Driver, who first went on the injury report the Friday heading into the Week 6 contest vs. Miami, was limited in practice the past two weeks but still played against Minnesota and the New York Jets. He left Sunday’s game against the Jets early in the second quarter and did not return.
By sitting out this Sunday and the Packers’ bye coming the next week, Driver will essentially have three weeks to get healthy before Green Bay visits the division-rival Vikings on Nov. 21. Head Coach Mike McCarthy has talked about how rare it is for Driver to even miss a practice, so the fact that he now will be sidelined for a game speaks to the severity of the injury.
“He is on crutches, and just playing the last two weeks has made it worse,” McCarthy said. “But just speaking with Donald again this morning, I think he’ll be ready once we come off the bye. That’s what we’re shooting for. It’s something that he has been dealing with the past month and it is best to shut him down.”
Driver, the franchise’s all-time receptions leader with 675, hasn’t looked himself since sustaining the injury. He saw his team-record streak of 133 consecutive regular-season games with a catch come to an end against Minnesota in Week 7, and didn’t post a catch against the Jets either on Sunday in a little more than a quarter of work. It was the first time since 2001 that Driver failed to register a reception in consecutive games.
The last time Driver was sidelined for a game because of an injury was on Sept. 14, 2003, vs. Detroit. In the season opener the previous week vs. Minnesota, he suffered a sprained neck midway through the fourth quarter when he landed on his head after going high to attempt a catch. The only other game Driver has missed since then was the 2007 season finale when he joined some other veterans in getting a day of rest as the Packers prepared for the playoffs.
“It will be a different feel, just the fact that he’s always been there,” said wide receiver Greg Jennings, who was a sophomore at Western Michigan when Driver missed his last game due to injury. “Every time you look to your left or to your right, you see No. 80.
“You can’t replace that guy, I’m sorry. With all the numbers that he’s put up in his career, and what he’s meant to this team, you can’t replace a guy like that. But you can account for the fact that you have guys that are able to step up and fill the void, and that’s what we have with our Jordy Nelsons and James Joneses and Brett Swains.”
Unfortunately the offense has had to get used to playing without some of their top playmakers, with running back Ryan Grant lost for the season after injuring his ankle in Week 1 Philadelphia and tight end Jermichael Finley sustaining a season-ending knee injury at Washington in Week 5.
In the three games since Finley got hurt, Jennings has stepped up his production. After catching just 14 passes in the first five contests, Jennings has caught 18 passes, six each game, for 288 yards (16.0 avg.) with two touchdowns in three games. His yardage total ranks No. 2 in the NFL over that span behind only Denver wide receiver Brandon Lloyd’s 289.
“This is another adverse situation that we can overcome as a unit, and it’s not just one guy that needs to step up, it’s all of us,” Jennings said. “So, huge shoes to fill. But at the same time, can we fill them? Of course.”
Swain saw increased action from scrimmage after Driver left the game on Sunday, and posted the first catch of his career. It was Nelson who stepped up into the role of No. 2 receiver alongside Jennings, as he posted a career-high five receptions for 55 yards, including a key 14-yard catch over the middle in the fourth quarter to the New York 26 on third-and-6. Nelson’s catch set up Mason Crosby’s 41-yard field goal four plays later that extended Green Bay’s lead to 6-0 with 6:41 remaining in the game.
“Ever since Jermichael went down, even when 'RG' (Grant) went down, it’s a continued thing I guess this year with the Packers is people having to step up,” Nelson said. “Obviously we know we are going to get more plays. We experienced that last week. He played some, but was out early. I think we’ll be comfortable out there. We just have got to go play our game.”
First-year Tim Masthay played a key role in the Packers’ 9-0 win at the N.Y. Jets on Sunday, and on Wednesday he was honored for that performance by the NFL.
Masthay was named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week, becoming only the second Green Bay punter in franchise history to earn the honor. Craig Hentrich (Week 11, 1994) is the only other Packers punter to win the award.
“It’s a great honor,” Masthay said. “I’m thrilled to receive it. I definitely wasn’t expecting anything like that. Coach (Shawn) Slocum let me know, and Coach McCarthy this morning. I’m thrilled to get it. It’s kind of exciting.”
Masthay punted a career-high eight times against the Jets, and posted a career-best 41.5-yard net average along with a gross average of 44.0. He also placed five kicks inside the 20, which tied the single-game franchise mark (stat kept since 1976). It matched the five posted by David Beverly on Oct. 8, 1978, vs. the Chicago Bears.
