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Sunday’s NFC Championship Game should be a case study for the Green Bay Packers on how to not only survive but flourish without a starting quarterback.

The Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings wrote the report on it this season.

It’s why Nick Foles and Case Keenum will decide who represents the NFC in the Super Bowl, and why the Packers are in an offseason of upheaval.

Everyone from team president Mark Murphy, the new overseer of all things football in Green Bay after he made significant changes to the organizational flow chart last week, on down through new general manager Brian Gutekunst and returning coach Mike McCarthy should watch and learn on Sunday.

Or maybe they already have.

It starts with the two quarterbacks, but it doesn’t end there.

Both teams provided their backup quarterbacks with the resources to win. Yes, quarterback play made a difference in both cases, but it wasn’t the overriding factor in their successes.

Still, it’s a good place to start.

When Keenum replaced Sam Bradford (who had replaced Teddy Bridgewater), he had 24 career starts under his belt. When Foles replaced Carson Wentz, he had 36 starts.

When Brett Hundley took over for Aaron Rodgers, who broke his collarbone in Week 6, the Packers were going with a first-time starter. McCarthy stated emphatically that the three years he had invested in Hundley as a backup made him the right choice for the job, but the Packers either underestimated the former fifth-round pick’s ability or his acumen for the offense.

The result was a wildly uneven showing from week to week.

Compare Hundley’s numbers to those of the other two:

  • Hundley (11 games total, 3-6 as a starter): Nine touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 60.8 completion percentage, 5.81 yards per attempt and a 70.6 passer rating.
  • Keenum (16 games, including playoffs, 12-3 as a starter): 23 touchdowns, eight interceptions, 67.2 completion percentage, 7.42 yards per attempt and a 97.3 passer rating.
  • Foles (eight games, including playoffs, 3-1 as a starter): Five touchdowns, two interceptions, 61.1 completion percentage, 5.84 yards per attempt and an 84.2 passer rating.

Perhaps the most telling number doesn’t show up in any of those stats, and that’s sacks. Hundley was sacked 29 times in 11 games, which, in part, speaks to his poor pocket awareness. Keenum has been sacked 24 times in 16 games and Foles six times in eight games.

But it runs much deeper than just the fill-in quarterbacks.

The top-seeded Eagles ranked fourth in the NFL in total defense and were No. 1 against the run. The Vikings ranked first in total defense and were second against both the run and the pass.

To be sure, the Eagles and Vikings were constructed differently. They don’t have the luxury of a future Hall of Fame quarterback, so they devoted resources elsewhere.

The Packers used 13.36 percent of their total 2017 salary cap on the quarterback position — 12.89 percent of that was Rodgers. They devoted only 40.77 percent of their cap space to the defensive side of the ball.

The Eagles, with the benefit of a starting quarterback on his rookie contract, needed only 5.2 percent of their cap space on the position, including just 3.97 percent on Wentz. Foles, who is on a two-year, $11 million deal, ate up just 1.05 percent of the Eagles’ cap space in 2017. Therefore, they could devote 45 percent of their cap to their defense.

While the Vikings’ quarterback-cap situation more closely resembled the Packers’, using 15.3 percent of their cap space on the position (including 12.23 percent on Bradford), they still managed to use 52.14 percent of their cap space on their defense.

In some ways, the Eagles and Vikings have done the unimaginable by reaching the conference title game without their starting quarterbacks. But upon closer inspection, thanks to veteran backups and championship-caliber talent and coaching on defense, it’s just that they were better prepared to survive without them.

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At this point, it might be easier to list who’s still on the Green Bay Packers coaching staff rather than who isn’t.

After major changes on both sides of the ball, here’s how things look now under coach Mike McCarthy, who is under contract through the 2019 season after he signed a one-year extension late last year:

OFFENSE

Coordinator: Position open.

Edgar Bennett was removed on Wednesday. It’s possible Bennett could return in a lesser capacity, but his three-year run as a non-playcalling coordinator is over. Top candidates include former Dolphins coach Joe Philbin, former Giants coach Ben McAdoo and current offensive line coach James Campen.

Quarterbacks: Open.

