GREEN BAY, Wis. — If the Packers are going to stay atop the NFC North, they’ll have to defeat the Detroit Lions without several key players.
Outside linebacker Clay Matthews (hamstring), defensive back Charles Woodson (collarbone), wide receiver Jordy Nelson (hamstring), running back James Starks (knee) and defensive end C.J. Wilson (knee) are all officially out for Sunday night’s game.
Matthews, who leads the Packers in sacks with nine, was injured on Nov. 4 and has missed the team’s last three games. Woodson broke his collarbone Oct. 21, with Sunday marking seven weeks since the injury. He has practiced this week for a possible Week 15 return against the Bears.
“I’ve told you (Matthews) has been close every week, so closer, closest, we’re getting close,” coach Mike McCarthy said Friday. “He feels good about it. I think it’s real important for Clay, no different for Charles, that when we do bring those guys back, it’s not potentially just a one-week situation. We’re trying to do everything we can medically. Ultimately, you talk about veteran players who know their bodies better than anybody.
“We’re conscious of the long-term here.”
Nelson aggravated a hamstring injury in last week’s game, leaving in the first quarter and not returning.
“I pulled my hamstring,” Nelson said. “I’m not worried. I’ll survive. I’ll live. I expect to play again.”
Starks injured his knee in the fourth quarter, and though he returned for three more carries, found out this week that it was worse than expected.
“It will definitely be a multiple-week injury,” McCarthy said this week of Starks.
It is also likely that Green Bay will be without starting offensive lineman T.J. Lang (ankle, questionable) and defensive end Mike Neal (shoulder, doubtful).
Lang participated in Friday’s practice on a limited basis.
“He looked OK,” McCarthy said of Lang. “I wasn’t expecting him to practice. He did very little today.”
McCarthy was pessimistic about Neal’s recovery earlier this week, but was given a glimmer of hope Friday.
“The news was good news, based on what you fear,” McCarthy said of Neal. “(But) he’s not doing very well today.
“We’re going to give both T.J. and Mike Neal every chance to play in the game.”
The only positive news McCarthy was given from the Packers’ medical staff was about the recent progress of cornerback Sam Shields. Shields has been out the past six games with an ankle injury, but he practiced fully Friday and is probable for the game.
“He’s had a good week of practice,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said of Shields. “He’s been away from it for a while, so you gradually pick your spots and what personnel groups and bring him back in (gradually) because he hasn’t played since the (Oct. 14) Houston game.
“We’re happy to have Sam back. Now, how many plays he plays, I don’t know.”