Ahman Green has a second chance to finish what he started.
Desperate to breathe life into a dormant running game, the Packers brought back one of their oldies that they hope can be a goodie again.
"We really felt that Ahman would upgrade our running-back group," head coach Mike McCarthy said.
The Packers signed Green, their standout lead back from 2001 to '06, to a contract for the remainder of the season Wednesday.
Green had been out of football since he was released by the Houston Texans in February. Since he maintained a residence in the Green Bay area, Green had been in contact with Packers personnel the last several months and was ready to come back to the team when needed.
"I'm glad to be back home," Green said.
He was on the practice field Wednesday, as the Packers started their on-field preparations for Sunday's game at the Cleveland Browns, but had limited reps.
Green acknowledged he's not in game-ready shape and isn't planning to play this weekend.
"I think it's going to be more realistic the week after that or the week after that," Green said.
The Packers are rolling the dice on Green, who is 32 and was written off by many after two unimpressive, injury-plagued seasons with the Texans.
Chronic knee and other leg problems, which followed him from the end of his first stint with the Packers, limited Green to only 14 games (six starts), 554 rushing yards and five touchdowns as a Texan. Houston had lured Green from the Packers, who weren't interested in paying him a lot of money, as a free agent in 2007 with a four-year, $23 million deal.
Green's departure from a celebrated career in Green Bay left him just 45 rushing yards short of Jim Taylor's franchise record of 8,207.
Green would seem to be a lock to finally attain that prestigious standard, since he figures to take over as the No. 2 back once he is good to play and potentially could push a struggling Ryan Grant for the featured role.
The Packers had Green in for a workout Monday, along with fellow veteran free agent Dominic Rhodes, after they learned that DeShawn Wynn's lingering knee injury was serious enough to warrant season-ending surgery Wednesday. Wynn was placed on injured reserve, paving the way for Green's return.
"The only question (for the Packers) was if I was healthy and if I was in shape," Green said. "Part of my job was making sure I stayed in shape during the offseason."
McCarthy, whose first year as coach was Green's last season as a Packer, is optimistic Green still has something left in the tank in his 12th NFL season and can overcome his injury history.
"He still has excellent in-line quickness," McCarthy said. "He really has the ability to drop his pads and run with forward lean and the things you always liked about his running style. He showed a little burst out there (Wednesday).
"We felt he'd be a good fit. He has history here, he understands the offense, so the learning curve is minimal."
The Packers rank 22nd in the league with an average of 101.2 rushing yards per game.
Grant has gained all of 347 yards in 91 carries for a lowly average of 3.8 yards per rush. He doesn't have a 100-yard game this season.
Grant, who settled in as Green's successor the second half of the 2007 season, didn't take the return of Green as an indictment on his own performance thus far and welcomed the addition.
"He's done it at a high level," Grant said. "I'm all about any way he can help and anything he brings to the table. I'm going to pick his brain, and he'll probably pick my brain on how we've been doing certain things."
The only other backup to Grant is Brandon Jackson, who missed the first four games because of a high ankle sprain.
Even at his advanced age, Green presumably brings a lot more to the table than Jackson does as a third-down back, including being a reliable pass catcher. Green also is open to returning kicks.
He is content with wearing a different uniform number with the Packers, too.
Fullback John Kuhn has Green's old No. 30. So, Green was wearing No. 34 on his first day back with Green Bay - an ode to his boyhood hero, the late Walter Payton.
SERIES HISTORY: 17th regular-season meeting. Packers lead series, 9-7. The interconference opponents are meeting in Cleveland for the first time since 1995, when the Packers won 31-20 at the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium. The teams have met twice since then, both at Lambeau Field - the Packers prevailed 30-7 in 2001, and the Browns held on for a 26-24 win in 2005. The teams' lone postseason encounter resulted in a 23-12 Packers victory in the 1965 NFL Championship at Green Bay. It was the first of three straight league titles for the Packers under Vince Lombardi.
--Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been susceptible to injury since the Packers selected him in the first round of the 2005 draft.
The trend continued when Rodgers this week landed on the injury report for the first time in 2009. He suffered a foot injury in the 26-0 win over the Detroit Lions on Sunday.
"I think he's going to be fine," head coach Mike McCarthy said after Rodgers made it through the full practice Wednesday. "It's just sore."
Rodgers' second year as Brett Favre's backup ended prematurely with a broken foot sustained late in the season.
Rodgers said his latest injury isn't to the same foot.
"It's not an issue," he said. "You guys will have nothing to write about that. I practiced. It's not going to be an issue."
A hamstring injury suffered toward the end of the 2007 season left Rodgers unavailable for duty behind Favre for a four-week stretch.
Then, in his first season as the team's starter last year, Rodgers suffered a badly sprained throwing shoulder in Week 4 but managed to play the rest of the season.
--Rookie linebacker Clay Matthews spent part of his early childhood in the late 1980s and early '90s in Cleveland, where his father (also Clay) was winding down a productive 16-year stint as a linebacker with the Browns.