Alex Van Pelt’s contract expired after this season, and he was not retained. Van Pelt spoke late in the season about his desire to once again serve as an offensive coordinator, which he did for the Bills in 2009. Van Pelt and Aaron Rodgers worked well together, but fill-in quarterback Brett Hundley was not consistent enough after Rodgers broke his collarbone. Offensive perimeter coach David Raih worked closely with the quarterbacks this season, but Rodgers might rather have someone with NFL playing experience like Van Pelt did.

Receivers: Open

Luke Getsy, known as the coach who introduced juggling and other tricks to the receivers in his two seasons on the job, left to become the offensive coordinator at Mississippi State. If Bennett stays on staff, he could go back to coaching receivers like he did from 2011-14.

Offensive line: Position filled

Campen is a top-five offensive line coach in the NFL. He also is essentially the run-game coordinator. He developed middle-round draft picks like David Bakhtiari and Corey Linsley into players at the top of their position, and is extremely popular among his players. He’s the Packers’ longest-tenured assistant coach, dating to 2004, but this job could open if Campen becomes coordinator either in Green Bay or elsewhere.

Assistant offensive line: Filled

Jeff Blasko, considered a rising star, finished his first season as Campen’s assistant.

Running backs: Filled

Ben Sirmans completed his second season with the Packers, and helped develop rookies Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones into the top two backs on the roster. Sirmans’ teaching background served him well, and he’s well-liked among players and staff.

Tight ends: Filled

Brian Angelichio has held this job for two seasons after coaching tight ends in Tampa Bay and Cleveland. Whoever becomes the new general manager needs to address the talent level here this offseason after the Martellus Bennett signing failed.

Offensive perimeter: Filled

McCarthy created this position for Raih last offseason but never really defined his role. He appeared to spend more time with the quarterbacks than the receivers.

DEFENSE

Coordinator: Open

Dom Capers survived Colin Kaepernick running for 181 yards against his defense in 2012, the NFC title game meltdown in 2014, Larry Fitzgerald carving it up in overtime in the 2015 playoff loss and a No. 31 ranking in passing defense in 2016. But his nine-year run came to an end this week, when McCarthy fired him. Cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt and safeties coach Darren Perry likely are the top two internal candidates, but expect McCarthy to interview Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and other experienced coordinators.

Defensive line: Open

Despite developing Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark into bona fide three-down players, Mike Trgovac was out after nine seasons. Some thought he could be a candidate for defensive coordinator, a job he held with the Panthers from 2003-08. Assistant D-line coach Jerry Montgomery could be in line to replace Trgovac.

Inside linebackers: Open

This was one of the more surprising moves given that under Scott McCurley, second-year linebacker Blake Martinez led the league in tackles. McCurley had only two other players at his position group – Jake Ryan and Joe Thomas. McCurley had been with the Packers since 2007.

Outside linebackers: Filled (for now)

This job, held by associate head coach/defense Winston Moss, also could open soon. Indications are the Packers might move on from Moss even if he doesn’t get another job. He reportedly is on the Lions’ list of head-coaching candidates. Moss has been with the Packers since 2006, McCarthy’s first season as coach.

Safeties: Filled

Perry has deep ties to Capers; he played for the Steelers and Capers was his defensive coordinator. He came to Green Bay with Capers in 2009. He’s one of the internal candidates to replace Capers. Unlike Moss, there’s a good chance Perry remains with the team no matter what.

Cornerbacks: Filled

The young and energetic Whitt might be just what the Packers need in a coordinator. He’s tough on players, but they respect him. Whitt joined the Packers in 2008, one year before Capers arrived. He’s viewed as the leading internal candidate to replace his former boss.

Defensive front assistant: Filled

Jerry Montgomery was a highly successful college coach and recruiter before he took his first NFL job in 2015 with the Packers. He’s the likely replacement for Trgovac.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Coordinator: Filled

Ron Zook, the former college head coach at Florida and Illinois, completed his third season in charge of the Packers’ special teams. He replaced Shawn Slocum, who was fired after the 2014 season (a year in which Zook served as his assistant).

Assistant: Filled

Jason Simmons has been with the Packers since 2011 and in this spot since 2015. Zook relies heavily on Simmons.

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If Davante Adams had not already proved his worth to the Green Bay Packers, what he did without Aaron Rodgers solidified it.

