I was excited. It was March 18, 2012. The Seattle Seahawks had just signed free agent quarterback Matt Flynn. They were struggling to replace Matt Hasselbeck. They had Marshawn Lynch and a great defense. The right quarterback would be the final piece of the puzzle.
After four years of backing up Aaron Rodgers for the Green Bay Packers, I thought Flynn would be ready. After all, it worked for Rodgers. He lit the world on fire after three years of backing up Brett Favre. Meanwhile, Alex Smith struggled when thrown straight in the flames as a rookie for the San Francisco 49ers. Smith was the No. 1 pick in the 2005 draft. Rodgers was No. 24.
So after a few years of clipboard duty behind a Pro-Bowler, Flynn was ready for his own starting job. right?
By the way, who holds the Packers’ record for most passing yards in a game? Favre? Rodgers? Nah, it’s Flynn, with 480 vs. the Detroit Lions January 1, 2012. He also threw for six touchdowns, tying the record Rodgers set earlier that year.
But Russell Wilson happened. The rookie outworked Flynn, logging more study hours and showing more flashes of brilliance. Once Wilson got his chance, he got slowly rolling and never stopped improving. Soon, it was obvious that Flynn was expendable. After a season watching Wilson take Seattle to the playoffs, Flynn was traded to the Oakland Raiders.
In Oakland, he was beat out for the starting job by Terrelle Pryor. Flynn started one game when Pryor was injured. He was demoted to third-string and released shortly thereafter.
But a professional quarterback is always in demand. When Buffalo Bills starter E.J. Manuel went down with a knee injury and his backup Thad Lewis got hurt, the Bills called up Flynn. He backed up Jeff Tuel and saw no action in Buffalo. He was released three weeks later.
Sometimes, you just have to wait for things to come full circle. Back in Green Bay, Rodgers and Seneca Wallace were injured. They needed a backup for Scott Tolzien. They re-signed Flynn. On November 24, 2013, Tolzien was struggling against the Minnesota Vikings. The Packers were down 23-7 in the third quarter when Tolzien was benched for Flynn. He completed 21 of 38 passes for 218 yards and a touchdown while leading the team to a 26-26 tie.
The next week against Detroit, instead of repeating his six-touchdown performance, he was sacked seven times, fumbled twice and threw one interception in a 40-10 loss. Rodgers was not ready to come back, so Flynn was still holding his spot. In the soft NFC North division, the 5-6-1 Packers were still in the playoff hunt. The next week against the Atlanta Falcons, Flynn led the team back from a 21-10 halftime deficit to win 22-21.
Down 26-3 the following week against the Dallas Cowboys, Flynn led five consecutive touchdown drives and won 37-36. The Packers lost their last game under Flynn 38-31 vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers. But by going 2-2-1 in 2013, Flynn still had the team in playoff contention. In Week 17, Rodgers returned to beat the Chicago Bears and win the division title.
For a guy thrown into the starting role playing for his third team that year, .500 football is not too bad. Had Flynn not put together both comebacks vs. the Falcons and Cowboys, his team would not have made the playoffs.
What a long strange trip it’s been for Matt Flynn. His story illustrates how hard it is to be a starting NFL quarterback. Getting the job and holding it is something not many players can do. The most many athletes can hope for is a few glorious moments to remember their career by.
Flynn finished strong in 2013, going all the way around the NFL map and back to do it.