GREEN BAY—Randall Cobb’s ankle injury, which occurred on a punt return Sunday, is not changing Mike McCarthy’s approach to special teams.
Not at all.
McCarthy didn’t have any additional information on Cobb’s injury Monday morning, but he made it clear that as long as Cobb is healthy, the Packers’ leading receiver will remain the primary return man, even though those duties expose him to more high-speed contact.
“I don’t understand how you play scared in the game of football,” McCarthy said. “I don’t get that. I understand the risk involved in every single play. Some plays are higher risk than others. I’m fully aware of that. But you can’t sit here and say special teams are important if you don’t put a guy like Randall Cobb out there as a returner.
“Now, if we’re sitting here next year, we might be having a different conversation. But the way our team is built for 2012, Randall Cobb is a huge part of our success on special teams.”
With injuries throughout the season to receivers Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, Cobb has developed into a vital offensive producer, with 80 receptions for 954 yards and eight touchdowns. He also has handled all but a few of the punt and kickoff returns this season and has one punt return for a TD.
After Cobb left Sunday’s game, first-year receiver Jeremy Ross took over on punt returns and brought one back 58 yards, but McCarthy isn’t interested in messing with the consistency his special-teams units have shown all season by switching returners now.
“You don’t establish the way you play, the vision of the way you play and then all of a sudden change going into the last week of the season,” said McCarthy, who has regularly used starters as return men in his tenure, including Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams and Nelson.
McCarthy reiterated what he said Sunday, that neither the medical staff nor Cobb has a high level of concern with his ankle injury, but more information was being gathered.
As for other injured players, Nelson (hamstring), Woodson (collarbone) and tight end Tom Crabtree (hamstring) are all “very close” to returning. Running back Alex Green (concussion) and defensive end Jerel Worthy (hamstring) are expected to be available this week, but McCarthy wasn’t sure on the status of defensive end C.J. Wilson (knee) and running back James Starks (knee).
The Packers have one regular-season game remaining, and it’s a big one at Minnesota. The Vikings can earn a wild-card playoff spot with a win, while the Packers can sew up the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye with a victory.
Should the Vikings win and the Packers remain the No. 3 seed, the two teams would meet again one week later in the wild-card round at Lambeau Field. But McCarthy wasn’t interested in discussing that scenario, nor did he even touch on running back Adrian Peterson’s pursuit of the single-season rushing record, which is sure to be a hot topic this week.
Peterson needs 208 yards to break Eric Dickerson’s record of 2,105 yards, and Peterson rushed for 210 against the Packers four games ago.
Coming off a 55-7 thrashing of Tennessee, the Packers are more concerned with getting themselves the best possible playoff position and striving toward playing their best football as the postseason approaches.
A high-stakes road game against an NFC North rival in a loud, hostile dome is just what McCarthy would order up for his squad in Week 17.
“I think this is exactly the way you want it going into the playoffs, especially with this year’s team,” he said. “I still feel that we have the ability to be even better. I don’t think we’ve consistently played our best football yet.
“Now, we obviously had a very decisive victory against the Titans, but this football team still has more in front of them, and that’s what I’m excited about. To have the opportunity to play a playoff-type game, a playoff game atmosphere on the road with the crowd noise, both teams have a lot on the line here. Shoot, I think it’s great for our football team.”