In parts of seven games with Brett Hundley as his quarterback, Adams caught 46 passes for 543 yards and five touchdowns. In parts of seven games with Rodgers as his quarterback, he caught 28 passes for 342 yards and five touchdowns.

He was the Packers’ only receiver who managed consistent production after Rodgers broke his collarbone on Oct. 15.

It’s why last week coach Mike McCarthy, for the first time ever, proclaimed that Adams was the Packers’ “best perimeter player.” It was an unofficial moniker that previously belonged to Jordy Nelson.

The only issue with signing Adams to a four-year, $58.75 million contract on Friday was his concussion history. The 25-year-old suffered his third concussion in 14 months when Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis hit him with a blindside block on Dec. 17 at Carolina. Adams hasn’t played since, although it’s unclear if he could have played this week had the Packers not been eliminated from playoff consideration.

Adams returned without missing a game following his first two concussions, including the vicious hit he took earlier this year from Chicago Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan.

Last week, it was suggested to Adams’ teammate, Randall Cobb, that Adams shouldn’t play another game until he got a new contract.

“OK, well you tell him that,” Cobb said. “I’ll let you tell him that.”

Either way, the Packers did right by Adams with this deal.

They could have had him for somewhere in the $9 million to $10 million per year neighborhood had they done a deal in August or September, but Adams’ price just kept going up during the season.

Who knows what Adams would have drawn had the Packers let him get to free agency in March, especially if teams felt comfortable with his concussion history.

The Packers clearly did, even though they need to look back only one year at the case of cornerback Sam Shields, whose career ended last season because of multiple concussions. Shields was older (age 29) when the Packers released him with one year left on a four-year, $39 million contract in February. Shields suffered a concussion in the 2016 season opener and never played again. It was the fourth known concussion of his NFL career.

Adams’ known concussion count is at three in his four NFL seasons. As long as it stays that way, the Packers should be glad they kept their best perimeter player.

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Luke Getsy praised his blocking earlier this year. Mike McCarthy called him “the ultimate pro” this week.

Those are the kinds of things coaches say about a receiver when his best days are behind him.

So if the best thing Jordy Nelson’s receivers coach could come up with was his ability to block, and his head coach chose to praise his work ethic, what does that say about Nelson’s future with the Green Bay Packers — or at least his future as one of their $10-million-a-year receivers?

For years, Nelson was viewed as a bargain — both after he signed a three-year, $12.6 million contract extension in 2011 and then again after a four-year, $39 million deal in 2014. He’s had four 1,000-yard seasons and three with 85 or more catches, including two years with at least 97 catches.

That no longer looks like the case.

He’s due to make $10.25 million in salary and bonuses next season in the final year of the deal that still has him ranked as the 15th-highest paid receiver in the league based on average per year.

With fellow Packers receiver Randall Cobb also in the $10 million range (at $9.5 million next season) and Davante Adams expected to command even more than that as a pending free agent, it’s difficult to see how the Packers can keep all three around at those prices.

Perhaps it’s Cobb who would have to restructure his deal or be released, but he’s more than five years younger than Nelson, who will turn 33 in May.

So at this point, all eyes are on Nelson, who might not even play Sunday in the season finale at Detroit because of the shoulder injury he sustained last week against the Vikings.

Even Nelson admitted this week that he’s not sure what his future holds with the only NFL team he’s ever played for, the one that picked him in the second round of the 2008 draft and the one for which he and Aaron Rodgers have the franchise record for most touchdowns by a quarterback-receiver combination — a total that reached 65 with Nelson’s six touchdowns this season before Rodgers broke his collarbone on Oct. 15.

“That’s not [a question] for me,” Nelson said. “I’m not worried about that right now.”

After the fast start this season, Nelson’s production plummeted. He didn’t catch a single touchdown pass in the eight games that Brett Hundley started. Anyone who thought it would automatically return when Rodgers came back in Week 15 at Carolina need only look at Nelson’s numbers from that game, too: three catches for 28 yards. That’s on par with Nelson’s season averages of 3.5 catches per game for 32.1 yards.

Nelson looks like he’ll finish with his fewest catches (53) since 2012, when he missed four games, with the fewest yards (482) and fewest touchdowns (six) since 2010.

