Flynnsanity: On Matt Flynn and his memorable, unpredictable place in Packers history
Update: With news that Flynn is staying in Green Bay, let’s revisit once again the quarterback’s strange, awesome, little place in Packers history.
They were 14-1 going into the game so it didn’t really mean much. Aaron Rodgers was benched because his services weren’t necessary. The Detroit Lions were already going to the playoffs too, and the Green Bay Packers had clinched weeks ago. Their meeting on New Year’s Day 2012 had every intention of being one of those nondescript Week 17 games in the NFL, the focus on avoiding injuries and waiting for the countdown to the playoffs to expire.
Matt Flynn was starting that day because the Packers could afford to do it. But as has become the case in games Flynn starts in Green Bay, this season out of desperate necessity rather than earned luxury, Packers football and Flynn mix into roaring outbursts of football at its wildest and most unpredictable.
That unlikeliness starts with Flynn under center – or the fact that it’s someone other than Rodgers. After that, though, it’s how Flynn gets caught in these moments, in these whirling cyclones of crazy, and flies out of the top of the storm not only unscathed but with the funnel cloud hogtied and wrestled to the turf. It’s how nothing else has really worked according to plan in Flynn’s career, but then these moments in Green Bay keep happening and you remember why the Seahawks gave him that lucrative contract in the first place.
It maybe shouldn’t make sense, but Flynn’s place in Packers history, whatever else happens from here on out, will be connected to spiked statistical performances and memorable victories. Flynn’s small sample size of both NFL success overall and chances to play make these games that much more dumbfounding. Just imagine this statement a few years ago: Matt Flynn has a legitimate nook in Packers history. We remain in the process of working through that right now.
Here’s another way: You are walking along one day and turn a corner and step on a sidewalk crack and fireworks explode in the sky in front of you for three straight hours, and you are in the middle of the quietest neighborhood in the city. Stunned onlookers come out from their homes and cars pull over to witness the bright flashes from nowhere. It is beautiful to see, but who in the hell could have expected a fireworks show in the middle of a brutally cold Sunday afternoon? These are Matt Flynn’s starts for the Packers.
Flynn set franchise records for passing yards and touchdowns in a game in that win over the Lions in ‘12, and we don’t have to tell you how ridiculous that is considering the team’s lineage of quarterbacks. A game that could’ve been as forgotten as the Seneca Wallace Era in Green Bay is still remembered, and got Flynn paid handsomely based on the performance. (He also nearly led the Packers to an upset over the New England Patriots in 2010. Remember the Fat Guy Kick Return?) That Seattle deal kickstarted the weird transactions that sent him around the league, a journey that eventually brought him back to the place where he first left his unexpected welt in Packers history.
But if that would’ve been Flynn’s one-game legacy in Green Bay, he’d still be talked about. He is a locker room favorite, a quality facial-hair-growing quarterback – an important trait in this offense and that’s just a fact – who unassumingly won more games than you remember at LSU, including a conference title and national championship.
He’s surprised the same way now with the Packers, his first four games in 2013 all gaining in implausibility as they got more important. We’re writing this prior to the Pittsburgh Steelers game, and can’t know where this season will finish up, but consider these contests: with nearly all hope lost against the Minnesota Vikings in Lambeau Field, Flynn engineered a blistering fourth quarter comeback to tie the game. It ended in that unsavory fashion, but the tie kept the Packers afloat whereas a loss in that game, especially with the Thanksgiving Day debacle that followed, would’ve ended any shot at the postseason. That game in Detroit collapsed into ugliness rather quick, and Flynn played pretty poorly, but few people can escape a full-blown tire fire without some stink on them.
Which only made the next two weeks all the more frankly nonsensical to witness. The Atlanta Falcons were nobody’s nightmare in 2013 but their own, but a 21-10 halftime deficit seemed to be pretty close to slamming the door shut, yet again, on the playoffs for the Packers. And that’s the time Flynn resuscitates the offense, leading three second half scoring drives, the last a touchdown toss to Andrew Quarless – a guy who, finally healthy, snapped to life in the passing game too – to take the 22-21 lead that eventually became the final.
