Back in the 1960s, Zeke Bratkowski of the Green Bay Packers was widely considered to be the best backup quarterback in the NFL, as he backed up Bart Starr. In the years that Vince Lombardi was head coach, Bratkowski bailed out the Packers on a number of occasions, winning games either as a starter or in relief of an injured Starr.
Bratkowski seemed to have his finest moments against the Baltimore Colts. Three times Bratkowski had to come into the game due to injuries to Starr versus the Colts and in all three instances, the Packers came from behind to win.
The most notable game was the 1965 Western Conference Championship Game at Lambeau Field. Going into that game, the Packers seemed to have a huge advantage at the quarterback position, as Starr would be going up against halfback Tom Matte, who had to play quarterback due to injuries to both starter Johnny Unitas (knee) and backup Gary Cuozzo (dislocated shoulder).
Matte had played quarterback at Ohio State, but was mostly a running QB for the Buckeyes.
The advantage was soon wiped away on the very first scrimmage play of the game, when linebacker Don Shinnick recovered a Bill Anderson fumble and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown.
Starr tried to make a tackle near the end zone on the play and hurt his ribs in the process. No. 15 was forced to leave the game due to the injury, although he still came into the game to hold on extra points and field goals.
Into the game came Bratkowski and he led the Packers to a 13-10 overtime victory, as he threw for 248 yards.
Due to his expertise of being as good as it gets as a backup QB in the NFL, I thought it would be nice to speak with Bratkowski about the current state of affairs at quarterback in Green Bay, especially in the aftermath of the broken collarbone suffered by Aaron Rodgers.
It’s yet to be determined whether Rodgers will miss the rest of the 2017 season or still be able to come back late in the 2017 campaign.
Rodgers broke his collarbone early in the game last Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, as linebacker Anthony Barr took Rodgers to the ground on his right shoulder after No. 12 had already thrown a pass. But because Rodgers was out of the pocket, no penalty was called.
Backup quarterback Brett Hundley came into the game unexpectedly against one of the top defenses in the NFL, as Minnesota is currently ranked fifth in total defense. As one might expect, Hundley didn’t have great success in his first real playing time in a NFL regular season game, as he was under constant pressure behind a once again banged up offensive line, which saw three starters (LT David Bakhtiari, LG Lane Taylor and RT Bryan Bulaga) leave the game.
Hundley threw one touchdown pass versus three interceptions for 157 yards, as he completed 18-of-33 passes. No. 7 was also sacked four times.
In what seems to be a Twilight Zone episode, the Packers and their fans now know that Rodgers will be gone for quite some time and that Hundley will be taking snaps at quarterback for the Packers for the next several games.
Which is why I wanted to get Bratkowski’s opinion on what the mindset of Hundley should be, as he is about to get his first NFL start against the New Orleans Saints at Lambeau Field this upcoming Sunday.
“As a backup, you have to prepare like you are going to start, even when the starting quarterback will be playing,” Bratkowski told me on Monday. “Now that he has this one game under his belt, things should improve as he gets more reps.
“I thought Brett did pretty good, considering who he was playing against and the fact that he came into the game cold.”
Bratkowski sees positive things ahead for Hundley, who is now in his third season in the NFL.
“He has had two-plus years of sitting, listening and watching Aaron [Rodgers] prepare and play,” Bratkowski said. “The new technology also helps now with the iPad, where you can look at the other team and their tendencies. You get all of the computer data pretty quickly.
“So between getting help from the coaches and his own study, it’s definitely preparation time. In that preparation, the simplicity of his outlook needs to be studied. For instance, he’ll be going up against New Orleans, who will score some points. He’ll have the challenge there to try and match them.
“He’s got to play not to lose the game. Be aggressive in what you do and take what you can get. You want to stay within the confines of the concept. That would be the best advice I could give him. The Packers have a good concept. They have good and solid receivers, which includes the running backs.”
The Packers will know later in the week whether any or all of the three injured offensive linemen will be able to play against the Saints.
Speaking of the Saints, Hundley has a very pleasant memory of playing against them in the final preseason game in 2015. In that game, Hundley completed 16-of-23 passes for 236 yards and four TDs with no interceptions. Hundley’s passer rating in that game was 142.4.
Yes, I know that was just the preseason. But it was during that 2015 preseason when the Packers realized they may have something special with Hundley. Similar to how Rodgers played in the 2007 preseason when Brett Favre was in his final year as the starting QB and how Matt Flynn kept getting better in the preseason backing up Rodgers for four years.
During the 2015 preseason, Hundley led the NFL with 630 passing yards, completed 45-of-65 passes (69.2 percent), plus had seven TD passes versus just one pick. That added up to an overall passer rating of 129.6.
Bratkowski talked about some other factors that will help Hundley in playing quarterback.
“Brett has good escapability,” Bratkowski said. “Similar to Aaron. The receivers of the Packers do a great job of finding an open spot when the quarterback scrambles.
“The receivers for the Packers are experienced. They will be able to help Brett throughout the week in their film studies. Letting him know what has worked in the past against the defensive backs they will be facing.”
Unlike the game against the fifth-ranked Minnesota defense in a hostile environment on the road, Hundley will be facing the 26th-ranked New Orleans defense at the friendly confines of Lambeau Field.
Bratkowski will be there to witness the game as a matter of fact. Bratkowski will be joined by many of his former Green Bay teammates like Starr, Jerry Kramer, Dave Robinson, Chuck Mercein, Boyd Dowler, Carroll Dale, Ken Bowman, Bob Long and Marv Fleming, as the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame will be hosting a special 50th Anniversary Celebration of the Hall of Fame Saturday, Oct., 21, in the Lambeau Field Atrium.
In addition to that, the Packers’ 1967 championship team will also be honored.
Bratkowski is looking forward to see his old teammates again, plus is anxious to see how Hundley will perform in front of the home crowd. Bratkowski talked about a couple of other things which will help Hundley succeed.
“An effective running game will help,” Bratkowski said. ” That helps the play-action passing game.”
What also helps is communicating well with the coaching staff.
“I don’t know what Coach [Mike] McCarthy will give him in terms of running the whole offense, but the most important meeting a quarterback can have is when he tells his coach which plays he’s comfortable with.
“Make a list of things that you like. List some things that you might not understand or don’t particularly care for. It’s not that you are being negative, but there are some things that you are more comfortable doing. That’s a big meeting, because the coaches will ask the quarterback that during the week.
“For instance, Brett will be very effective bootlegging and getting outside of the pressure. Plus, as I know from watching him in college at UCLA, that Brett can take off and run. That’s a big plus for him.”
Bratkowski also knows that New Orleans will try some things on defense to confuse Hundley.
“The Saints on defense are going to test Hundley,” Bratkowski said. “They know he’s young and inexperienced. So they are going to give him different looks.”
The key for Hundley according to Bratkowski, is to stay within himself and the offensive concept of the team.
“Brett needs to take what the Saints give him,” Bratkowski said. “That will work out extremely well for him. Don’t ad-lib. Do the reads according to what you have been taught. Just stay simplistic and trust what you have been taught and have learned.”