“I’ve never put anything in my career on numbers,” Nelson said. “That doesn’t change if it’s a bad season or a good season.”

When asked if he’d call this a good season or a bad season, Nelson said: “I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it too much. Obviously we’ve been in it week in and week out, so that’s something that you’ll think about after the season’s over.”

Nelson also said he hasn’t thought about what might happen if the Packers ask him to take a pay cut or restructure his deal.

“That would be a discussion we’d have if it happens,” Nelson said.

Hundley said he “couldn’t put a finger on it,” when asked this week why he hasn’t been able to get the ball to Nelson as much and in as many playmaking positions as he has with, say, Adams, who has flourished despite the change in quarterbacks. Nelson has averaged just 7.1 yards per catch from Hundley but 11.7 with Rodgers this season.

It was during Hundley’s long stretch as a starter that Getsy took to praising Nelson for his blocking.

“He’s been outstanding,” Getsy said. “He really is. There’s never been a blink of an eye. It really hasn’t. We’ve got to find a way to win games, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to do that.”

But it doesn’t change the fact that Nelson is having one of his least productive seasons or the fact that Packers coach Mike McCarthy acknowledged for the first time last week that Adams — not Nelson — is the Packers’ “best perimeter player.”

“Jordy’s the ultimate pro, he’s the ultimate teammate,” McCarthy said. “So he hasn’t [changed] at all, from my perspective. He’s the same guy every day. I understand what numbers say, but it’s about opportunities and being in rhythm. So I mean, if you look at some of the production even with the younger players in the Minnesota game, I don’t think it’s a surprise you see Brett, he throws to Trevor [Davis] more, he throws to Michael Clark more, just because that’s who he’s been practicing with.

“But Jordy, he’s going through a tough week with the shoulder, but like he always does, he shows up every day and he’ll do everything he can to get out there Sunday.”

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Jordy Nelson’s season is likely over, and the same looks to be true for Davante Adams.

The Green Bay Packers’ starting receivers are unlikely to play in Sunday’s regular-season finale at Detroit, leaving both of their futures in doubt.

Nelson suffered a shoulder injury in Saturday’s shutout loss to Minnesota, and coach Mike McCarthy said the 32-year-old is a long shot to play against the Lions. Adams remained in the concussion protocol on Wednesday and hasn’t played since he suffered his second head injury of the season on Dec. 17 at Carolina.

“It’ll be tough for him to make this week,” McCarthy said Wednesday.

Nelson’s production has slipped this season, and even the return of quarterback Aaron Rodgers from his broken collarbone for the Panthers game didn’t jump-start the receiver. Nelson was leading the league with six touchdown receptions when Rodgers got hurt in Week 6 but hasn’t caught one since. He has 53 catches (his fewest since 2010) for 482 yards (his fewest since 2009). Nelson has one year left on his contract and is scheduled to make $10.25 million in salary and bonuses next season.

The Packers might have to consider cutting Nelson or asking him to take a pay cut if they re-sign Adams, who would be a free agent in March if a new deal isn’t worked out by then. Adams has a team-high 74 catches for 885 yards and 10 touchdowns. The 25-year-old’s production didn’t change much with Brett Hundley at quarterback. Of Adams’ 10 touchdowns, five came from Rodgers and five from Hundley.

McCarthy wouldn’t say whether the Packers have intentionally shut down Adams for the season because they’re out of the playoffs. “He hasn’t been cleared; that’s Davante’s status,” McCarthy said.

Without Adams or Nelson, expect rookie Michael Clark to see more action. The 6-foot-6 former college basketball player caught three passes for 36 yards on Saturday against the Vikings in his first career snaps in a regular-season game.

The Packers also are expected to be without running back Aaron Jones, who suffered a knee injury against the Vikings.

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It’s a good thing this was a meaningless game for the Green Bay Packers, given their inactive and injury lists.

Or maybe the Packers shut down so many key players before things started Saturday night against the Minnesota Vikings because it was meaningless.

Either way, what looked like a marquee Week 16 game in prime time when the NFL released its 2017 schedule in April turned into a glorified exhibition game, with players looking to make an impression for next season and coaches perhaps trying to justify their employment.

Yet very few did.

