Aaron Rodgers may have put together one of the greatest seasons ever by a Green Bay Packers quarterback. But in Week 17, with homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs locked up and Rodgers taking a seat on the bench, it was Flynn who flipped a seemingly meaningless game on its head with a historic performance in a come-from-behind 45-41 victory.
Flynn had franchise bests of six touchdown passes and 480 yards. And the Packers needed every one of them. After Detroit took the lead with 2:39 to go, Flynn led his team on an eight-play, 80-yard drive, highlighted by a 40-yarder down the right sideline to James Jones that might've been his best throw of the day. He iced the cake with a 4-yard strike to tight end Jermichael Finley that put Green Bay on top for good with 1:13 remaining. Cornerback Sam Shields sealed the deal with an interception of Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford with 33 seconds to go.
Stafford had a record-setting day of his own, going 36-of-59 for 520 yards, with five touchdowns and two interceptions. But Sunday, it was one more score and one less turnover by Flynn that proved the difference.
Not Rodgers or Brett Favre or Lynn Dickey or Bart Starr or Cecil Isbell had ever thrown for as many yards or as many touchdowns in a Packers uniform as Flynn, a 2008 seventh-round draft pick out of LSU, did in just his second career start.
"In the locker room, that's where I heard about (the records)," Flynn said. "It's humbling. I'm honored to have the opportunity to do it and just think about all the great quarterbacks that have come through here. It's very humbling and I thank everybody around me. I couldn't have done it, obviously, by myself, but there's weapons all around me and the line did a great job. It was just one of those games where it got to a shootout. We just kept matching each other so that's kind of why you saw the numbers you did."
What made Flynn's play even more impressive — aside from doing it in a 20 mph wind — was that he was doing it against a Lions team as determined to win the game as ever. While Green Bay gave Rodgers — along with linebacker Clay Matthews, cornerback Charles Woodson and others — the day off, the Lions had all their starters in, with designs on moving up from the No. 6 playoff seed and avoiding a date with New Orleans.
"They have a good defense and we had a good game plan going into it," Flynn said. "We executed in the no-huddle in the first half very well. Leading up to the game, we kind of knew it was going to be bad weather. We thought the wind might be a little bit stronger than it actually was, so that made it a little bit easier, made it a little bit better. We did a good job of utilizing checkdowns, running backs, hitting short stuff, and then they took it from there."
It didn't look like a record-setting day in the early going. Flynn was sacked and fumbled on the fourth play of the game. The Lions recovered and scored four plays later. On the ensuing kickoff, the Packers' Pat Lee failed to come out of the end zone with the ball after it bounced off his hands and then was pulled back over the goal line. Detroit was awarded a safety and went up 9-0.
But Flynn settled in and went to work, with Rodgers calling the plays — along with some undisclosed banter — during the no-huddle sequences in the first half. Flynn led Green Bay down the field on a 15-play drive that resulted in a field goal, followed by a seven-play drive at the end of the quarter that ended with a 7-yard pass to Jordy Nelson, who stiff-armed Alphonso Smith and sprinted to the end zone for a 10-9 lead.
Much as he is with Rodgers, Nelson was Flynn's favorite target, finishing with nine catches for 162 yards and three scores — including a 58-yard bomb in the third quarter that doesn't get thrown any better. Flynn also threw a short pass to Ryan Grant in the first half, which Grant broke for an 80-yard score, along with a 35-yard strike to Donald Driver midway through the fourth quarter.
"We're extremely excited for Matt in this locker room, especially after the way he played last year in New England and didn't get to come away with the win," Nelson said, alluding to Flynn's first start last year, a 31-27 loss when Rodgers was out with a concussion and Flynn nearly led the team to victory with a three-touchdown performance. "And then to come out here and get the records he broke today, and get the win, it's good timing for that man."
The timing goes back to Flynn's impending free agency. Despite the record-setting day, there's no quarterback controversy in Green Bay. In two weeks, Flynn will hand the reins back to the reigning Super Bowl MVP and likely NFL Most Valuable Player.
"He's the heart and soul of this team and the leader of this team, so it's pretty easy to take a back seat and watch him play," Flynn said. "And I'm excited to see what he does in the playoffs."
As for Flynn, he'll go back to holding the clipboard for what hopefully is another Super Bowl run. The next time he starts in the NFL, he won't be wearing green and gold. If teams like Miami (with quarterbacks Matt Moore and J.P. Losman), Washington (quarterbacks Rex Grossman and John Beck) and Seattle (quarterbacks Tavaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst — not to mention former Packers personnel assistant John Schneider as general manager) needed to see more from Flynn than his near-win against a 10-2 Patriots team last season or a solid preseason outing, this game against Detroit is an exclamation point on an impressive body of work.
"That's a mind game that you have to stay away from leading up to the game and preparing for the game, and I looked at it as just one game." Flynn said. "I didn't look at it as trying to prove anything to anybody or trying to prove myself to the rest of the NFL."
But as he warmed himself up on the cheers of the crowd — the last player to run up the tunnel — it was perfectly clear that's exactly what he did.
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W. Keith Roerdink has covered the Packers since 1992. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.