GREEN BAY, Wis. — Next man up. It’s the philosophy of the Green Bay Packers and one that is often tested. But with the amount of injuries that have piled up, the Packers almost gave a whole new meaning to that motto during Sunday’s loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
With Aaron Rodgers’ broken collarbone still a few weeks from being healed and the groin injury suffered by backup Seneca Wallace on Green Bay’s first drive, the Packers were just one hit away from going from third-stringer Scott Tolzien to having John Kuhn or Jordy Nelson at quarterback. Yes, Kuhn, a fullback, or Nelson, a wide receiver, would have been the emergency options in the event of a disaster. Wide receiver Randall Cobb would have that role (he’s a former quarterback), but he’s on injured reserve and can’t return until Week 15. Green Bay escaped, though, as Tolzien stayed healthy and finished the game.
The Packers were also down to their final healthy offensive lineman by game’s end. Starting center Evan Dietrich-Smith was injured in the second quarter, limping off the field and not returning with a knee injury. In the fourth quarter, starting right tackle Don Barclay injured his knee while blocking on a field goal. He too did not return to the game. Dietrich-Smith’s injury forced right guard T.J. Lang to play center, shifted Barclay to right guard and brought in Marshall Newhouse off the bench and into the right tackle spot. Barclay’s injury later brought undrafted rookie Lane Taylor — the last healthy, active offensive lineman — into the game. Had another injury occurred in that group, Green Bay likely would’ve called on one of its defensive linemen — or perhaps a tight end — to assume a spot on the offensive line.
“I don’t look at it as stressed; that’s the game,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “It’s nice when no one gets hurt because you’re able to get in your rhythm and get your calls in and it goes smoother, but that’s the job of the coach. The stress is really on the players and the communication that they’re going through at the line of scrimmage or on the perimeter. I thought for the most part our guys do a very good job of that.
“No one panics. No one (says), ‘Oh, gosh, here we go again.'”
In addition to the injuries suffered by Wallace, Dietrich-Smith and Barclay, the Packers also lost cornerback Casey Hayward to a hamstring injury in the second quarter. Hayward missed the first six games this season with a hamstring injury, as well.
On Philadelphia’s final drive of the game, Green Bay outside linebacker Nick Perry aggravated a foot injury that kept him out the previous three games. Perry broke a bone in his foot Oct. 13 and was listed as questionable on the injury report heading into this game.
“We can’t sit here and feel sorry for ourselves with guys going down,” veteran linebacker A.J. Hawk said. “It’s like complaining about the refs or something — it’s not going to do you any good. So we’re going to keep fighting, keep rolling. We’re not going away, that’s for sure. I’m sure everyone thinks we are, but we’re not. We’ll be back. We’ll be ready.”
The severity of the injuries to Wallace, Dietrich-Smith, Barclay, Hayward and Perry won’t be known until later in the week.
All of the injuries seem to have caught up to the Packers, who have lost two games in a row and are currently in eighth place in the NFC standings.
Even a couple of the players that Green Bay did have available Sunday were hampered by injuries. Outside linebacker Clay Matthews was playing with a massive club on his right hand in an effort to protect his surgically repaired thumb, which had kept him out the past four games.
“It’s more so difficult going out there with one hand than dealing with the pain,” Matthews said. “Obviously it’s going to hurt, but that wears off. They assured me it would be very difficult to reinjure the hand being in a club with the protection that I have and how it’s casted down. But at the same time, that doesn’t mean the pain goes away. So that’s just a byproduct that I need to continue push through, and I think I will.
“Obviously today’s the first day that I had live reps and live action throwing it in there, and we’re obviously pushing the timeline, too, as far as returning.”
No injury is more important to the Packers than the one to Rodgers, but he’s still likely going to miss at least the next three games. While Green Bay’s upcoming schedule is manageable, wins without Rodgers and the large group of other key players won’t be easy, beginning with a road game at the resurgent New York Giants next week, followed by the Packers hosting the Minnesota Vikings and then being on a short week to play on Thanksgiving at the division-leading Detroit Lions.
“We’ve just got to stop shooting ourselves in the foot,” Lang said. “We’ve got to stay together as a team. Coming off two straight losses, you can’t start to separate. You’ve got to stay strong as a team. I know leaders really have to step up to make sure guys are staying confident in the work that we do and not changing anything in the preparation.
“You’ve just got to keep playing. You’re not going to sit there and pout about somebody getting hurt. There’s still a lot of football left. You can’t (expletive) and complain, you’ve got to go out there and you’ve got to finish the game. You’ve got to play the full four quarters.
“The injuries suck. Yeah, they’re part of the game, but we’ve got enough guys on this team that we can win football games, and we haven’t been doing that. But it’s just something that injuries happen, you’ve got to step up, and when you’ve got to fill a spot, you’ve got to go out there and play.”