Other than Kenny Clark, the second-year defensive tackle who had a couple of sacks — giving him 4.5 for the season, all of which have come in the month of December — and first-year outside linebacker Reggie Gilbert, who was promoted this week from the practice squad and hit Vikings quarterback Case Keenum more than once, there wasn’t much anyone could claim as progress in the Packers’ 16-0 loss at Lambeau Field.

The Packers were shut out at home for a second time this season. Before this year, no team had been shut out at home twice in a season since 2006, when both the Packers and Raiders were.

“I never felt more defeated, more embarrassed by a performance,” said Packers receiver Randall Cobb, who had four catches for 22 yards. “Yeah, we had opportunities, and we didn’t connect when we did.”

Quarterback Brett Hundley, making his eighth start of the season, did nothing to change the narrative that he isn’t capable of taking over a game. He threw two interceptions, which means his home season ended with zero touchdowns and seven interceptions at Lambeau.

Dropping to 3-5 as a starter, Hundley failed to throw a touchdown pass at Lambeau Field once again. He set the record for pass attempts at home without a touchdown (162) in a single season, according to Elias. Along the way, he threw his third red zone interception this season, tied with Dak Prescott for the second-most in the NFL. Only (six) has thrown more red zone picks, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

In Hundley’s defense, the Packers dropped six of his passes, their most since Week 15 of 2014 at Buffalo, another game in which they dropped six, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

When it comes to the roster, general manager Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy likely wanted to use this game — and the regular-season finale next Sunday at Detroit — to evaluate who stays and who goes in the offseason.

But after missing out on the playoffs for the first time since 2009, McCarthy might have already made up his mind about changes to his coaching staff, even though Dom Capers’ defense looked respectable for a change. Still, the most likely change this offseason would be at defensive coordinator, unless, of course, team president Mark Murphy decides it’s time for Thompson to go.

Yes, the game was surprisingly still in play into the fourth quarter, as ugly as it was for the Packers’ offense, with five starters on the inactive list: receiver Davante Adams (concussion), linebackers Nick Perry (ankle/shoulder) and Clay Matthews (hamstring), cornerback Damarious Randall (knee) and guard Jahri Evans (knee). That did not include Aaron Rodgers, who went on injured reserve earlier in the week after the Packers decided to shut him down the week after he returned from his broken collarbone.

Who knows how many, if any, of those players could have played if the Packers were still in the playoff race? Then it didn’t get any better when receiver Jordy Nelson (shoulder), tight end Richard Rodgers (shoulder), running back Aaron Jones (knee) and right tackle Jason Spriggs (knee) were lost during the game.

“I mean, it’s really hard,” Hundley said. “When you’ve got two big studs [Adams and Nelson] out there and then you lose them. Your right tackle goes down on the first play, then your running back goes out. I mean, it becomes really hard, but at the same time, a lot of people got reps and experience, and you’ve got find a way to win. That’s the name of the game.

“Defense played their butts off. Offense, we didn’t capitalize on the plays we needed to, and that starts with me. I’ve got to be able to lead this team no matter who’s on the field and get us in better opportunities to put some points on the board.”

As bad as Saturday night’s game looked with all those players out, the finale in Detroit might be even tougher to watch.

“We’ve got to play better,” Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix said. “We have to find ways to win ballgames. We won’t take credit for anything. We’ve just got to continue to stay together, man, find ways to win ballgames, I guess. There’s a lot of things going on down here in this locker room, a lot of guys banged up, a lot of guys not playing, a lot of guys not putting their best foot forward. We’ve just got to hold guys accountable. The ones that step on the field with us, let’s go to work. The ones that don’t want to play, just turn your pads in and wait for next year.”

 

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Brett Hundley knows what he’ll do if he sees Anthony Barr chasing him on Saturday night.

“If he’s coming after me, I get down,” Hundley said. “That’s it.”

The Green Bay Packers quarterback has more to worry about than just the Minnesota Vikings linebacker who broke Aaron Rodgers’ collarbone with his hit when the teams met on Oct. 15. Hundley will start Saturday against the Vikings in the penultimate game of the season.

It’s Act Two for Hundley, who went 3-4 as a starter after Rodgers’ injury. He returned to the backup job last week when Rodgers returned, but after the Packers were eliminated from the postseason race, coach Mike McCarthy shut down Rodgers for the rest of the season and went back to Hundley.

