The Green Bay Packers have been one of the best teams in the NFL for going on three decades because of a quarterback situation that’s the envy of many in the league.
Aaron Rodgers took the baton from Hall of Famer Brett Favre in 2008 and has won two MVPs and a Super Bowl in his nine-plus seasons as a starter.
Rodgers broke his right collarbone last month and could miss the rest of the season. And while his absence has the Packers fighting for their lives in the NFC North, the Lions aren’t taking anything for granted heading into Monday night’s showdown at Lambeau Field.
Six years ago, the last time the Lions played a Rodgers-less Packers team in Green Bay, Matt Flynn threw for 480 yards and six touchdowns to lead the Packers to a 45-41 victory.
Flynn is out of the league now, and the Packers have turned the temporary starting job over to Brett Hundley, a 2015 draft pick with 69 career pass attempts.
“We’re not getting a break,” Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin insisted this week. “We’ve got to play better. So I don’t think we’re in any position to say, ‘Hey, well because Aaron Rodgers isn’t playing, things are going to be easy.’ We haven’t had it easy right now, and we’ve got to play better football than we’ve been playing.”
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The Lions have lost three straight games and four of their last five to fall to third place in the NFC North after a hot start.
But with the toughest stretch of their schedule behind them, they enter November in position to make a run at their first division title in 24 years.
At 3-4, and with the Minnesota Vikings (6-2) leading the division and on bye this week, the Lions don’t have much room for error. In fact, a loss Monday would make it incredibly tough on the Lions to make the playoffs for the third time in four years.
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“We want to win all of our division games and we know if we do that we’ll be in the playoffs,” running back Ameer Abdullah said. “We lost the last three. It’s crazy. It doesn’t seem like those games flew by, but we definitely have everything out there to still get.”
The Packers have found a running game with rookie Aaron Jones, who has games of 125 and 131 yards rushing in the last month, and they have an array of playmakers at receiver in Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams.
But Hundley, who’s thrown four interceptions in 58 pass attempts since taking over for Rodgers, has yet to show the ability to sustain drives.
The Packers scored just 27 points over the last two games, losses to the Vikings and New Orleans Saints, after averaging 27.4 over the first five games of the season with Rodgers on the field.
“Hundley probably doesn’t have the freedom to do what Rodgers did, and Aaron Rodgers is probably like arguably the best quarterback in the game right now and Hundley is not Aaron Rodgers,” Lions cornerback D.J. Hayden said. “He probably don’t got everything that Aaron Rodgers got, but Aaron Rodgers is probably giving him tips and stuff. But we just got to come out and play.”