MINNEAPOLIS – The hits keep coming for the Packers and their banged-up offensive line.
Just when Green Bay finally saw its starting offensive line on the field together for the first time this season, tackles Bryan Bulaga (concussion) and David Bakhtiari (hamstring), and left guard Lane Taylor (ankle) all exited and didn’t return during Sunday's 23-10 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
The domino effect could be best seen in the movement of backup offensive lineman Justin McCray, who subbed in at three different spots moving from left guard to right tackle to left tackle as the game progressed.
Ulrick John, signed off Arizona’s practice squad last month, finished the game at right tackle, while Lucas Patrick played in Taylor’s spot at left guard during the second half.
“It’s tough with the amount of guys we lost today, it’s definitely tough,” right guard Jahri Evans said. “(You) just try to uplift the guys who were coming in and what’s going on out there, what we’re facing and what we’re seeing, and how the flow of the game is going so far.”
Taylor, who started the past two games at left tackle in place of Bakhtiari, was the first to head to the locker room after getting rolled up by Vikings defensive end Brian Robison two minutes into the second quarter.
Taylor believes the ankle injury is “nothing too serious,” but he’ll get it checked out Monday. Bulaga, who had been playing through an ankle injury, was then declared out shortly after halftime after being diagnosed with a concussion.
Finally, Bakhtiari left and didn’t return after experiencing some discomfort in the hamstring that sidelined him since the Packers’ opener against Seattle last month.
“When I went out there for that series in the third quarter, it just started doing things we didn’t like,” Bakhtiari said. “I came back off, talked to them and we thought it would be smart to (not return).”
The offensive line has been the canary in the coal mine for the Packers’ recent injury issues. A secondary that started Sunday’s game without safety Morgan Burnett and cornerbacks Davon House and Kevin King also lost Quinten Rollins (ankle).
Down Ahmad Brooks (back) at outside linebacker, Clay Matthews and Nick Perry (playing with a broken finger) handled most of the work on the edge, while former undrafted free agents Josh Hawkins and Linzy Pipkins played extensively at cornerback.
Then, there was the absence of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who left with a broken collarbone in the first quarter.
“Comical is not the right word, but it’s almost ridiculous because of the luck – the lack of luck – we’ve had,” Matthews said. “Over the years it seems like we’ve been hit by the injury bug, this year more so than any. Three out of the five offensive linemen were down, the quarterback was down, and I’m sure a few other guys were struggling to play and that’s just the offense. That’s tough.
“You can try and have a next-man-up mentality but at the same time there’s only so many guys we can get in there.”
The Packers have one more home game – next Sunday against New Orleans – before their Week 8 bye. From there, they can only hope for a reversal of fortunes on both sides of the ball during the second half of the season.
“Our guys, when healthy, can ball,” Evans said. “It’s just been an up-and-down first six weeks of guys going down and getting dinged up. We have to get guys back. Hopefully, we can get them back soon.
“Guys understand their task and when their number is called they have to come to work every day and come to practice every day.”
Twin turnovers: One reason the Packers managed to stay within range of the Vikings Sunday was due in part to the defense forcing two turnovers in the first half.
The first came with 12:47 left in the second quarter when defensive tackle Kenny Clark punched the ball out of the hands of Minnesota running back Jerick McKinnon.
Linebacker Clay Matthews corralled the loose ball and returned it 63 yards to the Vikings’ 18. Three plays later, Brett Hundley hit Davante Adams for a 14-yard touchdown to tie the game at 7.
Packers linebacker Blake Martinez then helped force Case Keenum’s first interception of the season, deflecting a pass in the air and into the arms of cornerback Damarious Randall. It was Randall’s second INT in as many games.
While the Packers converted the pick into a 22-yard field goal by Mason Crosby, it wasn’t enough to overcome the four sacks and three turnovers generated by the Vikings’ defense.
“Coming into the game, we knew this was going to be a defensive game,” Matthews said. “We created those two turnovers, which were big in leading to 10 points. But ultimately they made more plays on defense. They made a bunch of big plays too, which is what they’ve been striving at all season long. We have to do better.”
Matching game: Adams saw a lot of Minnesota Pro Bowl cornerback Xavier Rhodes on Sunday, finishing with five catches for 54 yards and a touchdown.
“It’s fun. A lot of respect for that guy,” Adams said. “We go at it every year – in a good way. We’ve got a lot of mutual respect for one another. It’s a lot of fun all game.”
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