It’s also Hundley’s first chance to play against a team for the second time. Although he didn’t start the first game against the Vikings, he played the majority of the game after Rodgers went down. Predictably, it didn’t go well for Hundley that day. He threw one touchdown and three interceptions in the Packers’ 23-10 loss.

“That was my first extended time ever in the league in a regular-season game,” Hundley said. “It was a bit of a shock. Obviously nerves are running high, my heart is about to bust out of my chest and nerves are going. But now I feel comfortable. I feel like I’m playing my game and I’m just having fun, and that’s pretty much the biggest thing.”

Since then, Hundley has made incremental improvements.

“I think he’s grown quite a bit,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “He’s making a lot of quick decisions. He’s been taking care of the football well. He’s using his legs quite a bit. He’s obviously got a strong arm, very athletic guy. He’s starting to see a lot more as far as the things when he wants to get the ball out to the perimeter when guys are playing off coverage, does a nice job with movement in the pocket, and he’s starting to really — I’m not saying he’s Rodgers, but he’s got a lot of very similar mannerisms.”

The final two games could serve as both a final audition for Hundley to impress a team to trade for him (something that seemed like a decent possibility entering this season but may have faded after Hundley started to play) and as a chance for the Packers to drum up interest in their backup this offseason.

“I don’t look at it [like that],” Hundley said. “I’m trying to play and win this game. What happens, there’s no point to look or worry about what’s going to happen in the future, because if you do that, you miss what’s happening now. For me, I’m just trying to make the most of this opportunity, win this game and worry about next week after this.”

For Hundley, the challenge might be his biggest. The Vikings’ defense ranks second overall in the NFL. Hundley inexplicably has performed much better on the road than at Lambeau Field, where he has no touchdowns and five interceptions compared to eight touchdowns against three interceptions on the road. However, Hundley won his past two starts — at home against Tampa Bay and at Cleveland, both in overtime.

“I’m hoping he builds off a lot of the good things he established the last couple games,” McCarthy said.

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The Green Bay Packers’ season was on the line, much like it is right now, and no one knew what to expect from Aaron Rodgers when he returned from his broken collarbone.

“I’m sure if I miss a pass, that’s going to be because I’m rusty,” Rodgers said at the time. “Or if I hit one, then it’s going to be a big deal or something.”

That was nearly four years ago, and it’s relevant today because for the second time in his career, Rodgers is back from an extended absence because of a busted clavicle. Last time, it was his left and he waited seven games for it to heal sufficiently enough for the Packers to clear him. This time, it was to his throwing side, and he underwent surgery to stabilize it with plates and screws nearly two months ago.

Still, there’s reason to think his return this Sunday at Carolina could look similar to his first game back from his 2013 collarbone injury. It was the final day of the regular season, and it was a typical cold (26 degrees), windy (16 miles per hour) afternoon at Soldier Field in Chicago with the NFC North title on the line.

This time, there are three games remaining, but the Packers (7-6) are in a similar must-win situation to stay alive for a playoff spot.

Everyone remembers how things ended on Dec. 29, 2013, when Rodgers won the game with a 48-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb in the final minute, but a film review of every pass and every dropback showed that Rodgers was a combination of conservative yet spectacular when necessary.

His stats looked like this: 25-of-39 passing for 318 yards with 2 touchdowns, 2 interceptions and 3 sacks.

But they only tell part of the story.

The film tells the rest.

The ‘big deal or something’ plays

Packers coach Mike McCarthy did a masterful job of calling plays designed to help Rodgers rediscover the timing with his receivers and minimize the chances of his quarterback getting hit.

After a toss play to Eddie Lacy on the Packers’ first offensive snap of the game, Rodgers went to work with several short passes. He hit receiver Jarrett Boykin for a 5-yard gain. He followed that with another short pass to tight end Andrew Quarless for a first down.

Then, he got Jordy Nelson involved. That season, Nelson caught seven touchdowns in the first seven games before Rodgers got hurt. He caught only one after that. It was much the same this time around — Nelson led the league with six touchdowns through five games but hasn’t caught one since Brett Hundley took over. Rodgers easily reconnected with Nelson, who had 10 catches for 161 yards in that regular-season finale at Chicago.

