In terms of injuries for the Packers – and they’ve certainly had plenty this season – when it’s rained, it’s poured, in particular areas and to a deleterious degree. This week, as Green Bay prepares to face Atlanta on Sunday in the NFC Championship Game, it’s the wide receiver group that is the latest to fall victim to injury depletion, potentially presenting the familiar challenge of insufficient depth and talent at a key position.
Top pass-catchers Jordy Nelson, who suffered broken ribs in the Wild Card Round game against the New York Giants, and Davante Adams, who endured an ankle injury in Sunday’s win over the Cowboys, did not practice with the team on Wednesday, the first day of preparation for the Falcons. Both receivers worked with the rehab group, according to head coach Mike McCarthy, and, though it’s still early, that’s not a good sign. (Note: According to the team's official injury report released later, Nelson did participate in practice on Wednesday but was limited.)
McCarthy, who is usually reluctant to discuss players’ medical situations and expectations for their returns – and rarely offers specific timelines – went so far as to say he doesn’t expect Adams to practice until Saturday. When asked about his level of concern for Adams’ availability Sunday, McCarthy said, "We’ll see. I’m curious to see him move."
The third-year emergent playmaker had five receptions for 76 yards in Dallas before going down; he later came back with the injured ankle heavily taped but did not make an impact. According to ESPN.com, Nelson is considered a long shot to play against the Falcons.
So you may need to add wide receiver to the list of the Packers’ bruised, battered and broken positions.
At running back, they lost starter Eddie Lacy after just six weeks to a severe ankle sprain that required surgery and eventually landed him on injured reserve. Backup James Starks has played only nine games this year, first because of a knee injury and currently due to a concussion sustained in a car accident last month; he’s not expected to be ready to go Sunday.
Injuries also cut short the campaigns of third-stringers John Crockett and Don Jackson. For the past month, the team has had to use a rotation of wide receiver-turned-running back Ty Montgomery, November waiver-claim Christine Michael and fullback Aaron Ripkowski in the backfield.
At cornerback, the situation has been even worse. Green Bay lost top corner Sam Shields in Week 1 to a concussion that ultimately ended his season and possibly his career. Second-year players Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins, the team’s top two draft picks in 2015 and Nos. 2 and 3 on the depth chart at the position, have battled various ailments all year; Randall missed six games with groin, knee and foot injuries, while Rollins has missed five contests due to groin and concussion problems and his status for this week is uncertain. Reserve cornerbacks Demetri Goodson (knee) and Makinton Dorleant (hamstring) have been placed on IR.
Now, wide receiver – a position of relative health this year and annually vital importance for Green Bay – is suddenly vulnerable and potentially undermanned. If neither Nelson nor Adams can play in Atlanta, it would be a major blow to Green Bay’s surging offense, which has scored at least 30 points the last six weeks during its eight-game winning streak. The Packers won without Nelson against Dallas, which Aaron Rodgers noted in his press conference Wednesday, though that’s certainly not their preference.
"We’ve won without them before," the quarterback said, perhaps mentally preparing for the worst. "We'd like to have them out there, but we’ll see what happens."
Nelson and Adams finished first and second on the team, respectively, in catches (97 and 75), yards (1,257 and 997) and touchdowns (14 and 12) this season. That would be a huge production hole to fill, even for an offense that can seemingly make anybody into an effective pass-catcher, as long as Rodgers is throwing the ball.
Wide receiver Randall Cobb and tight end Jared Cook have stepped up so far in the postseason, with a combined 23 receptions for 329 yards and four scores in two games. Undrafted rookie receiver Geronimo Allison and third-year speedster Jeff Janis both can make big plays, but also critical mistakes. According to the Packers' official injury report Wednesday, Allison did not participate in practice due to a hamstring injury, while Janis was limited because of his quadriceps.
On the offensive line, guard T.J. Lang (foot) was limited in practice, while backup lineman JC Tretter (knee) did not participate. Encouragingly, starting tackles David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga, both of whom got hurt in the game against the Cowboys but gutted it out, practiced and were not listed on the injury report.
Bakhtiari and Bulaga have not missed a game, something Rodgers pointed to as a major reason the offense has flourished. "When you have your tackles healthy the entire season, that’s been a huge part of our success," he said.
As for the Packers’ other injuries, safety Morgan Burnett (quadricep) also worked only with the rehab group. McCarthy said Rollins (concussion), who was limited, is "getting close" and expected to do more in practice this week, which could boost the struggling secondary. Starks (concussion) did not participate, nor did kicker Mason Crosby (illness) and linebacker Julius Peppers, who normally rests on Wednesdays. Linebackers Jayrone Elliott (hand), Clay Matthews (shoulder) and Nick Perry (hand) all practiced in full.
Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.
After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like CBSSports.com, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.
Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.