time the fans show the willingness to do the same.

The Packers will be OK. Clearly they won’t be as good as they would be with Rodgers in the lineup, but declaring the season over is a sign of tremendous disrespect to McCarthy, Hundley and the other players on the team.

The team doesn’t think the season is over and neither should their passionate fan base.

McCarthy/Hundley 2017. It could be a winning ticket.