Then there was Cobb, who had missed the previous 10 games because of a broken leg. His return also helped Rodgers. Although he had only two catches for 55 yards, both were touchdowns. The first was one of the few plays Rodgers went on the move. He stepped to his left and bought time for Cobb to run an out-and-in route for a 7-yard touchdown in the third quarter. By that time, Rodgers had completed passes to seven different players.

While Rodgers didn’t go deep often, he hit on four downfield throws — a 32-yarder to Nelson that traveled 28 yards in the air, a 26-yarder to Nelson that went 24 yards in the air, a 22-yarder to Quarless that went 25 yards in the air, and the game-winning bomb to Cobb.

Rodgers scrambled just once, for 5 yards, but waited until the game-winning drive to do it.

He also made sure he went down before he took any big hits. In fact, on his first sack, he wasn’t even hit. He went to the ground as he could see it coming. He then gave Lance Briggs a sack in the first quarter by taking a dive before Briggs could hit him. However, Shea McClellin, the player who hit Rodgers earlier that year to break his collarbone, was penalized for piling on late. Rodgers’ third sack actually worked out in the Packers’ favor because when Julius Peppers forced Rodgers to fumble, just about everyone thought it was an incomplete pass. But after a few seconds, Boykin, at the urging of those on the Packers’ sideline, picked up the stationary ball and ran it into the end zone for an unlikely touchdown.

The ‘rusty’ plays

Rodgers had thrown just four interceptions in eight games before his injury, so it was surprising to see him throw two — both in the first half — in his return.

The first one came at the end of a 14-play drive, and it was just his fourth career red zone interception to that point. Chalk that one up to a bad decision, something Rodgers almost never makes. Rodgers was flushed out of the pocket and tried to throw for Boykin in the end zone but apparently never saw safety Chris Conte.

The other one went off the hands of Nelson, but it’s hard to call it a drop because Rodgers threw the slant high and behind Nelson.

This season, Rodgers comes back with 13 touchdowns and three interceptions in the five-plus games he appeared in.

Of Rodgers’ 14 incompletions that day, seven could have been considered either bad throws or bad decisions. On one of them, he wasn’t expecting center Evan Dietrich-Smith’s shotgun snap and was lucky that the ball hit in a spot where he could grab it, but the timing of the play was off from the start. He also threw three balls away, had two others dropped and two broken up.

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Bring back Aaron Rodgers. This season can still be saved.

Miraculously. Unexpectedly. Extraordinarily.

And with a little — OK, a lot of — thanks to the winless Cleveland Browns.

Ten wins, which was Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy’s formula for getting into the playoffs, is still on the board. At 7-6 with three games to go — at Carolina, home against Minnesota and at Detroit — it’s not over yet.

All that’s left to find out is whether Rodgers’ surgically repaired right clavicle has mended. If so, this 27-21 comeback victory in overtime — the second straight week the Packers have won in sudden-death fashion — combined with the return of their two-time MVP quarterback could turn out to be a defining moment in a season that for most of Sunday looked like it would end up lost.

“The way we fought, these last two weeks … to get that overtime win last week and do that same thing is huge,” said Packers linebacker Clay Matthews. “There’s your season right there.”

Of course, if the scan of Rodgers’ collarbone shows that the break suffered nearly two months ago hasn’t completely healed, then Sunday’s win could prove to be just an afterthought because it would seem unlikely that a Brett Hundley-led team could run the table.

Although after the way Hundley engineered a pair of second-half touchdown drives to rally the Packers from a 21-7 deficit to get to overtime, maybe it’s not as unfathomable as it sounds.

For much of the afternoon, this looked like it had the makings of one of the most humiliating losses since the 1997 Packers lost to the 0-10 Colts. That team, however, went to the Super Bowl. This one, however, still has so much more work to do to even make the playoffs.

But remember, Rodgers was playing at an MVP level before Anthony Barr changed the course of the Packers’ season with the hit that broke Rodgers’ right collarbone.

Rodgers had thrown 13 touchdowns and just three interceptions, and the Packers’ only loss in their first five games with him at the helm came at Atlanta.

