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The Takeaway, Saints vs. Packers: Green Bay must take restrictor plates off Brett Hundley to win

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The Packers tried to play it safe with Hundley rather than empower him to succeed, and it cost them a game against the Saints.

New Orleans Saints v Green Bay Packers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

When Aaron Rodgers suffered a concussion against the Detroit Lions in 2010, the Green Bay Packers went into a shell with Matt Flynn under center. The backup quarterback completed just 15 passes, tossed an interception, and led just one scoring drive (a third-quarter field goal) before ultimately losing 7-3 at Ford Field.

Knowing Rodgers would likely not return for the following week's game against the New England Patriots, head coach Mike McCarthy threw caution to the wind and built a smartly aggressive game plan around Flynn. The Packers attempted a surprise onside kick, established a good balance between the run and pass, and played stellar defense to keep Tom Brady and company in check. Most importantly, they gave Flynn the reins to the offense, and the third-year signal-caller delivered the best game of his career to that point.

The Packers didn't quite pull the upset in New England, but they demonstrated that they could move the ball effectively with their star quarterback sidelined. Flynn's three touchdown passes and five scoring drives put Green Bay in the lead late into the fourth quarter and instilled confidence in the team that they could take down difficult opponents on the road once Rodgers returned. That conviction manifested as three consecutive road wins in the playoffs and an impressive defeat of the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV later that season.

Playing again Sunday without Rodgers and a week to prepare their backup, the Packers exhibited none of that resilience in a demoralizing 26-17 loss to the New Orleans Saints.

Rather than empower Hundley to take chances in the way Flynn did seven years earlier, McCarthy instead took the ball out of his hands for as long as possible. Through the end of the first quarter, Hundley had attempted just three passes (two officially), as many as his team had possessions to that point. That approach only changed marginally as the game wore on with Hundley registering a mere 25 pass attempts by the final whistle, eight fewer than during his relief appearance the prior Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.

More concerning, the Packers gave Hundley little latitude to attack a vulnerable Saints defense deep. He attempted just a few deep passes, converted none, and finished with a long completion of 14 yards.

The poor performance ranks as one of the worst of McCarthy's Green Bay tenure. Having to adjust on the fly to a new quarterback presents numerous challenges, making the coach's struggles in Minnesota forgivable. He catered the entire offense to an MVP passer, and when that player broke his collarbone in the opening quarter, McCarthy had little choice but to run a pared-down version of his game plan with an inexperienced replacement.

McCarthy lacks that excuse this time, as Hundley took all the reps with the starters during the week while the coaches prepared for him specifically. Especially considering the defense produced multiple turnovers to take as many as two touchdowns off the board during the first half, the Packers required only average play from their offense. They failed to deliver even that.

The Packers hit their bye week at an opportune time. They have two weeks to figure out what Hundley does well and build around those strengths. Perhaps Hundley falters if given that opportunity, but the team has little choice but to try. Green Bay cannot simply play it safe with him under center and expect to overcome capable opponents.