The good news is that none of the new injuries from Sunday’s game in Washington appear to be season-ending. But the bad news is it’s a strong bet several key players could be out for this week’s game, and some will miss more than that.
Virtually certain to miss Sunday’s home game vs. Miami are tight ends Jermichael Finley and Donald Lee, linebacker Nick Barnett, and special teamer Derrick Martin. Still on the fence but with their playing status very much in doubt are quarterback Aaron Rodgers, right tackle Mark Tauscher, defensive end Ryan Pickett and linebackers Clay Matthews and Brandon Chillar.
Rodgers, who sustained a concussion on the offense’s final play when he threw an interception, will miss some practice time this week at a minimum. Tauscher’s status with his shoulder injury remains unknown, and the same goes for Pickett’s ankle sprain.
Matthews’ hamstring strain is not as severe as the one that kept him out a month during training camp, but how soon he’ll be back has not been specified. And Chillar is scheduled to return to practice on a trial basis this week, but after missing the last two games with a shoulder injury there’s no telling yet whether he can actually play this week.
Meanwhile, Finley is scheduled for surgery on his knee Tuesday, after which a timetable for his return should be established. Barnett also is scheduled for surgery this week, on Wednesday for his wrist, with a timetable forthcoming as well. Lee is out at least a couple of weeks with a chest sprain, and Martin is likely out more than that with a knee sprain.
It’s an exhausting list to process, and it will make for a difficult week for the team with so much uncertainty surrounding several starters.
“The medical meeting was a lot longer today than normal,” McCarthy said. “You really don’t have a handle on it until probably mid-Tuesday. Once we get all of the information in today, we’ll make some projections.
“We’ll just gather as much information and we’ll look at our projected inactive list like we do every week and we’ll just train the different combinations of the players that are healthy and make sure we have a good plan for Miami.”
At this point, that’s really all the coaching staff can do. In the short term, McCarthy stressed how important it is for younger players to get all the practice reps they can if they’re going to be playing in the game on Sunday, so projections need to be made in time to formulate the plan for practices, which begin Wednesday.
For the long term, the issue is whether the team can afford to hold spots on the 53-man roster for players who could be out for a significant stretch. Running back Ryan Grant, who injured his ankle in Week 1 at Philadelphia, was possibly going to return by the end of the season, but the decision was made to put him on injured reserve to have a roster spot available from the get-go.
With Finley and Barnett undergoing surgeries, they will be out multiple weeks at a minimum, and when return dates are only educated guesses at best, it’s hard to know if it’s worth holding a roster spot.
“When you get up into the six- to eight-week mark, those are tough decisions to make,” McCarthy said. “But every injury is different. I really can’t speculate if we’re going to hold onto one player as opposed to another.”
In the meantime, the lineup for Sunday’s game will probably resemble the one that played the majority of the game against the Redskins. That means Desmond Bishop in for Barnett, unless Chillar is back in action right away; Tom Crabtree and Andrew Quarless as the tight ends for Finley and Lee; Mike Neal on the defensive line for Pickett; and Bryan Bulaga for Tauscher and either Frank Zombo or Brady Poppinga for Matthews, unless both starters are able to come back this quickly.
As for Rodgers, third-year pro Matt Flynn is his backup and will take his share of practice snaps this week. McCarthy also said that elevating practice-squad quarterback Graham Harrell to the active roster is a backup option, though he wasn’t inclined to commit to that on Monday, which is an indication there’s legitimate hope Rodgers will be fine and able to play.
Flynn vowed to be ready if needed.
“Yeah, absolutely I am,” he said. “It will be a fun week, and whatever happens, happens. But hopefully Aaron can get back and it’s not too serious.
“This is my third year in the system, and I’m very comfortable in the offense. I don’t think there would be much change (with the game plan), but that will be for the coaches to decide.”
As per the NFL’s protocol on concussions, Rodgers will have to pass a battery of cognitive tests and be cleared by an independent neurologist to return to duty. Rodgers has started 37 consecutive regular-season games since becoming the starter in 2008.
McCarthy confirmed that the concussion occurred on Rodgers’ final pass, which was intercepted as he took a helmet-to-helmet hit. He didn’t comment on whether the hit warranted a penalty flag.
“We’ll definitely take the proper time and make sure he’s fully recovered,” McCarthy said.
Good production, poor results
McCarthy specifically pointed to two reasons as to why his offense rolled up 427 yards against the Redskins yet managed just 13 points – third downs and dropped passes.
The Packers converted just 2 of 13 third downs, some of that as a result of roughly half a dozen dropped passes that prevented Rodgers and the offense from finding any rhythm after a first-quarter touchdown drive.
“It was a little bit of everything,” offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. “It was a lot of issues. Sometimes it was protection, sometimes it was decision-making, sometimes it was route-running. We dropped a couple of balls. We didn’t catch the ball very well yesterday. That goes without saying. When you’re that bad, it’s usually not just one guy.”
If there was one drop, and resulting third-down failure, that was perhaps the most costly, it came late in the third quarter. The Packers had third-and-1 at the Washington 29, and Rodgers had Donald Driver open over the middle. But as Driver went down to make the catch, he couldn’t corral it, and instead of a first down in the red zone, the Packers had to settle for a 48-yard field goal try, which Mason Crosby missed.
“I know our perimeter group takes a lot of pride in their ability to catch the football and perform with yards after the catch, and we definitely did not do that to our standard yesterday,” McCarthy said.
A couple of plays
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers is fond of saying that NFL games always come down to just two or three plays, and he pointed to two plays on Sunday that marred an otherwise solid defensive effort.
First was Donovan McNabb’s 52-yard pass to Santana Moss late in the first half on third-and-18. McNabb escaped out to his right against a three-man rush and had all kinds of time to wait for Moss to get behind the defense for the big play, which set up the Redskins for a field goal just before halftime.
Then there was McNabb’s 48-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Armstrong early in the fourth quarter that pulled Washington within 13-10. Again, McNabb bought a little time by eluding the rush and then launched it deep to Armstrong, who outfought safety Charlie Peprah for the ball in the end zone.
“They had 100 yards on two plays, and those 100 yards led to 10 points,” Capers said. “We had an awful lot of really good plays and we made some critical plays and key times.
“But you can’t have a team in third-and-18 and let them throw it over the top for 52 yards.”
Throw in tight end Chris Cooley’s 30-yard catch-and-run, which featured several missed tackles by the Packers and set up the game-tying field goal late in the fourth quarter, and that’s 130 yards – or more than one-third of the Redskins’ total of 373 – on just three of their 75 snaps, leading to all of their points in regulation.
The Packers have not lacked in the pressure department in 2010, and that continued on Sunday. Green Bay racked up five more sacks for a team total of 21 on the season, which ranks second in the league behind Tennessee’s 22.
With Mike Neal, Brady Poppinga and Desmond Bishop all getting their first sacks of the season on Sunday, the Packers now have eight players with at least one sack this year. Defensive end Cullen Jenkins had his streak of four straight games with at least one sack snapped, but Capers joked that if Jenkins weren’t playing with his broken hand wrapped in a club cast, he might be leading the league in sacks rather than Clay Matthews, who has 8½.
“I thought our pressure on the quarterback was outstanding,” Capers said. “We ended up with five sacks. We very easily could have had 10, 12 sacks in that game if we had finished off some. Now, give McNabb credit. He can still move, so when we had people free, he would juke us. But we had as good a pressure on him as anybody they played this year.”