GREEN BAY, Wis. — It turns out that there is one injury that the Green Bay Packers aren’t able to overcome. And yes, it’s the obvious one.
The Packers found out Monday night that winning without Aaron Rodgers is not easy, as Green Bay lost 27-20 at home to a Chicago Bears team that didn’t have its own starting quarterback, Jay Cutler.
Three victories in a row with star outside linebacker Clay Matthews sidelined was doable. Even injuries to three of Green Bay’s top receiving threats — Randall Cobb, James Jones and Jermichael Finley — couldn’t stop the Packers from adding to the win column.
No Rodgers, though, was an entirely different story.
“I mean, he’s the quarterback, the former MVP of the league,” Nelson said. “I mean, that says it all. He’s a Super Bowl MVP, a Super Bowl champion.”
Rodgers means everything to Green Bay’s offense. If proof was required of that fact, it was provided Monday.
Rodgers left the game after just one drive, suffering what the team described as a left shoulder injury. Backup quarterback Seneca Wallace came in, and though the running game continued to gain big yards, the offense just wasn’t the same.
“Aaron’s a huge part of our offense now,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “We’ve been at this thing for how many years as far as the no-huddle? This is something that’s been built over time, with Aaron as the centerpiece. I don’t think it’s realistic to put anybody in there and think they’re going to pick up and run it the way he has run it.”
Wallace struggled in his efforts to pick up where Rodgers left off. He threw an interception in his first offensive series and finished the game 11-of-19 passing for 114 yards with no touchdowns and a passer rating of just 53.4.
“I tried my best, I put a lot of pressure on myself to make sure there’s not a letdown from what Aaron is doing and what I’m doing,” Wallace said. “But obviously it’s tough to get put in that situation and go out there and not have a lag. But you want to go out there and compete, that’s what I’m about and I love to compete.
“I put a lot on myself and feel like I should’ve played better.”
Wallace, 33 years old and in his 10th NFL season, was signed by the Packers on Sept. 2 after Green Bay decided that training-camp backup Vince Young was not the answer. Now, with the specifics of Rodgers’ injury unknown but likely to keep him out for at least a little while, Wallace is the next man up.
“You don’t replace him,” Nelson said of Rodgers. “You try to fill in as much as possible. If it was easier to replace someone of his caliber, there would be a lot more guys, a lot better quarterbacks in the league. Everyone’s just got to do their job, and maybe just do it a little bit better.”
With a few exceptions, not many Packers players were able to make up for the loss of Rodgers. Running back Eddie Lacy dominated with 22 carries for 150 yards and a touchdown, as did James Starks in his six carries for 40 yards and a touchdown. Green Bay’s offensive line created a running lane on Starks’ touchdown that would rival some of the biggest holes in NFL history.
But even with Jones’ return from a knee injury, Wallace couldn’t get the passing game going in the way that the Packers have become accustomed to seeing Rodgers do it.
“He’s the best player on this football team,” offensive lineman Josh Sitton said of Rodgers. “He’s probably the best player in the NFL, so it’s tough, yeah, no doubt.”
Wallace was under pressure in the pocket frequently and was sacked four times, including on the final two plays of the game when Green Bay was trying to tie it up with a long touchdown drive.
“Seneca, he needs to perform better and he’ll definitely do that with a week of practice,” McCarthy said. “We need to do a better job in the passing game. I think it was obvious tonight that third down was something that held us back.”
The Packers only converted 1-of-9 third-down plays into first downs. A week earlier, Green Bay was 13 for 18 in converting third downs.
Rodgers is the headliner, but the Packers also lost starting right guard T.J. Lang to a concussion, outside linebacker Andy Mulumba to an ankle injury and inside linebacker Sam Barrington to a hamstring injury.
Injuries like the ones to Lang, Mulumba and Barrington are the type that Green Bay has proven it’s able to endure. The Packers had a 5-2 record entering Monday’s game despite having nearly every one of its key players injured at some point during that time.
Sitting at 5-3 at the midpoint of the season and with Rodgers’ status up in the air, Green Bay’s once-promising season now hinges on the medical diagnosis of its star quarterback.
“This team revolves around Aaron, so it’s definitely tough,” Sitton said.