The number didn’t stay four for long.
In the first quarter, defensive end Cullen Jenkins broke his hand when he got caught in an awkward position on a cut block. He went to the locker room to have the hand examined and then taped up with a club-like cast.
Then early in the second quarter, fellow defensive end Justin Harrell went down with a knee injury on special teams. Mason Crosby’s 49-yard field goal was good, but Harrell was not and suddenly the Packers were down to two healthy defensive linemen, then three when Jenkins was able to return.
“It was like 2½,” end Ryan Pickett said, referring to himself, B.J. Raji and a one-handed Jenkins. “I’ve never been part of a game like that. We had to dig down and battle. If one of us was tired we had to fight through it all the time.”
The Packers employed their nickel defense almost the entire game, which only requires two down linemen, so one guy could get a rest on each snap. Which might not have been so bad had Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb not gotten hurt, turning the offense over to the ultra-quick and elusive Michael Vick.
“He changed stuff a whole lot,” Jenkins said. “We were almost wishing they put the other quarterback back in. Chasing Vick around is not fun at all. Once he comers into the game have to be conscious about how you rush and where you’re giving him to escape.”
Vick managed to rush for 103 yards on 11 attempts (9.4 avg.) and throw for 175 yards on 16-of-24 passing, almost entirely in the second half after Kolb left with a concussion. He nearly brought the Eagles back from a 27-10 deficit in the fourth quarter.
“That was a nightmare,” Pickett said. “We were hoping Kolb came back. I’m not saying he’s not a good quarterback, but he’s not a scrambling quarterback and you hate playing those kind.”
The Packers did manage to sack Vick three times, with Jenkins getting him once on the Eagles’ final drive of the game. Raji nearly got him earlier in the fourth quarter as well, but he wasn’t the only one who just missed the speedy Vick.
“I’ve been watching him since I was a kid, and now I know how fast he is first hand,” Raji said. “I thought I had him on that sack, but he got away, and he even outran our outside linebackers today cutting across the field. He did what he does.”
Fortunately, the defense survived despite being so shorthanded up front. Neal, the rookie second-round pick from Purdue, was expected to be the team’s fourth defensive lineman before straining a muscle in his side during practice this week. Wilson, a rookie seventh-round pick, may need to get ready to play sooner the expected.
“I’m glad they didn’t line up any three-tight end sets, because we would have had to pull a couple offensive guys over,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said.
Rookie starters a rarity
With the Packers opening in their nickel defense, two rookies started the game in the defensive backfield – safety Morgan Burnett and nickel cornerback Sam Shields. That marked the first time the Packers have started two rookies in the secondary in a game since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.
The two rookies held up fairly well, with Shields recording three tackles (two solo) and Burnett getting two solo stops. Shields was beaten by receiver Jeremy Maclin for a sliding touchdown catch in the fourth quarter but otherwise didn’t give up any real significant pass plays in one-on-one coverage.
“I think they played great,” veteran cornerback Charles Woodson said. “They did what was asked of them. They continued to grow mentally in this scheme and as young players, we’ve got something good in those young guys.”
The secondary as a whole was able to hold the Eagles’ game-breaker, receiver DeSean Jackson, mostly in check. Jackson was targeted on 11 passes but had only four receptions for 30 yards. Not bad for having two-fifths of the secondary making their NFL debut.
“It was a good start for them,” Capers said of the rookies. “I don’t think there’ll be many people with more skill than those (Eagles) guys have. The two receivers are both first-round picks, and Jackson is a guy you certainly didn’t want to be catching the ball over top and getting 50-yard touchdowns. There’s a lot of corrections to make off of it, but we’re off and running and off to a good start.”
Receiver Donald Driver’s 6-yard touchdown catch late in the second quarter was the 50th receiving TD of his career, moving him into fairly elite company. He’s just the fifth player in Packers history with 50 receiving TDs, and he’s now tied for fourth place on the list with Max McGee.
The three players who rank ahead of Driver are Don Hutson (99), Sterling Sharpe (65) and Antonio Freeman (57). Driver will need seven more TDs this season, or eight for the season, to tie Freeman for third. Driver’s last eight-TD season came in 2006.
Already the franchise’s all-time leader in receptions, Driver is also chasing James Lofton for the most receiving yards in team history. With five catches for 30 yards Sunday, Driver now has 9,080 yards, 577 shy of topping Lofton (9,656).
Receiver Greg Jennings has made his share of spectacular catches in his five seasons with the Packers, and the one he made on Sunday in the second quarter has to rank right up there.
With the Packers facing third-and-9 from the Philly 36-yard line, quarterback Aaron Rodgers scrambled to his right and then lofted a throw slightly back across the field to Jennings, who was open in the middle. The throw was high, but Jennings leaped and extended his right hand as high as he could, snagging the ball one-handed and bringing it in as he crashed to the turf.
The 16-yard gain picked up the first down and five plays later Driver caught his TD pass for a 10-3 lead.
“You never really want to be jumping up in the middle of the field like that with all parts of your limbs exposed, but when you gotta make a play, you gotta make a play,” Jennings said. “It kind of sailed on him a little bit, and the only way for me to get the ball was to throw one arm up there, and it stuck.”
Jennings added that he still thinks his one-handed TD catch in the playoff game at Arizona last January was a better catch. But this one was still pretty good.
Jennings finished with five catches for 82 yards and surpassed 4,000 yards for his career. He now has 4,039 yards. His 32-yard TD also helped maintain his remarkably long average for each of the TD grabs in his career. Jennings’ 29 career TD receptions have averaged 34.1 yards in length.
Rookie outside linebacker Frank Zombo recorded his first NFL sack in the fourth quarter, bringing down Vick for an 8-yard loss. Zombo is the first Packers rookie to get a sack in his first pro game since defensive end Jamal Reynolds in 2001.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy characterized Harrell’s knee injury as “significant,” and presumably more tests will be done when the team returns to Green Bay.
Running back Ryan Grant had an ankle sprain and did not return to the game. Jenkins did return with his broken hand, while safety Nick Collins sustained bruised ribs late in the game but also returned.