Rookie safety Morgan Burnett is out for the season after suffering a torn ACL in his knee, Head Coach Mike McCarthy announced. Burnett left the game against Detroit in the second quarter, but after reviewing the film the coaching staff determined that Burnett might have played as many as 10 snaps after he injured his knee.
“It’s remarkable to watch the tape,” McCarthy said. “He played 23 snaps in the game. I want to say it probably happened somewhere between probably his ninth and 12th snap in the game. There’s no real clear-cut picture when he did it.”
It’s possible that Burnett hurt the knee early in the second quarter, getting into the scrum to try to recover a fumble by Detroit running back Jahvid Best, but there’s no telling for sure. McCarthy said when Burnett was examined on the sideline during the second quarter, he reported the usual symptoms associated with ACL injuries and was sent to the locker room. The ligament tear was confirmed with further testing.
A third-round draft choice out of Georgia Tech, Burnett had stepped into a starting position at safety from Day 1 with Atari Bigby absent from the offseason program. When Bigby began training camp on the physically-unable-to-perform list with an ankle injury, Burnett remained the starter alongside Pro Bowler Nick Collins and was forced to “grow up fast,” McCarthy said.
“He was getting better with each week,” McCarthy said. “For a first-year player, being in a key communicating spot in our defense, I thought he did an exceptional job. He was getting more comfortable and you could see his athletic ability taking over. You feel bad for Morgan.”
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers liked the progress he was seeing out of Burnett, too. He had his first pro interception in Week 2 vs. Buffalo.
“Sometimes back at that safety position, when you don’t notice a guy a lot, he’s doing his job,” Capers said. “The thing I like about Morgan is his demeanor, he’s an even-keel guy. I think for a young guy that’s a real positive at his position.”
Burnett’s absence thins the ranks at an already thin safety position. Bigby isn’t eligible to practice until after the Week 6 game vs. Miami, leaving the following options as the likely replacement for now: Charlie Peprah, Derrick Martin or Jarrett Bush.
Peprah has been the defense’s top backup at safety but has missed the last two games with a quadriceps injury. McCarthy said he expects Peprah to practice on Wednesday this week, and if he gets through the full week of work without any setbacks, he could get the starting nod.
“He’s a good communicator, and he’s pretty smart in terms of knowing the defense,” Capers said of Peprah. “I thought he was one of the more accountable guys through the preseason in terms of doing his job and making the calls and helping everybody else get where they should be.”
Martin filled in for Burnett when he left the game Sunday and did “OK,” according to McCarthy, who admitted that Martin hadn’t gotten the practice reps.
Normally a cornerback, Bush has played some safety before. He was the nickel corner against Detroit, but with Sam Shields, Brandon Underwood and Pat Lee in reserve at cornerback, the defense has more depth there than at safety.
McCarthy said several options are being discussed relative to the depth chart and roster, including the possibility of elevating Anthony Levine from the practice squad.
McCarthy and special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum didn’t commit to keeping Jordy Nelson as the lone kickoff returner after Nelson fumbled twice on Sunday. The Lions recovered both fumbles but converted the two turnovers into only three total points.
After the two fumbles, Nelson did take one more kickoff return and handled it cleanly. But McCarthy said he may look at punt returner Tramon Williams, Lee, or running back Dimitri Nance as possibilities on kickoffs.
“There’s accountability back there,” McCarthy said. “You have to hold onto the ball. I think Jordy’s done a good job the first three weeks. I think he’s doing a good job of recognizing what we’re trying to do from a return standpoint. I think we’re doing a much better job blocking on the return game. But there’s no excuses for having the ball on the ground twice. We’re not going to play like that.”
Slocum said he expects to use Nelson on kickoff returns this week at Washington, but he also said another returner could get a chance as well.
“We’ll look at some of the other guys and maybe giving Jordy a break,” Slocum said. “Jordy is a good returner. He’s shown that. He needs to do a better job with the ball security, and it may be to our advantage at some point to be able to use someone else in there.”
The Packers went forwards and backwards in a couple of key categories on Sunday.
On the positive side, they dramatically reduced their penalties from the franchise-record 18 (for 152 yards) in the Monday night loss at Chicago to just three (for 31 yards) against Detroit. In Sunday’s game, it was the opponent with the penalty problem, as the Lions were flagged 13 times for 102 yards.
The Packers also produced three takeaways on defense for the first time this season, turning them into 14 points.
But on the negative ledger were the giveaways – a season-high four with Nelson’s two fumbles and two interceptions by quarterback Aaron Rodgers. That left the Packers minus-1 for the game, and now minus-1 for the season. The last time the Packers had four turnovers in a game was in Week 4 of 2008 at Tampa Bay, a full two seasons ago, and Sunday’s game was just the third time since the start of the 2007 season the Packers turned the ball over four times in one contest.
Another step backward came with the third-down defense. The Packers came into the game having held their first three opponents to just a 35.3 percent conversion rate on third downs (12 of 34), but the Lions converted 59 percent (10 of 17), using a combination of screens to backs, passes to tight ends, and quarterback scrambles.
Most upsetting was that seven of Detroit’s 10 successful third-down conversions came when the Lions needed 6 yards or more. Four of them were 9 yards or more.
“You get people in third-and-9, third-and-12, and let them off the hook, … you just can’t do that in this league,” Capers said.
Lions quarterback Shaun Hill broke containment and ran right up the middle of the field for 40 yards on one third down, gaining most of his 53 yards rushing on that play. Detroit’s running backs combined for 11 receptions for 68 yards, and their tight ends caught 14 passes for 154 yards.
“I think screen is a common thing you see the more you pressure,” said Capers, whose unit is tied for the league lead with 16 sacks. “When you’re getting press on quarterbacks and you come up with sacks and that type of thing, you’re going to see more screens. It’s just a way for the offense to try to slow you down.”
Containing the quarterback becomes paramount this week with Washington’s Donovan McNabb as the opponent. His entire career, McNabb has made plays with his feet and is doing so again in his first season with the Redskins.
“That will be a point of emphasis on the practice field,” Capers said. “We need to do a good job with rush lane distribution, making sure that we don’t give him big lanes where he can pull that ball down and run, because he’s done it for a lot of years.”
McCarthy seemed to be more proud of his team’s win on Sunday than his players were, as the head coach reiterated on Monday how somber the mood was in the post-game locker room.
While it’s a best-case scenario for a coach and his team to win but still have plenty of areas to improve upon, McCarthy feels it’s also important not to lose sight of what was done to win the game, no matter how frustrating things may have been up to that point.
“Just because people think we are supposed to go out and win by two touchdowns, that’s not realistic, and for us to let that in our locker room is not what we are all about,” McCarthy said. “So maybe this is a good shot of reality that we need.
“They have a lot of character in that locker room, and they just showed it yesterday on the field. Yeah, no one was really happy about the way it went or the way that it was going at times, but they fought to win the game. That says a lot about your football team.”
McCarthy specifically pointed to the final 15 snaps of the game, three on defense and 12 on offense. With Detroit down only two points and at the Green Bay 38-yard line, the defense – mostly Charles Woodson – held the Lions to 1 yard on three plays to force a punt.
Then the offense killed the final 6 minutes, 32 seconds off the clock with six first downs to preserve the win, McCarthy’s ninth straight without a loss against the Lions.
“Those last 15 plays of the game I thought was impressive Packer football, and we were able to get the division win and that’s what it is all about,” McCarthy said.
The coaching staff awarded game balls to the following players during Monday’s team meeting: Scott Wells (offense), Woodson (defense), Brad Jones (special teams), and Korey Hall (big hit).