So that, aided by a Lions loss in the Snowpocalypse of Philadelphia, kept the Packers alive for another week. A victory in Dallas against a team always somewhere on the fringe of playoff eligibility would’ve been tough with Rodgers under center. With Flynn things would have to break right, that was our thought at least, and more than that events would have to transpire that made us believe some sort of turn was finally being made by a team that seemed to spend the month of November deep in the dumps of an injured Rodgers-induced hangover.
Green Bay then played what was maybe a couple of the worst quarters we remember seeing, trailing 26-3 at halftime. We hunkered down for the last two quarters, mentally preparing for the last straw to snap on the 2013 season. We hadn’t considered another Flynn outburst, because when do you?
And seriously: remember the improbability of watching what happened happen in the second half in Dallas. Remember the standing pool of stagnant water that was the offense, and remember the perpetually five-yards-behind receivers and tackle-missing defense. There weren’t too many indicators that’d lead one to believe in a rally, though we weren’t in the Packers locker room, which we now know was a little inspired to say the least.
And again, this is the time Flynn starts to get comfortable, starts to make quicker, more confident throws, hitting receivers in stride and through sometimes-tight windows. This is when the guy who was beat out by a rookie quarterback – albeit a pretty great one – in Seattle, who was first beat out for the starting job with the Oakland Raiders, then used in backup duty but benched again and later released – again, by the Raiders – and who was then claimed by the Buffalo Bills, who had him on the depth chart behind the renowned Jeff Tuel, only to be released again less than a month later, this is when he pulls you back into a game that was nearing a distant level of background noise.
All of this isn’t to poke fun or disparage Flynn. But in tracing his odyssey back to his professional roots in Green Bay, one can’t ignore all the blemishes – it heightens what happened in the second half of the Cowboys game, what took place in his other starts, to what still feel to us to be very close to unrealistic levels.
“Friday Night Lights” was based in Texas and leaned heavily on some outrageous finishes to their fictional made-for-TV high school football games in the final seconds. The Packers’ finish in North Texas, because of the sheer improbability of everything that had to happen (or not happen) laying itself out in the perfect sequence, adding into the mix Flynn’s previous quick bursts of promise but long periods of not playing, the context of his below-average stints elsewhere around the league, it all makes “FNL” shake its head in defense of realism.
In sporadic opportunities, and a fat contract and over a year separating his two stints in Green Bay, Flynn has conjured a staggering amount of memories per chance, like a pinch hitter who only hits walk-offs, and who only does so for one team, and who can do it again after more-or-less a year and a half removed from meaningful swings in anything above a summer league somewhere in Mexico. (Or, in this case, Oakland.)
Matt Flynn is calm and measured on the field, or, the exact opposite of most of the games he’s played in for the Packers. He threw four touchdown passes and led five scoring drives overall in the second half against a Cowboys defense that is, in fairness to them, only trying to hurry up and get the ball back in Tony Romo’s hands. Opponents be damned, though: Flynn and the Packers crawled back out of the grave that Sunday, alive for another week after stealing the breath from another stunned opponent. It might’ve been partly another Cowboys meltdown, but it was Flynn, when the guard was asleep on duty, who snuck in with a torch and lit Jerry World on fire.
With the Packers, maybe we shouldn’t be as shocked as we were when Flynn knelt the ball down and completed the then-season-saving comebacks in back-to-back weeks, the second going down as one of the truly and unforgettably ridiculous games in team history. In the context of Flynn’s career, the strange voyage he’s made around the country and back to Green Bay in their biggest time of need, it really shouldn’t make sense.
But making sense is for orbits that belong outside of the sports world. And Matt Flynn is why we have to watch, and why a backup quarterback with five starts in Green Bay as of this writing will always occupy a strange and exhilarating little space in Packers history. There is, it seems, literally no where else this could have happened. For Flynn’s sake we hope that’s not always the case, but we’ll take it, even if we don’t fully understand it.