GREEN BAY, Wis. — Winning four games in a row has created plenty of momentum for the Packers. Not every victory has been decisive or even all that well played, but reaching a 6-3 record with Sunday’s win over the Arizona Cardinals is a proud moment for a team that had more losses in the first five weeks this season than it did all of last year.
That momentum, however, isn’t nearly as valuable as the bye week that Green Bay is now on. With more than 25 percent of the Packers’ roster on the injury report heading into this game, that list added several more key names by the final snap of their 31-17 victory against the Cardinals.
And it wasn’t role players who got hurt, either. Outside linebacker Clay Matthews, who is second in the NFL in sacks, hobbled off the field with a hamstring injury and did not return. Green Bay’s leading receiver, Jordy Nelson, who passed a pregame medical test for his groin in order to be cleared to play, made his recovery time longer by suffering an ankle injury in the first quarter. Nelson, who was already questionable entering the game, watched the rest of the game from the sideline.
Starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga was carted to the locker room with a hip injury and did not return, and tight end D.J. Williams left after injuring his hamstring. Wide receiver Randall Cobb also missed one offensive series when he lost feeling in his arm from a hard hit he took on special teams.
Though most NFL players believe there’s no such thing as a bad time for a bye week regardless of the situation or timing, no team needs time off more than the Packers do right now.
“Everybody’s usually beat up going into the bye, but we’ve had some significant injuries — too many for our liking,” coach Mike McCarthy said after the game. “We’re very pleased to be at the bye right now.”
When Aaron Rodgers took a knee to run out the clock and mercifully send Green Bay into its bye week, the team was missing 11 starters: five on offense and six on defense.
“We can appreciate when the bye fell,” healthy cornerback Tramon Williams said. “Obviously we have a group of guys hurt, guys who produce for this team a lot. It’s definitely going to be a good week for some of those guys to catch up.
“We’ve had more core guys injured this year who are producing in the starting lineup than anything. We’ve got some important people hurt right now.”
The injuries to key players started in preseason when inside linebacker Desmond Bishop, the Packers’ leading tackler last season who was also second on the team in sacks, was placed on injured reserve with a torn hamstring. Bishop’s backup, D.J. Smith, later joined him with a season-ending knee injury. Green Bay is now using third-stringer Brad Jones in that spot.
Running back Cedric Benson is on injured reserve (with a designation to return in Week 14), and fullback John Kuhn has missed the past two games due to a hamstring injury. Two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Greg Jennings has only played in three games all season and will miss several more weeks after undergoing abdominal surgery. Eventual Hall-of-Fame defensive back Charles Woodson has a broken collarbone and starting cornerback Sam Shields is still out with a bad ankle. Plus, the Packers’ top two draft picks, defensive end Jerel Worthy (concussion) and outside linebacker Nick Perry (knee/wrist), are both out.
“I’m happy I came out of here unscathed,” linebacker A.J. Hawk said. “I can go back to Ohio and I’m not going to be here in treatment all week. I’m happy about that.”
That’s pretty much what it’s come to in Green Bay. The select group of healthy players are just thankful their bye week won’t be spent rehabilitating an injury.
Despite the injuries mounting, the Packers keep winning. The past three victories have come against teams unlikely to be a part of the postseason, but beating the Rams (3-5), Jaguars (1-7) and Cardinals (4-5) are still wins that Green Bay very much needed after a slow start to the season.
“We’ve got a little bit of a roll right now with the four game win streak, but we’re going to have to create some more momentum after the bye with a couple tough road games to start it off,” Rodgers said. “I like where we’re at. We’ve had some adversity early in the season, we’ve come together, we’ve taken some heat and it’s brought us closer together.
“We went on the kind of run we need to go on with four big wins in a row to get to the bye week and now we can get healthy, and hopefully we can get some of our guys back. We’ve got a lot of guys who, if we can have back in the mix, we can really take off.”
The Packers’ schedule gets a lot more difficult once they return from their bye, traveling to Detroit and then to New York to face the Giants. Five of Green Bay’s final seven games are against NFC North opponents, part of a tight division race in which the Packers currently trail the Chicago Bears by 1.5 games, lead the Minnesota Vikings by one game and are ahead of the Lions by two games.