Even though the Packers punted eight times, the Jets recorded zero return yards. The last time the Packers were able to accomplish that feat came on Nov. 16, 2003, at Tampa Bay when Josh Bidwell (seven) and kicker Ryan Longwell (one) punted eight times with no return yardage registered by the Buccaneers. On Sunday, the Packers had 180 more yards of field position (468-288) than the Jets.
Masthay had been inconsistent in the first seven games of the season, ranking No. 21 in the league in gross average (43.3) and No. 30 in net average (33.8), and said Sunday’s performance could be one to build off of as he readies himself for more challenging weather at home in the second half of the season.
“It definitely helps to build some confidence before the conditions turn worse, and in that game the wind was blowing hard,” Masthay said. “So we had some elements there. November is going to be all right for us, but it will definitely turn.”
Masthay is the second Green Bay specialist to win the weekly award this season, with kicker Mason Crosby earning the honor for his Week 1 performance at Philadelphia.
Masthay and the rest of the punt-coverage unit will be put to the test this Sunday by Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant, who ranks No. 2 in the NFL with a 16.5-yard return average. The rookie is one of only two players in the league (Bears wide receiver Devin Hester) to return two punts for TDs this season.
“He is a beast,” Masthay said. “Coach Slocum has kind of presented the challenge to me week in and week out, ‘It’s you against the returner. Do your best to eliminate returns.’ So that is really my mindset when I am punting the ball.
“That will be my mindset Sunday to just try and eliminate Dez as much as possible. Our coverage guys do a great job in helping me out in that regard as well.”
Looking to get back
Starting left defensive end Ryan Pickett has been out of action, save seven snaps against Minnesota in Week 7, since he sprained his ankle early in the Week 5 game at Washington. But the veteran is hoping to be back on the field on Sunday night against the Cowboys.
Pickett said the injury has “improved greatly” since last week, and despite the fact that the Packers have their bye a week from Sunday, that extra rest coming doesn’t factor into his approach for this week.
“Nah, I think it would be better if I played,” Pickett said. “This is an important game. This game coming up, (it is) the biggest game of the year for us. It is big right before our bye week to keep the momentum going, build up some more momentum going into our bye week. After this game, I have a week to rest, so I definitely want to play.”
Pickett’s mindset mirrors that of the one McCarthy said he will take with the injured players this week with some time off on the horizon.
“We want to line up with our best 45 to beat the Dallas Cowboys,” McCarthy said. “I’m not trying to save anybody. If I felt Donald Driver could play and contribute in this football game, trust me, Donald Driver would be out there and he would be the first one to make that statement.
“I’m not trying to play it safe. I’m not trying to save this guy for that game. That is not part of our thinking. Heck, especially after what we have been through here the last month. We’re looking at everybody. We have some people that are competing Wednesday, Thursday and Friday to be part of the 45, and that’s very healthy.”
Cornerback Pat Lee (ankle) is out for Sunday. Tight end Andrew Quarless (shoulder) did not participate in practice on Wednesday, and McCarthy said the rookie needs to get back on the practice field if he is going to be active on Sunday.
Tackle Chad Clifton was limited in practice, with a hamstring injury being added to the knee injury he has battled for most of the season. McCarthy said he anticipated that Clifton would practice on Thursday.
Guard Daryn Colledge (back) was also limited, but McCarthy didn’t have any additional information since Colledge’s back “locked up” on Wednesday.
Pickett, safety Nick Collins (knee), defensive end Cullen Jenkins (calf), linebacker Clay Matthews (shin), running back Dimitri Nance (ankle), tackle Mark Tauscher (shoulder) and cornerback Charles Woodson (toe) also were limited.
Rodgers, who sprained his ankle late in Sunday’s win at New York, participated fully in practice on Wednesday.
For Dallas, tackle Marc Colombo (back), defensive end Jason Hatcher (groin), guard Montrae Holland (groin), linebacker Bradie James (knee), running back Felix Jones (ankle), cornerback Terence Newman (ribs), safety Akwasi Owusu-Ansah (ankle), and quarterback Tony Romo (left shoulder) did not participate in practice on Wednesday. Guard Kyle Kosier (ankle) was a full participant.
Additional coverage – Nov. 3