GREEN BAY – The Packers have been dealing with injuries all season long, and this week will be no different.
Leading up to Sunday’s NFC Championship Game in Atlanta, the Packers will be hoping for a return to better health for a number of players, but Head Coach Mike McCarthy said on Monday not much will be known until those players hit the practice field for the first time on Wednesday.
“The reality is we’ve been in this, have to win each and every week, the injuries are higher than normal,” McCarthy said. “You get into these playoff games, the physicality and the number of players going in and out, we’re going to be gathering information on a few of our guys.”
Those guys include safety Morgan Burnett (quad), receivers Jordy Nelson (ribs) and Davante Adams (ankle), cornerback Quinten Rollins (neck/concussion) and left tackle David Bakhtiari (knee).
Adams and Bakhtiari both returned to Sunday’s game in Dallas and finished, but Burnett exited in the first quarter and did not return.
His absence forced two undrafted rookies in Kentrell Brice and Josh Hawkins to take on larger roles against the Cowboys, and while Brice was very active and Hawkins had no obvious breakdowns, the defense would love to get its veteran safety back to face the Falcons’ top-ranked offense.
“Knowing Morgan, he’ll do everything he can,” McCarthy said. “Everybody is very positive today, but we’ll see how it goes.”
Nelson exited the wild-card game last week in the second quarter after taking a shot to the ribs. Rollins hasn’t played at all in the postseason after getting hurt in Detroit in Week 17.
McCarthy said they’ve been doing all the weight-room workouts, calling that “a good sign” for both players, but he did not declare whether either would be on the practice field Wednesday.
The head coach acknowledged that getting healthy is as much a priority this week as preparing for the opponent, but that’s nothing new, as the Packers have now played 12 consecutive weekends after a post-Thursday night “mini-bye” in late October.
The demanding schedule forced McCarthy to adjust his already curtailed “winter schedule” even more this year to help the players rest and recuperate their bodies. But McCarthy also emphasized that the Packers are not alone. That’s simply life in the NFL these days.
“I think that’s our league,” McCarthy said. “It has been for us this year. We had a bye after Week 3 and boy, we needed it. We’ve been in some level of that mode all season. That’s just kind of the year we’ve had personally.”
The biggest on-field factor in overcoming the injury issues has been the superb play of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, which was on display once again in Dallas. With just 35 seconds on the clock, Rodgers overcame two incomplete passes and a sack to hit tight end Jared Cook for 35 yards to get the Packers in position for Mason Crosby’s game-winning kick.
On the final drive, McCarthy said Rodgers operates from a “menu” of play calls, including protections, routes and adjustments. McCarthy had commented Sunday night that Rodgers’ decision to roll left on the Cook throw one play after rolling right, to keep the defense chasing him, was the kind of smart call in those situations that can get overlooked.
And the sideline dart to Cook was “prime time.”
“He orchestrates that drive,” McCarthy said of Rodgers. “That’s one of the greatest plays that you’ll ever see in that final two-minute, we call it the ‘final eight’ situation for us. The orchestration, the protection call, the route concept, great job with it.
“A big part of his greatness is we see a lot of those throws in practice. There’s probably not a game he’ll make a throw where we haven’t seen that throw a couple of times, particularly rolling to his left. He does extraordinary throws to his left. To see him go out and do that when it’s all on the line, it’s special, obviously.”
As it was to see Crosby drill the game-winning 51-yarder – twice after a Cowboys timeout – not long after the Texas native had made the longest postseason field goal in Packers history at 56 yards.
“He’s a machine,” McCarthy said. “Frankly, I don’t think there was any concern on the sideline at all, especially after he hit the first one, he was just going to do it again.
“Mason, he’s so consistent, just his personality, his work ethic. I’m really happy for him, too. To go back home and make that kick, that’s fun.”
Crosby’s consistent personality seems to be shared by the entire team, to hear McCarthy describe it. That trait has certainly played a role in this team’s success – be it battling through injuries, handling the emotional swings, or pulling out last-second wins – with the conference title game now on the horizon.
“Every team you coach has a personality, and this team’s personality is one of unique energy,” McCarthy said. “They don’t swing too high and they don’t swing too low. That’s really helped us and it will help us again this week.
“This will be a tough, tough football game.”