BATON ROUGE, La. -- Sitting in the LSU football special teams meeting room with Matt Flynn, watching the game of his life on tape: Green Bay 45, Detroit 41 -- Week 17, at a flurrying Lambeau Field -- trying to decipher whether he'll make a good starting quarterback for some team for the next six or eight years.
There's a play early in the game that catches my interest, a fairly important play. Detroit was up 9-0. Green Bay had a 3rd-and-9 at its own 33. Flynn came to the line, looking at a four-man rush. Nothing odd there.
The play-caller in the first half of this game was Aaron Rodgers. Yes, Rodgers, resting this game because the Packers had clinched their top playoff seed. And Rodgers had told Flynn Saturday that he'd be aggressive. So here, instead of just trying to get nine or 10 yards and move the sticks, Rodgers called for the three receivers -- two wideouts split out, tight end Jermichael Finley in the slot -- to all run vertical routes.
Flynn came to the line with 14 seconds left on the play clock. At 12 seconds, he began a hard count. "Getting the defense to show their hand,'' he said. Middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch took a couple of steps back. In film study that week, Flynn had seen that Tulloch would likely be covering the tight end in the slot on this call, and that he always liked to give the tight end some cushion, maybe dropping to 12 or 13 yards and then coming in to try to separate the tight end from the ball.
At seven seconds, Flynn gave the three receivers an alert; he was changing Finley's route to a 10-yard curl. He snapped the ball with four seconds left on the play clock. Finley ran nine yards, turned around, and the ball was in his gut. First down, barely.
So Flynn had to combine his film study from the week, the stones to check off from a play Rodgers wanted to run, and the trust with his receiver to throw the ball to a spot before Finley turned around. It worked. It was one play in a long game. Instead of punting to the Lions there and maybe going down 16-0 to a hot quarterback on the next series, Flynn kept the chains moving.
"In the Green Bay offense,'' Flynn said with the tape on pause, "we're what you'd call a 'best-play' team. I've been in the system for four years, and I know how it works. You study during the week and know everything you can possibly know about the defense. You talk to the coaches about what you like and what you don't like. Then, you get in the game, and checks like that come easy. We've worked on plays like that one every day in practice. It's just reaction for me now; I know what to check to. You run the hard count, and you see what they're going to do, and then you just know -- you just know the best play to call.''
If that's all he did in the game, big deal. But we watched his 49 pass drops (44 passes, three sacks, two scrambles), and I was more impressed than I thought I'd be.
Forget the garish numbers, the 480 yards passing and six touchdowns. His decision-making, his confidence, his ability to go no-huddle and call the plays himself (which is what the Green Bay system allows when the quarterback is going no-huddle), and his accuracy ... all of those traits are NFL-starter quality.
He completed three deep balls in the game, two of them thrown perfectly and one slightly underthrown and saved by Jordy Nelson. Does he have the deep arm some pro-style schemes demand? I'm still dubious. But he completed three of the four deep ones he threw in this game -- 36, 40 and 48 yards in the air from the line of scrimmage.
"We're a pretty methodical offense,'' he said. "The home-run shots come when you least expect them.''
Flynn got lucky in going to Green Bay. Mike McCarthy and aides Joe Philbin and Tom Clements are all good teachers of the quarterback position, and Rodgers a giving mentor. Flynn outplayed fellow draftee Brian Brohm as a rookie (Brohm was a second-round pick, Flynn a seventh-) and won the backup job to Rodgers. They became fast friends. Whereas Brett Favre never went out of his way to help Rodgers, Flynn became Rodgers' confidant. "Matt has soaked up so much, from me and the coaches,'' Rodgers told me last week. "He has grown so much as a player. Without a doubt he is ready. He has proven with his opportunities he know what is necessary to win. Players love him. Somebody's going to get a great football player in Matt.''
Their relationship is so good that when Flynn ran off the field midway through the fourth quarter after his fifth touchdown pass, Rodgers knew that he had tied the Green Bay record for touchdowns passes in a game -- a mark that he, Rodgers, shared. Said Flynn: "And Aaron looks me in the eye when I come off and he says: 'If you get the chance to go for six, you've got to go for it.' Now, does that say a lot about Aaron's character or what?''
