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Zulgad: Aaron Rodgers’ likely season-ending injury means NFC North is now wide open

By Judd Zulgad

MINNEAPOLIS – Aaron Rodgers is the reason the Green Bay Packers were able to rally in the fourth quarter last week to win in Dallas; Rodgers is the reason the visiting Packers entered Sunday’s game against the Vikings as 3-point favorites; and Rodgers is why so many picked the Packers to repeat as NFC North champions this season despite their many faults.

But the advantage the Packers had with Rodgers – among the biggest provided by one player in the NFL – disappeared on Green Bay’s second series at U.S. Bank Stadium. On second-and-9 from his own 39, Rodgers threw an incompletion toward tight end Martellus Bennett. He was thrown to the turf by Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr after delivering the ball on a play that did not draw a flag.

Rodgers felt awkwardly on his right (throwing) shoulder … and didn’t get up. He was carted off to the Packers locker room shortly thereafter and in the second half the Packers tweeted this update: QB Aaron Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone. There’s a chance he could miss the rest of the season.

This meant that the Packers not only walked off the field Sunday as 23-10 losers to the Vikings, it also meant any advantage they had over so many teams in this quarterback-starved league is now gone.

Welcome to the wide-open NFC North, where the starting quarterbacks are Matthew Stafford (Detroit), Case Keenum (Minnesota), Brett Hundley (Green Bay) and rookie Mitch Trubisky (Chicago). Only Stafford entered the season as his team’s starter and the Lions suffered a 52-38 loss on Sunday in New Orleans.

That dropped Detroit to 3-3 on the season, leaving them a game behind the 4-2 Vikings and Packers.

“I’m not into the soothsaying stuff,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said when asked if the dynamic of the division has changed because of Rodgers’ injury. “He’s a great player, it’s different when he’s not in there, there’s no doubt about it. But that’s the way it is.”

Zimmer won’t say it, so I’ll say it for him. He couldn’t be happier.

The Packers have been in this situation only once before since Rodgers took over as their starter in 2008. That came in 2013, when the NFL’s two-time MVP (2011 and 2014) first suffered a fractured collarbone in a November game. He missed seven weeks.

The Packers were 5-2 and atop the NFC North, having won four in a row, when Rodgers went out. But they went 0-4-1 over the next five weeks and were 7-7-1 when Rodgers returned in Week 17. He guided the Packers to a victory over the Bears to give Green Bay the NFC North championship. The difference, however, was that Rodgers’ injury that season was to his non-throwing shoulder.

That’s why this time the Packers are bracing for Rodgers to not play again until 2018.

In 2013, Rodgers was replaced by Matt Flynn (five games, four starts), Scott Tolzien (three games, two starts) and Seneca Wallace (two games, one start). This time the Packers will rely on the 24-year-old Hundley, who entered Sunday having attempted 11 career passes in five relief appearances since being drafted in the fifth round in 2015 out of UCLA.

Green Bay began Sunday’s game already shorthanded in the secondary and without Rodgers there is going to be no one to save the day. The Packers learned this against the Vikings, totaling five third downs through three quarters before adding nine in the fourth as they attempted to play catch up. The Packers also had 102 yards of total offense, including only 66 passing, through three quarters.

Hundley finished 18 of 33 for 157 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions. Take out the final 15 minutes, and he was six of 10 for 61 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Hundley has a good arm and appears to have talent, but, right now, you would take Keenum over him.

Minnesota will play host to Baltimore (2-2), which lost to Chicago on Sunday, next week before traveling to Twickenham, England to play the woeful Cleveland Browns (0-6) before their bye. There’s a real opportunity the Vikings could hold first place in the division during that week off.

“I never want to see anybody get hurt,” Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon said when asked about Rodgers. “On my team, the opposing team, anything like that.”

This might be the proper thing to say when the cameras and recorders are rolling. Privately, though, the Vikings are well aware of the fact their opportunity to win a second division title in three years increased greatly on Sunday and it wasn’t just because they beat they won the game.

The post Zulgad: Aaron Rodgers’ likely season-ending injury means NFC North is now wide open appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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