The Green Bay Packers entered Week 6 with a division lead and the best record in the NFC. They exit without superstar quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who suffered a broken collarbone and could miss the rest of the season, per an announcement by the team on Sunday.
Rodgers suffered the injury during the Packers' second possession of Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings, crumpling to the turf after a hit delivered by linebacker Anthony Barr. Rodgers didn't leave the field until the team's medical staff assisted him off and into the sideline medical tent. Shortly after, two-time MVP took a cart to the locker room for further examination. The Packers didn't announce the severity of Rodgers' condition until the start of the third quarter, but it seemed clear immediately that things weren't good.
Rodgers has broken his collarbone before. During the 2013 season, he fractured his left clavicle after a similar hit from Chicago Bears linebacker Shea McClellan and missed the Packers' next seven games. After nearly two months of speculation, Rodgers managed to return for the season finale, winning the game and the division in breathtaking fashion. That relatively speedy recovery suggests that the signal-caller may be able to exceed expectations on his return.
However, Rodgers' first broken collarbone affected his non-throwing shoulder. This time, he broke his right clavicle and could require more time to heal before being able to throw the football safely against live contact again.
After Rodgers went down, the Packers turned to Brett Hundley, a third-year quarterback with 11 career pass attempts entering Sunday's game. Hundley flashed both promise and inexperience within his first two passes, the first thrown to a well-covered wideout and tipped for an interception with the second finding Davante Adams for the team's first touchdown of the afternoon. Hundley nearly delivered a second score, a touchdown pass to Ty Montgomery sacrificed to the NFL's ever-confusing catch rule.
Hundley spent most of the afternoon handing off to running backs or scrambling away from pressure behind a Green Bay offensive line that saw both starting tackles depart midway through the proceedings. Vikings pass-rushers reached Hundley frequently, sacking the young quarterback four times for 20 yards and hitting him 12 times in total. The lack of protection and preparation resulted in Hundley producing three turnovers through the air and nearly fumbling away another as the Packers lost to their division rival, 23-10.
Those mistakes would force many teams to seriously consider external options to replace an injured starting quarterback, and the Packers might look to find a starter outside the organization as well. Colin Kaepernick, a Milwaukee native, remains available after opting out of his contract with the San Francisco 49ers earlier this year. His athleticism fits head coach Mike McCarthy's scheme, and his abilities as a runner could bring an added dimension to the offense. Whether Green Bay would consider the polarizing Kaepernick, especially in light of news that he could file a collusion grievance against the NFL, remains unclear.
The Packers could also try to lure a former Pro Bowl quarterback out of retirement. Less than two hours after Rodgers' injury, FOX NFL analyst Troy Aikman openly speculated whether fellow broadcaster Tony Romo might step out of the booth and head to Green Bay if offered the opportunity. Romo, who also hails from Wisconsin, publicly assured fans that he had no desire to return to the field as recently as last week. However, a playoff-ready team like the Packers might entice him to lace up the cleats one more time.
Both Kaepernick and Romo look like long shots at this stage, though. The Packers invested a draft pick and three offseasons in Hundley to prepare him for this very situation. McCarthy backed Hundley during his postgame press conference, calling him "my quarterback." Until further notice, they plan to roll with him under center with Rodgers sidelined. Now, the work begins to prepare him for this first career regular-season start.
Regardless of when or if Rodgers returns, the injury derails the Packers' best start in years. The team won four of its first five games despite missing a plethora of key players, many of which looked likely to return in the near future. Rodgers performed like an MVP candidate, delivering two game-winning scores on his final possession over the past three weeks. Meanwhile, the rest of the NFC seemed middling at best, clearing a path for Green Bay to seize control of the conference.
The Packers could still qualify for the playoffs given their current record and overall talent, but their Super Bowl aspirations took a significant blow with Rodgers' injury. Now, the future is as uncertain as ever in Lambeau.