"Crazy. Humbling. Weird,'' Flynn said about the day he had against the Lions, and the touchdown record that Bart Starr, Favre and Rodgers never could reach.
Later that day we were in Flynn's truck, with his girlfriend. Lacey Minchew, and I asked him about the dilemma teams face analyzing him. He's started two games in four seasons in Green Bay. How can a team be expected to break the bank for him, even if he's a compelling figure because of how he played in those two starts?
"Totally understand,'' he said. "I know there will be people for me, and people against me, but you can't be defensive about it. I've always been a confident person about what I can do, and I am right now. Hopefully, I get to find that one team that wants me, and I can get to that team and prove to the 52 guys I share the locker room with that I'm worthy of being the guy they look up to as their quarterback. There's no question in my mind I can be.''
I asked: "What's more important for a quarterback -- arm strength or accuracy?''
"Accuracy, no question,'' he said.
From the back seat, Minchew piped up: "I could have told you that.''
Flynn laughed. "You're going to throw it deep maybe two, three, four times a game. You might have 40 throws in a game. Obviously you need the arm to get it downfield, but I've always felt the position is about knowing everything about the defense, about your game plan, about what's going to work when you make checks. I feel like I can throw a very good deep ball. I don't know where it comes from that I can't. The windows are so tight in the NFL that you're not going to survive if you can't make those throws, and I think I've proven I can make them.''
Flynn just wants to find a home. He's not sure where that'll be. Maybe Miami with his former coach, Philbin. Or Seattle, with the GM, John Schneider, who was in the Packer personnel department when Green Bay drafted him in 2008. But I doubt Flynn will break the bank. This is not the time for him to do that. The time for him to get big money is after he proves he's a top-15 NFL starter in a year or two. If I'm Flynn, I'm looking for an unquestioned starting job now -- even if the money's not the motherlode.
"It's been a long month or so,'' Flynn said. "I'm ready to be out of the dark and on a team.''
Now for your email:
THE REDSKINS WOULD BE HAPPY WITH ANDREW LUCK. "
Washington made this trade knowing the Colts still might take Griffin, though it's very likely they'll take Andrew Luck. I can tell you Washington would be happy with either Luck or Griffin, and it wouldn't bother them which one they got. Re: the jerseys, I think the more important money coming in will be from fed-up ticket buyers tired of the Redskins being also-rans. This should ensure the Redskins will have a marketable guy to put on billboards and ticket brochures.
I wouldn't be surprised if the most Denver could get for Tebow is a fourth-round pick. I know the fans in Jacksonville want him, but I can't see GM Gene Smith brining him in to muddle the quarterback situation with a guy they're trying to salvage, Blaine Gabbert, who'd be in an unwinnable situation with the fans. It'd take a strong coach -- Bill Belichick, John Harbaugh, Pete Carroll -- not worried about the public pressure to play him to take Tebow on, in my opinion. I could see Belichick or Harbaugh making him a wild card type of player, playing 15 snaps a game all over the offense.
You'd pass on one of the best quarterbacks to come out of college football in years? When you get into position to take Andrew Luck, you don't pass on it.
What if Manning, at 36, with four neck procedures in the last two years, gets hurt on the third practice of camp and is finished? Or what if he makes it through three games and is finished? The Colts have a chance to take a quarterback who can be their quarterback for the next 15 years. You don't pass on that to keep a great 36-year-old quarterback whose future is cloudy.
ON MANNING'S FORMER MATES.
I reported two weeks ago he wanted to bring Wayne with him, and Wayne wants to come with him. So I believe it'll be at least Wayne. Beyond that, it depends which team he goes to. If it's a cap-strapped team such as Arizona, I doubt it'd be anyone besides Wayne.
I AM WRONG ON SANCHEZ, HE SAYS.
His contract ran for two more years; he was going to be on the team anyway. I never said the Jets should have given up hope on Sanchez. But this wasn't about rewarding him; it was about buying three additional years and a lowering of his 2012 cap number in exchange for $2.75 million in guarantees now, nothing else.