“We love Aaron Rodgers, but I will not answer any questions about him today,” McCarthy said after the game. “This is about winning the game, and he’s still in the medical situation and as soon as we have the information we’ll try to get it to you.”

They still have all of their receivers, including Davante Adams, whose 1-yard touchdown on a back-shoulder throw sent the game into overtime and whose 25-yard touchdown catch-and-run in the extra session won it.

It was Hundley’s third win since Rodgers’ injury.

Now, they have a revamped running attack that, although it struggled for most of Sunday’s game, is just a week removed from a season-best 199-yard performance against the Buccaneers.

“It gives us a lot of confidence going forward,” said Hundley, who threw for 265 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. “This team has a lot of fight, I’ll tell you that. We’re not out of this thing. We have a lot of fight in us. These two last games, we fought back. When we needed to execute, we executed. When our backs were against the wall, we came out swinging. We’ve done it for the last two weeks — came up short [against] the Steelers. This team has a lot of fight and it’s not over yet.”

The Browns gift-wrapped this one when their rookie quarterback, DeShone Kizer, threw one up for grabs in overtime with Matthews in his face. Rookie Josh Jones intercepted it, giving the Packers a short field to set up the game-winning score.

Of course, all the optimism over Rodgers’ return to practice last week and the face-saving overtime win over the Browns could be dashed if tests show Rodgers’ collarbone hasn’t completely mended.

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You don’t have to agree with it — and you probably won’t — but Mike McCarthy dove deeper into his explanation for the 57-yard field goal attempt in the third quarter of Sunday night’s loss at Pittsburgh.

The Green Bay Packers’ coach called the right decision at the time and hindsight did nothing to change his viewpoint.

“I don’t really understand the criticism of it,” McCarthy said a day later.

McCarthy was aware of the fact that Chris Boswell’s game-winning 53-yard field goal tied for the longest kick ever made at Heinz Field, but the Packers have their own formula for determining the kick-or-punt line.

“Our process is the same each and every game,” McCarthy said. “We have a structured pregame routine. There’s information that’s gathered. We have a challenge here in our own stadium.

“If I’m guilty of anything, I’ve got great confidence in Mason Crosby. But no, I don’t second-guess. We had a chance to go up two scores.”

The Packers had a 21-14 lead at the time when they took over at the Steelers’ 45-yard line following Blake Martinez’s interception. After three runs by Jamaal Williams put the Packers into field goal range at the 31-yard line, Brett Hundley was sacked on first down, threw incomplete on second down and was sacked again on third down, pushing the ball back to the 39-yard line, where McCarthy sent in the field goal unit.

“The first-, second- and third-down things leading up to the field goal I’m more upset about than anything,” McCarthy said. “What went on in those, particularly the two [sack] plays, that’s where my focus is because that’s correctable. But if I was in that spot again, based on all the information going into that decision, it’s the right call. We’re playing against — we’re on the road, we’re playing against — I mean, the big three of that offense [Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell]. Let’s be honest, that’s as good a trio of players as we’ve played against all year. We need the points.”

When asked whether the 57-yarder was within the range Crosby was comfortable with in pregame warmups, special-teams coordinator Ron Zook said: “Right about there.”

“One thing about Mason now [he would say], ‘Put the ball down and let’s kick it,’” Zook added. “If you talk to Mason, he’s got to hit that. You get into a game, where we are in the season, I think if Mason had to do it over again, he’d hit it. The snap was a little high, but, still, Justin [Vogel] got it down there. Shoot, you’ve got to have points and he’s got to hit it.”

Crosby missed badly to the left, giving the Steelers the ball at their own 47-yard line. Had the Packers punted, they had the chance to pin the Steelers deep in their own territory. With favorable field position, the Steelers needed only six plays to go the 53 yards to tie the game on the first of two touchdown catches by Brown.

“I’m trying to gain momentum,” McCarthy said. “I don’t think you can think like that, you know? … You have to decide how you’re going to play the game, and the reality of it is that gets you started. But there’s things that go on during the course of the game, there’s constant communication going on there based on where we were playing, how we were playing and what was going on in all three phases. You have to go for the points there if you have the faith in your kicker based on the kicks he hit in pregame and everything leading up to that. Really, if we were at fault, it was the two negative plays on first and third down.”