GREEN BAY – Quarterback Aaron Rodgers said the Packers are going to ask the fans at Lambeau Field to join the players in linking arms on Thursday night during the national anthem prior to the game against the Bears.
The gesture is an extension of what Rodgers and several teammates did this past Sunday on the sideline, which he explained after the game was about “love over hate and unity over division.”
Rodgers continued in that vein while talking to reporters at his locker on Tuesday. He said the players had a “fantastic team meeting,” and he didn’t share any details, but presumably the idea of asking the fans to join the players in linking arms came from it.
Separate groups of players linked arms on Sunday, while others stood by themselves. Three players – veteran tight ends Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks, along with rookie cornerback Kevin King – sat on the bench during the anthem behind the rest of the team, all for different reasons.
Rodgers’ words would suggest the entire team will stand together on Thursday. Kendricks said he would join in linking arms. Bennett and King did not speak to the media on Tuesday.
“I think there’s been a great sense of unity and love and support in this locker room, guys coming together,” Rodgers said.
He also felt, however, that the message behind the players’ actions has been misconstrued in some circles, based on the “hatred” he’s seen on his and others’ social media accounts.
“It’s never been about the military or our men and women in uniform. Like I said after the game, we love and support them,” Rodgers said, noting that several players, himself included, have done military-related charity events over the years. “We love them, and we’re thankful for the opportunity they give us.
“This is about equality. This is about unity, and love, and growing together as a society, and starting a conversation around something that might be a little uncomfortable for people. But we have to come together and talk about these things and grow as a community, as a connected group of individuals in our society, and we’re going to continue to show love and unity.
“This week we’re going to ask the fans to join in as well, come together and show people we can be connected, and we can grow together.”
Once the anthem is done, of course, the focus will turn for roughly three hours to a difficult NFC North clash with the rival Bears.
The Packers’ injury situation leaves a lot of uncertainty on both sides of the ball. On offense, the position in question is offensive tackle, but for Rodgers’ sake, it’s all about finding a groove with the passing game as quickly as possible, no matter who’s blocking on the edges.
That could start with the two aforementioned tight ends, Bennett and Kendricks. Bennett has struggled with some dropped passes and has just 11 catches for 102 yards through three games.
Kendricks was even quieter through two weeks before catching a short TD pass and then adding a 51-yard catch-and-run to begin the second-half comeback against the Bengals.
“For receivers, they need to get in a rhythm as well, where they’re lining up against the same guy or same type of matchup, and can run some different routes so they can set things up and work on their releases and timing,” Rodgers said. “We have to find a way to get those guys involved early, and then get them going through the middle of the game and keep them involved.”
With the Packers playing backups on the offensive line every week, defenses have rarely blitzed and counted on their straight four-man rush to get home, allowing for more defenders in coverage.
A more effective running game could help open some throwing lanes, but that’s been difficult to establish with so much shuffling up front as well.
Ty Montgomery has taken 41 of 47 designed handoffs but is averaging just 3.0 yards per carry. Jamaal Williams is the only one of three rookie running backs to take any snaps on offense, and he’s played sparingly.
“We need to have some balance,” Rodgers said, “but our best personnel right now is getting as many receivers on the field as we can and getting them the ball in space.”
Some big plays finally started to come against the Bengals. In addition to Kendricks’ 51-yarder, Davante Adams picked up 41 yards on a flea-flicker and Geronimo Allison hit Cincinnati for 72 on the game-deciding overtime play.
In the first two weeks, the Packers’ longest gains were TD passes of 32 yards to Jordy Nelson and 33 to Adams.
“Everything’s got to line up the right way – the coverage, the play call and then the opportunity to have time to throw down the field,” Rodgers said. “But we’ll take shots when we get the chance.”
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