The Packers will have to do it again. Just as they overcame injury to march to the Super Bowl title in 2010, only two weeks into this season they find themselves having to deal with injuries again.
Already missing projected starter Mike Neal on the defensive line, the Packers now find themselves without Pro-Bowl safety Nick Collins. Head Coach Mike McCarthy opened his Monday press conference with the news on Collins, who injured his neck trying to make a tackle in the fourth quarter in Carolina on Sunday and is gone for the season.
Immobilized and taken off the field on a stretcher, Collins spent the night in a Charlotte hospital, returned to Green Bay Monday afternoon, and informed the team himself in the team meeting that his season was over.
“It’s real tough, especially somebody like Nick with his leadership and everything,” said fellow safety Morgan Burnett, shortly after exiting the team meeting. “It’s very devastating, but we just have to pick up where he left off. Those are big shoes to fill, and we just have to keep working and do it for him.”
Burnett was one of 15 players who went on season-ending injured reserve last season as the Packers persevered and put together their remarkable playoff run. Even though McCarthy said “you never get used to” dealing with such significant injuries, this Green Bay team is certainly more accustomed to it than most.
The question is whether the Packers can do it again. Can they withstand the loss of one of the league’s best at his position? For all the difficult season-ending injuries the Packers overcame a year ago, none was to a Pro-Bowl player, though tight end Jermichael Finley was on his way before going down in Week 5.
In his three straight Pro-Bowl seasons (2008-10), Collins intercepted 17 passes, one fewer than team leader Charles Woodson. He returned three for scores and added another interception return for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLV. One of the fastest players on the team, Collins has also been a regular throughout his career on special teams, and he even had two tackles on kickoff coverage on Sunday.
“Nick is a heck of a football player,” McCarthy said. “He’s a true team guy.
“You look at the first half of his career, he’s on pace to potentially have a Hall of Fame career here. Hopefully, this is just a bump in the road. We’re going to miss him.”
McCarthy declined to discuss the specifics of Collins’ injury, which occurred as his helmet hit the underside of a leaping Jonathan Stewart’s leg after Stewart caught a short pass. McCarthy said it was “too early in the evaluation process” to know whether Collins’ long-term health or career prospects have been jeopardized. McCarthy indicated Collins was currently wearing a neck brace and would seek various medical opinions on whether his injury will require surgery.
“Nick’s all about football,” McCarthy said. “It’s a great asset to have when you have 36 flying around out there, but someone else has to step up and we’ll move forward accordingly.”
That player will be Charlie Peprah, who filled in for Burnett last season and now will take Collins’ spot. McCarthy expressed his confidence in Peprah, whose experience and smarts proved valuable in 2010.
Whether the Packers will need other reinforcements heading into their Week 3 showdown with NFC North rival Chicago remains to be seen.
Defensive lineman Ryan Pickett, who bruised his foot in Sunday’s game, may not be able to return to practice on Wednesday. Meanwhile, McCarthy said he’s “hopeful” cornerback Tramon Williams, who missed the Carolina game with a shoulder injury, could return to practice.
In evaluating the performance in Carolina, McCarthy felt neither the offense nor defense was particularly efficient, leaving plenty to work on. He did, however, praise both units for making key plays with the game on the line.
“The adversity plays in the game is the strength of our football team right now,” McCarthy said. “That’s why we’re 2-0.”
The adversity isn’t letting up, judging by Monday’s news. These Packers may not know any different.
“It’s nothing you ever want to go through,” Burnett said. “But you just want to make sure you’re accountable and make sure you’re available and ready at all times just in case of a situation like this.” Additional coverage - Sept. 19