Potential free agent Flynn will provide an audition tape Sunday

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Tyler Dunne, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Friday, December 30, 2011
— No, Matt Flynn has not checked the weather forecast. At some point Saturday, he plans to. But not yet. In reality, the Green Bay Packers' backup quarterback probably doesn't need to waste his time.

It's Wisconsin. It's winter. It's going to be cold. Tough break.

"I'm not a big fan of the cold," Flynn said. "Being a southern boy, it's something you have to deal with."

But—as the native Texan notes—he's always been stranded on the sideline during those frigid afternoons at Lambeau Field. He's stationary, an easy target. Not much internal heat is circulating when you're holding a clipboard. This weekend, that'll probably change. With home-field advantage locked up, there's a good chance the Packers pull starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers at some point Sunday against the Detroit Lions.

For Flynn, the opportunity is two-fold. First, millions of dollars may be on the line. He's a free agent in March. This could be a job interview with Ndamukong Suh and Cliff Avril providing the interrogation. And also, Flynn can provide further peace of mind. He's the proverbial "one snap away" from piloting a Super Bowl favorite, a team that has relied on its quarterback being nearly perfect.

Yes, Sunday does mean something for someone in green and gold.

"If I get an opportunity to play, I just want to go in there, execute and put points on the board," Flynn said. "I want to go out there, run the offense, take what's given to me. My goal as a backup quarterback is to try my best to not let there be a huge drop-off at the position."

A whole new future may be waiting for Flynn in March—a new contract, a new opportunity, a new home. The quarterback said this looming possibility hasn't affected him. He's well aware that it could. For any player, such uncertainty can be a factor, a detriment. To Flynn, that's a "dangerous mind game." All season, coaches say, he has prepared as the starter.

"There are guys in this league that fall into the trap of thinking they're in a contract year and they have to play good for the future," Flynn said. "But that's a trap you have to avoid. You have to really take it day by day and look at the now, not what's going to happen."

So instead, he caddies one of the best quarterback seasons ever.

Flynn's progression has been gradual. He wasn't nurtured in a pro-style offense at LSU, and his arm wasn't very strong. But almost immediately in 2008, coaches noticed Flynn's moxie. The seventh-rounder's sixth sense for the game stood out. He knew how to keep plays alive. "His command and presence on the field," stood out to offensive coordinator Joe Philbin.

That was then, when Aaron Rodgers still hadn't started a NFL game.

And this is now. Rodgers is the face of the franchise, and Flynn, 26, wants a chance to be a starter.

Waiting can be a powerful motivator. The red, Coca-Cola-themed "Baton Rouge" shirt he wore Thursday is a reminder that this is nothing new to Flynn. For seven of his eight seasons as a collegiate and pro quarterback, he has been a backup. At LSU, he sat behind JaMarcus Russell before leading the Tigers to a national championship.

The value in this has leaked onto the field whenever Flynn has gotten his chance. After Rodgers suffered a concussion against the Lions last season, Flynn threw for 251 yards and three touchdowns in a near upset at New England.

No pile-up of sacks, interceptions and benchings stunted Flynn's growth. Much like Rodgers.

"It has allowed him to develop at a good pace, a steady pace," quarterbacks coach Tom Clements said. "He hasn't had to play necessarily before he was ready."

Obviously, the Packers would like to keep it that way. Rodgers has provided a weekly Midas touch to a flawed 14-1 team. His 4,643 yards and 45 touchdowns have covered for an inconsistent defense. Most importantly, durability hasn't been an issue for him. Rodgers has started 61 of 62 games in four seasons.

Still, the possibility always lingers. A year ago, Chicago's Jay Cutler went down with a knee sprain. It happens.

If Rodgers did suffer an injury—and the Packers lost their MVP front-runner—Clements believes the offense would be fine.

"Absolutely," Clements answered before the question finished. "I've been around (Flynn) for four years and seen how he prepares, how he practices and saw how he did when he had his opportunity last year."

Everybody else "in the building" offensively feels the same way, Philbin said.

"We like him as a guy, we like his leadership abilities, we like his decision-making," he said. "We think he knows the offense very well. We think he can get us out of a bad play. We're not really that concerned that he'd check into a great play every single time. If he's out there—whether it's Sunday, whether it's January 15th, whenever—I think guys would be fine."

This week, Detroit's notorious front four comes to town, a group that smells fear and often crosses the line. If McCarthy decides to pull Rodgers—which is starting to sound more like a "when" than an "if"—the receivers aren't too worried. Flynn only gets a handful of snaps with the first unit each week. And Rodgers' ball comes at them with more zip. But wideout James Jones says Flynn throws a "pretty ball" that arrives in stride and on time.

"Matt's a good quarterback," Jones said. "He could probably start on a lot of teams in this league. I'm sure he'll go out there and play well. Everybody saw what he could do last year against the Patriots. He'll do fine. He'll make some plays out there."

Nothing surprised Jones about that New England game. On one stop-and-go pattern, he took a Flynn pass 66 yards for a touchdown. Nothing changed, he said.

"That's Matt," he said. "We've seen it every preseason. Matt's a gamer. When he gets in there, he always plays well. He's not scared and doesn't shy away from the moment."

It's too soon to say where Flynn will be playing next season. Many teams already have a young quarterback to build around. Wherever Flynn is in 2012, he doesn't plan on bringing Rodgers' "Belt" move with him. Yes, he did in the Patriots game, but he may start something new.

Until then, it's fair game. Forecasts call for temperatures in the mid-20s, a chance of snow and 24 mph winds on Sunday. Belt away.

"I guess if the right moment strikes, it could come out," Flynn said. "Who knows? It would be directed toward Aaron. Not anybody else."

Last updated: 7:01 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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