Packers band together as injuries mount
GREEN BAY – There is a natural attrition that occurs in the National Football League. A game built around high speed collisions almost mandates it. Players miss snaps, entire games, weeks, or a season.
There is always concern about the damaged athlete, at least at the outset. What is the injury? How long is he out? What does it mean for the team? Then, the inevitable: Who replaces him?
There is certain coldness to it all.
Fans may root for the individual, develop an attachment, but the true allegiance is to the logo on the helmet. The players? They, too, must separate the man from the logo.
"You know that's part of the business, part of the sport once you get in to it," said Packers safety Morgan Burnett. "You have to be focused at all times because you never know - with this sport and any sport period - when your time will come. And you want to be prepared and ready for your moment to make the best of it."
The Packers are doing just that, winners of three straight following a 24-15 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday at Lambeau Field.
"It feels like we've had a lot of injuries this year, more than normal," said linebacker A.J. Hawk, who had six tackles in the win. "But we've a lot of guys waiting to get down on the field."
It's a split allegiance that is tough to negotiate, even for professionals. It is their teammate, their brother, in pain. There is the other teammate who needs the support to play well in relief. Then there is the added element that if you're the one being called to fill in, you want to play well enough that your teammate never sees the field once healthy.
"It's definitely weird," said Dezman Moses, who scored his first career touchdown after recovering a blocked punt in the end zone. "You're in a certain position and you're rooting guys on. These are your teammates and you want them to do well. Then a guy goes down and obviously you have to step up and you want to do well also. Now, there's sometimes you're competing for jobs and it could cause position controversy and all that stuff, but you don't worry about that stuff, man. We're all brothers. We understand the business side of somebody's got to get it done, so the next guy's up. Essentially we're all rooting for each other."
Perhaps no team has been rooting for each other harder than the Packers, who due to injury, suited up six different starters Sunday than in Week 1 against San Francisco. Three other players who saw snaps against the 49ers were also out of action against Jacksonville.
The injuries from the start of the season have run the gamut; from season ending (Brandon Saine, D.J. Smith) to weeks long (Greg Jennings, Charles Woodson, Cedric Benson) to those presumably less serious (Jordy Nelson, John Kuhn).
That group of nine does not include those placed on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list or injured reserve before the season even began, or at some point over the last eight weeks.
"It's not easy to deal with it because you don't want nobody to get hurt," receiver James Jones said. "Yeah, it's all competition, yeah we're all trying to win, but you don't want to see none of your teammates get hurt. Yeah, it's 'next man up' but you don't wish that for anybody."
They have all been prepared for it, however. Following the win Sunday, many credited general manager Ted Thompson for stacking the roster with quality talent – even if it was unknown coming into the season – and coach Mike McCarthy and his staff for preparing that talent to shine when called upon.
"It's not about certain guys coming in and stepping up, it's the personnel department from the start," said corner Tramon Williams. "All these guys have been good players from the start. At some point it just becomes about opportunity. Obviously injuries are a part of the game so a lot of guys are getting a chance to step in and show what they've got."
Sunday was yet another example. Brad Jones (10 tackles, sack, forced fumble) and Erik Walden have had an opportunity to make plays in the linebacker corps; Casey Hayward (8 tackles) and Jeron McMillian (1 tackle for loss) in the defensive backfield.
Alex Green (82 yards total offense) and Randall Cobb (5 catches, 28 yards, TD) have become more involved in the offense.
"We have a team full of really amazing guys," Brad Jones said. "People really don't even know. We have a team of really, really good players. There's never a doubt, I don't think, when anybody goes down that the next man up can't step up."
With half a season remaining, odds are even more Packers will be put in that position. Against Jacksonsville, more key contributors went down when rookie defensive lineman Jerel Worthy was lost to a concussion early in the second half and fellow lineman Mike Neal (ankle) was knocked out late.
How will the Packers deal with this? By finding strength within.
"We're all a band of brothers in here," Burnett said. "We wish each other well. We've just got a close knit locker room like that and that's a good thing about it when you have a good group and a lot of guys that are tight like that. That really helps the situation out."
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