The last time Matt Flynn played in a very big game, the consequences were equally as stark. Win, and his LSU Tigers would be college football's national champions. Lose, and his team would be a mere footnote in history.
On the biggest stage in college football, Flynn was phenomenal. He tied the school record with four touchdown passes as the Tigers rallied from a 10-0 deficit to beat Ohio State 38-24.
"Yeah, that's not bad," Flynn said on Thursday, all too happy to reminisce about his shining moment.
Whether Flynn can repeat that success against the powerful Patriots — or whether he'll even get the chance — remains to be seen. What is certain, though, is that Flynn won't shrink from the moment.
He certainly didn't against the Buckeyes.
"That was probably the most nervous I ever was in college," Flynn said. "I was nervous but it wasn't to the point where I was uptight or anything like that. I remember being so into the game that my first series, I forgot to put my mouthpiece in and it was sticking out of my face mask the whole series. I remember people making fun of me about it. But after you take that first snap and you get into the game, everything goes away and you just get in a rhythm and start playing the game. It was a blast."
That's exactly what his teammates expect.
"He's a cool-headed dude," said guard Josh Sitton, one of Flynn's closest friends. "I'm the opposite — before games, I build up a lot of nerves and I'm really anxious and whatnot, and he's like, ‘Do-do-do …' He's got that confidence to him, even though he hasn't had a lot of snaps in the regular season."
Flynn got the first extended playing time of his career last week against Detroit after Rodgers was sent to the showers with a concussion in the second quarter. Flynn completed 15-of-26 passes for 177 yards, with no touchdowns and one costly interception in the 7-3 loss.
But, considering the No. 2 quarterback doesn't get any 11-on-11 reps at practice on Wednesday and Thursday and maybe a half-dozen on Friday, that Flynn wasn't sharp probably shouldn't come as a surprise. This week, Flynn has taken all the reps on Wednesday and Thursday and probably will on Friday, too.
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That Flynn is in this position is a surprise, if you look back to the 2008 draft. The Packers took Louisville's much-hyped Brian Brohm in the second round with the 56th overall pick. They grabbed Flynn in the seventh round — 209th overall and the 12th of 13 quarterbacks selected.
Eight picks after the Packers took Flynn, they grabbed receiver Brett Swain. With Rodgers entrenched as the starter and Swain stuck behind Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones and fellow rookie Jordy Nelson on the receiver pecking order, Flynn-to-Swain became a frequent connection while working on the scout team.
"It all started when we came in together as a draft class," Swain said. "Guys like Jordy, me, Flynn came in all together. That's when the learning process began for all of us. Jordy was able to jump into the offense and make a quick contribution. Between Matt and I, we kind of had to work our way — he was behind A-Rod, I'm behind four great receivers. We really zoned in and were able to click on a level while on the scout teams. I think that's where Matt really started to take off. As soon as he started getting more reps in practice and more reps with the (starters), his vision got a lot better. You could see he was working on his ball in the offseason because he has a tight spiral and he's got more zip on the ball."
Early during that rookie season, Rodgers didn't practice all week because of a shoulder injury. A few hours before kickoff, Flynn was told that Rodgers would get the start. Since then, Clements says Flynn has improved physically (stronger arm) and mentally (better grasp on offense and quicker adjustments). During the offseason, a few teams inquired about his availability, including the Cleveland Browns, who were turning over their fleet of quarterbacks and saw Flynn as a starter.
In prime time on Sunday, Flynn figures to get that chance for the first time since winning a national championship.
"I've been in the NFL — this is my third year now — I've seen a ton of teams, I've prepared for a ton of teams, I've broken down film on just about every defense in the league," Flynn said. "I feel extremely ready for the opportunity if it comes. I'll definitely be up for it."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.