The Packers got probably the best news they could have hoped for on Monday regarding receiver Greg Jennings.
Jennings’ knee sprain will sideline him for a couple of weeks, Head Coach Mike McCarthy said, and he’s expected back in time for the playoffs.
“It can always be worse. That’s why you have further testing,” McCarthy said. “We feel fortunate that it is only a couple of weeks.
“I think it would be safe to say he’ll be back for the playoffs.”
Jennings, who leads the team with 67 receptions and is second with 949 yards and nine touchdowns, left Sunday’s game against Oakland in the third quarter when it appeared a defender landed awkwardly on the back of his leg. He was carted off the field and gave the fans a “thumb up” sign before heading up the Lambeau Field tunnel.
The Packers clinched a first-round playoff bye on Sunday, so their first playoff game will be at home on either Jan. 14 or 15. That essentially gives Jennings five weeks to recover before Green Bay’s postseason begins.
In the meantime, the rest of the Packers’ deep receiving corps will have to pick up the slack. Jennings became more of a focal point in the offense last season when tight end Jermichael Finley was lost in Week 5 to a knee injury, so it’s only natural to assume Finley (42 catches, 600 yards, six TDs) may re-emerge now.
There’s plenty of depth elsewhere, too. Jordy Nelson leads the team with 957 yards and 10 TDs and could become even more of a go-to receiver for quarterback Aaron Rodgers, while Donald Driver and James Jones, who have combined for nine TDs and more than 800 yards, should see their snaps increase, as well.
The one wild-card in the mix could be rookie Randall Cobb, who ranks seventh on the team in both receptions (19) and yards (300), but could get a chance to figure more prominently in the offense.
“We feel we have enough to move forward,” McCarthy said. “Greg will be missed, but with that, it’s more opportunities for the other perimeter players.”
Offensive Coordinator Joe Philbin said it was too early to know how much Jennings’ absence will affect the offense, but it’s not as though any portion of the playbook needs to be scrapped or rewritten.
“We kind of do what we do,” Philbin said. “I don’t know that we’re going to change a whole lot. I know one thing – we’re not smart enough to figure out a whole new offense in the course of a couple days before these guys get back here Wednesday to play Kansas City.
“We have to function within the offense we have.”
Other injury updates:
Offensive line – Right guard Josh Sitton could return to practice on Wednesday, but that will be determined when he is re-evaluated by the medical staff on Wednesday morning. Sitton has missed the past two games with a sprained knee sustained in Detroit on Thanksgiving.
Left tackle Chad Clifton won’t be back this week but could return before the end of the regular season. Clifton hurt his back a few weeks ago during the course of his rehab from an injured hamstring, but McCarthy wasn’t ruling him out for the year.
“He’s got a chance,” McCarthy said. “He feels good. He just can’t afford another setback. If he stays on course, we’re hopeful that he may practice potentially next week or Detroit week.”
Inside linebacker – A.J. Hawk will return to practice on Wednesday, McCarthy said, but Desmond Bishop will be “challenged” to make it back this week.
“This was the week he was pushing for, so we’ll see how he is Wednesday,” McCarthy said.
Hawk was active for Sunday’s game and was supposed to play no more than 30 snaps in the second half, but with the Packers firmly in control of the game, McCarthy scrapped that plan and rested him.
Reserves Robert Francois and D.J. Smith, who combined for two interceptions and a forced fumble against the Raiders, were both given game balls on defense.
Running back – James Starks, who sat out Sunday with knee and ankle injuries, also could return to practice this week, but his status remains uncertain.
“We’re hoping he can go Wednesday,” McCarthy said. “They’re going to run him either later today or early tomorrow, and we’ll have more information.”
Rookie backup Brandon Saine left Sunday’s game with a concussion and would go through the medical protocol this week. McCarthy said he was “optimistic” he’d be available, along with defensive lineman Ryan Pickett, who also had a concussion.