'Next Man Up' Will Be Put to Ultimate Test

If Seneca Wallace winds up starting for Aaron Rodgers for a game or more, he'll have to show that he's more than the 'Next Guy In.' Monday night's game did not leave a positive impression, as the Packers lost a game that was theirs for the taking.

"Next Man Up," is a rallying cry in the locker room. It sounds inspiring at the press conference podium. It's a great philosophy and even better sound bite. When one player goes down, the next guy on the depth chart moves up and the team carries on, business as usual, no excuses. That's football. That's the ultimate team game.

The Green Bay Packers have done this better than any team in recent memory. Not any Packer team … any NFL team. Green Bay won a Super Bowl in 2010 repeating that mantra. And this year they've somehow managed to do that at key spots like left tackle, outside linebacker, tight end and receiver. It's a credit to their personnel staff and coaches to find and prepare players time after time.

But there's a realistic limit. A place where the drop-off is so severe that it sounds ridiculous to utter the phrase. That place is quarterback, where Aaron Rodgers is a former league and Super Bowl MVP, the sports highest paid player and one of its best.

There's no "Next Man Up" when Rodgers went down, just the "Next Guy In." On Monday night, that was Seneca Wallace. And the results in their 27-20 loss to the Chicago Bears could very well have Green Bay looking for the "Next, Next Man Up" at quarterback.

Little was known after the game about Rodgers, who was slammed to the ground on his non-throwing left shoulder by Chicago defensive end Shea McClellin on a third-down sack just minutes into the game. Rodgers rose in obvious discomfort, talked to team physician Dr. Patrick McKenzie on the sideline and jogged to the locker room shortly thereafter.

Separated shoulder? Torn labrum? Broken collarbone? If anyone knew, they weren't saying until further tests were done. Rodgers didn't have a sling on when he returned to the sideline, left hand in his hoodie pocket. But he wasn't back in the game, either; leading to speculation the injury was more severe.

"They don't have an exact diagnosis," coach Mike McCarthy said. "That's where we are. We'll have more information for you probably tomorrow."

But there was plenty of information on Wallace immediately after the game, and it wasn't good. The journeyman quarterback whom Green Bay signed before the start of the regular season after cutting Graham Harrell, Vince Young and B.J. Coleman, was 11-for-19 with 114 yards and one interception. Those numbers actually sound better than they looked.

Expectations are tempered when any backup comes in cold, but Wallace's' evening included throwing a ball at Bears defensive end Julius Peppers that was deflected and intercepted on his second play, bouncing a pass to James Jones, taking sacks when he should've thrown the ball away, and getting a fluke 17-yard completion to Jones – Wallace's longest pass of the night -- that somehow made it through the hands of Bears linebacker James Anderson when it had no right to.

A former student of the West Coast offense in Seattle, Wallace was a smart, experienced, athletic player with a 6-15 record as a starter and an 81.3 career passer rating. But this was far from what the team had in mind, especially given its success running the ball. With 150 yards on the ground from running back Eddie Lacy and another 40 from James Starks, the bar was set low for a passing performance that could secure a win. Never mind a special teams performance by Green Bay that included a blocked punt and a recovered onside kick.

"Seneca, he needs to perform better and he'll definitely do that with a week of practice," McCarthy said. "We're on a short week; we're on a six-day week. We have the Eagles coming in here, new staff, uncommon opponent, so we need to do a better job in the passing game. It was obvious tonight; the third downs were something that held us back."

That included a decent pass by Wallace to tight end Andrew Quarless on third down that was bobbled as he fell out of bounds, a couple third-down passes to Jordy Nelson that were short of the marker, sacks and a third-and-goal pass to Quarless in the end zone that was high and to the side.

"When you lose someone the caliber of Aaron, it's going to change things," Nelson said. "You look around the league and whenever the backup quarterback comes in, it's not like he starts throwing all these touchdown passes. That's not the way it works. If it was, he'd be on another team. So, it's different, but he made some plays, we were able to connect on some things. He did some good things. We just didn't make enough of them. We didn't capitalize. We had opportunities. Andrew just bobbled the ball just a little bit. That would've been a big play -- a third-down conversion -- so just little things. Everybody needs to step up and do a little bit more to help this team win."

But none more than Wallace, who will get a full weeks' worth of practice reps in hopes of proving he's a player that can keep the Packers on track against a remaining schedule that ranks as the easiest in the league.

"I think I was brought here for a reason, and it's going to get a lot better," Wallace said. "It's a tough situation to get put in the first quarter, but I've just got to keep fighting. I know that regardless of what happens this week, I'm going to keep preparing and it'll get better if I'm playing."

Wallace's "if I'm playing" was in reference to Rodgers, but his shaky outing undoubtedly has the Packers examining their short list of out-of-work quarterbacks. That could include Harrell, Young or Coleman. Scott Tolzien is on the practice squad.

It remains to be seen if that list includes former Packers backup Matt Flynn, who was cut by the Buffalo Bills earlier on Monday and is subject to waivers. While Flynn had one of the greatest games in Packers history in the 2011 season finale against Detroit, throwing for six touchdowns and 480 yards in a 45-41 victory, he's fallen on his face in ensuing stops at Seattle, Oakland and Buffalo – the latter two being among the most quarterback-needy teams in the league. Fans remain hopeful that Flynn could be that puzzle piece that falls into place once more in Green Bay.

McCarthy's focus, for now, remains on his current starter.

"Player acquisition... I really have nothing for you," McCarthy said. "I'm focused on Seneca Wallace right now."


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W. Keith Roerdink has covered the Packers since 1992. E-mail him at karoer@msn.com.


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