It appears likely the Packers will start the upcoming game against Chicago with the same offensive line that finished Sunday’s loss in Kansas City.
Right tackle Bryan Bulaga has a sprain around his kneecap, and while Head Coach Mike McCarthy isn’t ruling him out for Christmas night, he said Bulaga would be “challenged” to play this week.
That means left guard T.J. Lang will likely be moving to right tackle, while Evan Dietrich-Smith will be taking Lang’s place at left guard.
“I would think it’s safe to say that,” McCarthy said. “That’s the way we talked about it this morning. Like anything, I’m being very premature speaking about it on Monday. We’ll see how Bryan responds. It’s always hard to hold him back. He’s of the nature to try to come back as soon as he can.”
Left tackle Chad Clifton remains on the comeback trail also, with McCarthy holding out hope Clifton can return to practice for individual drills on Wednesday. But he knocked on the wooden podium as he said it, and he added that Clifton’s back injury is a bigger issue than the hamstring he injured back in Week 5, so nothing about Clifton’s status is certain.
Meanwhile, rookie tackle Derek Sherrod had successful surgery on his broken leg Sunday night in Kansas City. His absence and Clifton’s situation could prompt the Packers to add another offensive tackle to the active roster by Wednesday’s practice. Current practice-squad member Chris Campbell would be one option.
Lang (pictured) played mostly tackle during his rookie season in 2009 before earning a starting job at guard this year. As unsettling as it is to have the offensive line in such flux this late in the season – and the unit allowed four sacks on Sunday, including three in the fourth quarter – McCarthy has no reservations about sending Lang back out at tackle, his primary college position.
“I thought T.J. battled at right tackle,” McCarthy said. “It probably wasn’t the prettiest that you would expect, but he knew what he was doing and he gives us a chance to win. I feel very confident T.J. can play four positions on our offensive line.”
On the other side of the ball, McCarthy also sounded confident defensive lineman Ryan Pickett would be back from his concussion this week. Primarily a run-stuffer, Pickett’s presence was missed in the trenches in Kansas City as the Chiefs rushed for 139 yards, the second-highest total the Packers have allowed this season.
“He factors every single week up front,” McCarthy said of Pickett, adding that he thinks this is Pickett’s best season of his six in Green Bay. “It didn’t help us not having him, that’s for sure.”
Most upsetting about the run-defense were the 32 yards allowed on four straight carries as the Chiefs ran out the clock to seal the game.
That two-minute situation was precisely what McCarthy thought the game would come down to and why he didn’t want to risk losing a timeout challenging Leonard Pope’s 33-yard reception early in the fourth quarter.
On the play, Pope tried to reach the ball out toward the end zone pylon as he fell out of bounds. He lost the handle on the ball, which bounced into and out of the end zone. The officials on the field ruled that Pope stepped out of bounds before he fumbled, and McCarthy said he didn’t see anything conclusive on the stadium-scoreboard replay to make him challenge it.
If Pope did, in fact, fumble before going out of bounds, it would have resulted in Green Bay’s ball on a touchback. The Chiefs closed that drive with a field goal to take a 12-7 lead with 11:28 left in the game.
“On the coaching tape it was closer,” said McCarthy, who admitted he was hesitant, as TV cameras caught him reaching into his back pocket to potentially throw the challenge flag.
“In hindsight, do I wish I would have thrown it? Yeah. It could have cost us three points and a little more time on the clock. But I did not. I was more concerned about the timeouts.”
This week, McCarthy’s concern is with his team’s preparation for the Bears, who must win their last two games to have a chance at a playoff spot.
The Packers could still clinch the NFC’s No. 1 seed before they play, as San Francisco will play twice before next Sunday night – on Monday night against Pittsburgh and again next Saturday at Seattle – but for now McCarthy wasn’t factoring that into the week ahead.
“I know how I feel now and how our players feel,” he said. “They can’t wait for Sunday night.
“We’re preparing for Chicago no different than we would in Week 1 or Week 10. I think it’s important for us to be ready.”
McCarthy believes his team will be and will respond to the loss – the first in 20 games spanning a calendar year – appropriately.
“I feel very good about our football team,” he said. “We’re 13-1. Our team clearly understands the roller-coaster ride that everybody likes to take you on.
“Everybody goes through different challenges throughout their season. We’ve been hit with some injuries here, and we’ll fight right through them like we always have. But my confidence hasn’t wavered.” Additional coverage - Dec. 19