That’s of course on top of injuries that already have sidelined high-profile players Ryan Grant, Morgan Burnett, Mark Tauscher, Ryan Pickett, Brandon Chillar and Donald Lee, among others, and the uncertainty this week surrounding outside linebacker Clay Matthews’ balky hamstring and quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ concussion.
But anyone who thought the prevailing mood at practice would be all doom-and-gloom, or that the locker room would resemble the silent, somber one in Arizona last January following the crushing overtime playoff defeat, was sorely mistaken.
Players weren’t overwhelmingly jovial, and there’s no denying that dealing with so many injuries at once is getting awfully tiring.
But having lost a game they felt they should have won, even with so many injuries, in Washington last Sunday, and knowing they have an opportunity to get things back on the right track with three of their next four games at home, the Packers aren’t about to resign themselves to any fate others might deem appropriate given the current circumstances.
“There is no ‘woe is me’ here,” said Head Coach Mike McCarthy, who explained that both Finley’s knee surgery and Barnett’s wrist procedure were performed with the players’ long-term health in mind, which in turn means a lengthy recovery for now, and decisions about their roster spots coming over the next couple of weeks.
“This is the National Football League. It’s a dynamic business. I think this is an excellent opportunity for us to show what we are about.”
What the Packers expect to be about is proving they have the talent and wherewithal to overcome the litany of injuries. First of all, they have no choice if they still want to have the season they were building for back in training camp.
But second, and perhaps most important, it’s not in their nature to think any differently, because to do so would be at best an excuse and at worst admitting defeat. Professional athletes aren’t about to feel outmanned in any given situation, even one that sees them playing at least a couple of months or more without one of the league’s unique talents at his position in Finley or one of the defense’s leaders in Barnett.
“I don’t think anyone’s mindset is, ‘Gosh, if we lose so-and-so or so-and-so, we’re really S.O.L.,’” rookie offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga said. “I don’t think anyone’s thinking that. I think we’re confident with the guys that are in the locker room, and I think the staff is confident with the guys in the locker room, and that’s why they’re here.
“When you’re out on the field, you just have to trust that the guy next to you is going to do his job, and you go out and do it. We’ve got great players on this football team. I don’t think anyone is not confident in what we have.”
What the Packers have is Bulaga filling in for Tauscher with an early chance to fulfill his promise as a first-round draft pick. There’s Brandon Jackson in for Grant, looking to build on Sunday’s 100-yard rushing game, his first since his rookie season in 2007. Andrew Quarless and Tom Crabtree will take over for Finley and Lee, getting a chance to mature as young pros in a hurry. Same for Mike Neal in Pickett’s stead.
The list goes on with A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop taking all the snaps for Barnett and Chillar in the last game, Brady Poppinga and Frank Zombo ready to step in for Matthews, and Charlie Peprah for Burnett. Matt Flynn could get the opportunity of a lifetime if Rodgers needs to be held out.
It’s not the lineup anyone envisioned back in August taking on the Miami Dolphins in Week 6, and there’s still time this week for some of the injuries to potentially heal – Chillar, Lee, Pickett, Matthews and Rodgers all have a chance to be available for Sunday’s game. But whoever does take the field will be out to prove they’re part of a lineup that can win, because there’s no point in approaching it any other way.
“I think it’s more like we look at it positively as opportunities for other guys to step up,” Crabtree said. “We feel like we have a lot of depth on this team, and it’s going to show I think. We’ve got a lot of guys who are ready to step up and excited to fill those roles.”
Bishop, who is among those with some experience answering the call and taking on a larger role, was even more matter-of-fact about it.
“We have a job to do,” he said. “Nobody is going to feel sorry for us. So the guys who are in, we have to pick each other up and move forward and win games.”
If nothing else, the players recognize it’s a chance to pull together as a group and sharpen their focus even more than it usually is on the immediate task in front of them, which is the Miami Dolphins.
“There was a lot of talk about the Super Bowl and everything like that. That’s great. That’s everyone’s goal in the end,” Bulaga said. “But right now our goal is week to week, our opponent week to week, and it’s Miami this week. I don’t think anyone’s looking past that. We’re just focused on the now.”
And focused on the best way to keep things upbeat, as the season progresses, amidst their current plight. It won’t magically heal everyone, but it’ll provide more to look forward to than the potential return of the wounded, whenever that may be.
“Just go get a win,” receiver James Jones said. “Go get a win.”
Additional coverage – Oct. 13