GREEN BAY – Eddie Lacy floated behind David Bakhtiari for a moment, then burst upfield, angling toward the Green Bay Packers sideline.
Lacy planted, then roared past his left tackle into the Chicago Bears’ defensive backfield on a sweep. Safety Major Wright closed, but Lacy squared his shoulders into the field of play to welcome the contact, and the combatant’s helmets jostled at the collision. Wright pushed the 230-pound rookie out of bounds, but did not bring him to the ground.
The 78,122 at Lambeau Field Monday voiced their approval and Lacy pounded his chest, mimicking the heartbeat racing under the white "7" of his No. 27 on his jersey.
Unfortunately for Green Bay, the true heart of the team was on the sideline, sans pads, in a hoodie and baseball hat.
Aaron Rodgers suffered an injury to his left shoulder just seven plays into the Packers’ 27-20 loss over the Bears, an injury serious enough to first send the 2011 NFL Most Valuable Player to the locker room, and then to be ruled out for the rest of the game.
"He’s the heart and soul of this team – offense and defense," said Lacy, who finished with 150 yards on 22 carries. "It took a lot out of us. We tried to step up as best we could."
On his way out of the locker room, Packers defensive lineman Datone Jones took a quick look at Rodgers’ locker.
"That’s Superman right there," he said. "He goes down you look around like who’s our next guy? But, whoever goes in for us we’re all brothers here, we’re teammates, and we gotta have the same confidence in the backup as we do in the starter. That’s why we’ve been so successful here on defense. We have a lot of star players down and we’ve had guys step up and fill that void."
The next guy was Seneca Wallace, who went 11 for 14 for 114 yards, but the offense went three-and-out three times and moved the ball less than 40 yards on drive seven times (excluding James Starks’ one-play, 32-yard touchdown run in the first quarter).
He was also sacked four times and threw one interception.
When Superman is unavailable, and he may be for some time, it will take more of a collective effort to bear head coach Mike McCarthy’s flag of "Keep Calm and Carry On."
Through seven weeks, it was – like always – "next man up."
Starting linebackers Clay Matthews, Brad Jones and Nick Perry have missed significant time. So did starting safety Morgan Burnett, and last year’s Defensive Rookie of the Year third place finisher, cornerback Casey Hayward. On offense, wide receivers James Jones and Randall Cobb have missed time.
Left tackle Bryan Bulaga, running back DuJuan Harris and linebacker Robert Francois are all out for the season. Tight end Jermichael Finley might be.
On Monday, right guard T.J. Lang (concussion) and linebackers Andy Mulumba (ankle) and Sam Barrington (hamstring) all left the game early, too.
This is different.
"We’re a team," said tight end Andrew Quarless.
"We’re a team."
The added emphasis isn’t lip service.
Wide receiver Jordy Nelson admitted the wide receivers talked amongst themselves during the game Monday, and recognized they needed to be better for Wallace by running crisper routes and gaining separation more quickly. The offensive line knew they needed to be tighter, even as right tackle Don Barclay shifted to guard and Marshall Newhouse came off the bench to play right tackle after Lang went out.
Without Superman, defenses change. So do gameplans. It’ll take the entire village to Keep Calm and Carry On.
"Oh, absolutely. Absolutely," fullback John Kuhn said. "It’s every guy along the board. The line’s going to need to block a little bit better, give a little bit more time. Receivers are going to have get open a little more. The backs are going to have to help the line out with the chips and pick up the blitzes because we’ll probably get a little more blitz opportunities and obviously make our opportunities count when we get check downs."
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.