Packers' loss could be Eagles' gain

Posted: November 07, 2013

SOMETIMES LIFE hands you lemons and you try to make lemonade.

Other times, it's a bowl of cherries.

Sunday should be a jubilee.

The Eagles, reconstituted and rearranged from top to bottom, entered this season looking at a few sure-fire losses. At Denver, for sure. At Green Bay, almost certainly.

Then, on Monday night, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers left the first quarter against Chicago with a fractured left collarbone. It could cost him a month.

Suddenly, the can't-win in Green Bay became a must-win. What was a road game the Eagles hoped to keep respectable became a swing game for the 4-5 team, if they have designs on a playoff run; indeed, if they deserve such a slot.

Conversely, a loss Sunday in Green Bay devalues the wins that served as a harbinger of legitimacy for Chip Kelly and Co. Beating four dogs means little unless you ravage the wounded Pack.

Consider: No Rodgers. The Pack plays on a short week. The Pack is reeling after losing in prime time, at home, to a haggard bunch of hated Bears, who played without starting quarterback Jay Cutler.

The Eagles cannot afford to miss the harvest of this low-hanging fruit.

"It's pretty damned big," linebacker Mychal Kendricks said. "That's a big-time player out of the game. Their biggest player on the team."

But, it is the NFL, and even the MVP one season removed must have a capable understudy . . . right?

"Irreplaceable? Well, you are talking about the MVP of the NFL," Kendricks said. "That's huge. You can't replace that."

The Packers can't, anyway.

Remarkably, the Packers, one of the more solid organizations in the past 20 years, have no viable Plan B. Apparently, they will go with Plan D.

Seneca Wallace replaced Rodgers on Monday night and was, predictably, wretched.

In 2011, in six games (three starts) with the Browns, Wallace compiled a 65.4 passer rating. He was cut out of the Browns' 2012 training camp. He spent 2012 out of football.

He spent Monday night showing why: 11-for-19 for 114 yards, an interception, four sacks and some wild, back-foot abominations that endorsed the wisdom of former Browns coach Pat Shurmur, who cut Wallace.

Now the Eagles' offensive coordinator, Shurmur diplomatically said: "It had more to do with the other guys we kept than it had to do with what he could or couldn't do."

Cleveland went 5-11 last season. None of the guys they kept - Brandon Weeden, Thaddeus Lewis and Colt McCoy - is the No. 1 quarterback with his current team.

What could they do so well that Wallace couldn't?

Fill out a W-2?

Shurmur and defensive coordinator Billy Davis each spent plenty of time yesterday lauding Wallace's ability to elude defenders. However, the Eagles faced similarly slippery entities this season, in Robert Griffin III and Terrelle Pryor. They beat them both.

Really, there might not be a bigger drop-off from No. 1 to No. 2 in the league, unless the Packers sign Vince Young. Or Matt Flynn.

Flynn created a mirage of competence in two backup starts with the Packers in 2010 and 2011. He turned those cameos into a brief starting job in 2012 with Seattle, which opted to play rookie Russell Wilson instead. They traded Flynn this past offseason to Oakland, where he was cut in favor of Pryor et al. Flynn landed briefly in Buffalo last month, but the imminent return of E.J. Manuel made Flynn superfluous.

No one in the league undervalues Rodgers.

"You understand the nature of the game and the impact that [Rodgers] has on the game," said Josh McCown, the legitimate backup in Chicago, after the Bears beat the Pack. "So when that player's not on the field, your odds of winning probably increase."

Even the Packers acknowledge that the head of their monster cannot wholly regenerate.

"This is a thing that's been built over time with Aaron as the centerpiece," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Monday night. "I don't think it's realistic to put anyone in there and think they're going to pick up and run it the way he has run it."

Not without a fully healthy James Jones, who caught 14 touchdown passes last season; Jones' knee injury cost him the two games prior to Monday, when he had just one catch. Not without Randall Cobb, who caught eight TDs last season but will remain sidelined with a broken leg. Not without tight end Jermichael Finley, who had 116 catches and 10 TDs the past two seasons but whose bruised spinal cord has cost him the last two, and counting.

Even without them, Rodgers had guided the Pack to a four-game winning streak. Had he made it past the first quarter Monday night, it probably would have been five.

Guiding a depleted roster was small potatoes for Rodgers, given the way he earned his pedigree.

He didn't replace a living legend; no, Rodgers' chore was more arduous than that. He replaced an active myth, one overrated for much of his career, one bent on Rodgers' own ruin to salvage a few more moments of indulgent adoration.

Rodgers more than weathered the resurrection of Brett Favre; and, now, to some extent, Rodgers has eclipsed Him.

Rodgers' career passer rating of 105.2 is the best in NFL history, almost 30 points better than Favre's, mainly because Rodgers doesn't throw nearly as many interceptions - the most ignominious, and probably the most telling, of Favre's bevy of records (he also fumbled a record 166 times). Never in 16 seasons with Green Bay did Favre manage a rating above 100. Rodgers has done it five times as a starter; his 122.5 rating in 2011, his MVP season, is the best in history. Rodgers has made it to three Pro Bowls and should have had a fourth.

Heresy? OK; slightly, perhaps, considering Rodgers has started for fewer than six seasons, compared with Favre's total of 19. Still, lack of longevity cannot diminish what Rodgers has done.

In fact, Rodgers' excellence often is obscured by the remarkable play of his contemporaries, most of whom somehow get more recognition. But know this: Justin Timberlake is a talented fellow, and he might have a higher Q-rating, but he's no Usher.

Rodgers might be the league's most irreplaceable player over the past five seasons.

"I don't know about that," Shurmur said, "but I do know that Aaron's one of the top quarterbacks in the league. Those are hard guys to replace."

Peyton Manning might be equally precious the past two seasons, but Manning was replaced, in Indianapolis, mainly because he made too much money. Tom Brady and Drew Brees might be Rodgers' equal as field generals, but they also enjoy the luxury of superior offensive teammates.

Fortunately for the Packers, until now, Rodgers never has needed replacing.

To the Eagles' imperative profit - and, remarkably, to Kendricks' affable disappointment. After all, the Legend of Aaron at Cal was suffocating to those who followed.

"I wish he'd get better. I want the best in there," said Kendricks, who subscribes to the be-the-best, beat-the-best philosophy; not the more practical, take-the-easy-money-and-run view. "I'm sure there's some guys in this locker room here and some guys upstairs saying that, but he went to Cal, too, so I really wanted the chance to hit him. I went to school with his pictures all over the wall, people always talking about him. So I wanted a chance to put him out of the game."

Too late.


Email: hayesm@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @inkstainedretch

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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