The timing is just right for the younger Matthews to reconnect with those roots. The Packers play at Cleveland on Sunday, and Matthews, 23, is coming into his own on Green Bay's defense.
He was thrust into a full-time role for the first time last Sunday and responded from the get-go with two sacks and three tackles for loss on Lions running back Kevin Smith. Matthews finished with five tackles, his second straight game with that number.
"I can't say that I've arrived or anything along those lines," Matthews said. "I still feel I've got a ways to go. I'm still young, and I've got a lot to learn."
The coaches promoted Matthews, a first-round draft pick out of USC, from a nickel role at right outside linebacker to the every-down job after he made an impact in the Packers' previous game, a loss at the Minnesota Vikings on Oct. 5. He stripped running back Adrian Peterson of the football and returned it 42 yards for a touchdown.
A recurring hamstring injury in offseason workouts and early in the preseason kept Matthews from being a starter at the outset of the season.
--Matthews' emergence the last couple weeks has squeezed veteran Brady Poppinga out of a starting spot.
While disappointed about the demotion, Poppinga is accepting of the early-season change in the lineup.
"Man, he played well (Sunday), and you've got to let him go," Poppinga said of Matthews. "They brought him in here to do what he did right there. You've got to let him go and let him do his thing."
Poppinga, who last year received a five-year contract extension through 2012, is being relegated to special-teams duties.
--The Packers thought better with cornerback Charles Woodson, arguably their most indispensable player on defense, when they didn't have him return punts last season after he handled those duties his first two years in Green Bay.
Yet, after they've lost backup cornerback Will Blackmon and situational receiver Jordy Nelson to knee injuries in the first five games, Woodson is again in the mix as a punt returner.
Nickel back Tramon Williams is expected to take over for Nelson, who likely will be out at least two weeks, on punt and kickoff returns.
McCarthy, though, is willing to insert Woodson from time to time on punt returns and doesn't seem concerned about the risk factor of giving the 12th-year veteran those extra duties.
"He's a positive back there," McCarthy said. "He handles the football very well. I think he does an excellent job of managing the wind game and so forth."
Wide receiver Brett Swain is another return option as the Packers make do without Blackmon, who recently underwent surgery for a season-ending torn ACL he sustained in the game at Minnesota.
--The Packers have lost five straight games to AFC North opponents, including 31-24 to the visiting Cincinnati Bengals in Week 2 this season.
The Packers' last win over a team from that division was 30-7 against the Browns at Lambeau Field on Dec. 23, 2001.
BY THE NUMBERS: 14 -- Consecutive third-down plays that haven't been converted for a first down against the Packers. The Minnesota Vikings failed on their final four third-down chances in an Oct. 5 win over Green Bay, and the Detroit Lions were 0-for-10 on third down in the Packers' shutout victory Sunday.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Our players don't play outside the rules. I don't see our players trying to play outside the rules to gain an advantage. I don't think we're not disciplined. We're probably not as clean as what we need to be, and that's what we're working to improve on." -- Head coach Mike McCarthy, when asked whether his players are undisciplined in light of being among the league leaders with 43 penalties for 359 yards.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
"We'll line up and play with him," head coach Mike McCarthy said Wednesday. "I like his toughness. He competes. The other players noticed that right away."
Lang has earned praise from McCarthy and other coaches for doing a solid job in emergency relief of both Daryn Colledge and Clifton at left tackle in the last two games.
He went in for Colledge, who was starting in place of an injured Clifton, in the second half amid hostile conditions on the road against the Minnesota Vikings and did a respectable job against Jared Allen. The Vikings' All-Pro defensive end was manhandling Colledge until the latter suffered a sprained knee.
Clifton returned to action last Sunday after missing two games with an ankle sprain. Clifton aggravated the injury in the third quarter, and Lang finished things out.
Lang, a fourth-round draft pick out of Eastern Michigan, started at left tackle his last two years in college. He was thought to be a challenger for the Packers' vacant starting spot at right tackle in the offseason, but the coaches weren't keen on that and worked Lang at guard through the preseason.
"I definitely think a full week of practice will help him," McCarthy said. "T.J. has really shown a lot of toughness. He's been productive in his times in there (at left tackle)."
Clifton didn't practice Wednesday, but McCarthy said the latest injury to Clifton's right ankle isn't as bad as when he originally hurt it and he could practice by the end of the week.
--RB DeShawn Wynn underwent knee surgery Wednesday and was placed on injured reserve, clearing a roster spot for the return of veteran back Ahman Green to Green Bay. Wynn had been bothered by the knee injury in the preseason, and it lingered as he played in the first four games this season. Wynn had only six carries for 19 yards in a backup role to Ryan Grant.
--QB Aaron Rodgers suffered a foot injury in the win over the Detroit Lions on Sunday, but the injury isn't considered serious. The second-year starter went through the full practice Wednesday and should be good to play this weekend.
--C Jason Spitz continues to be bothered by lower back spasms. The injury flared up on Spitz late last week, and he didn't play against the Lions. He remained out Wednesday and is a big question mark to recover in time for the game Sunday at the Cleveland Browns. Scott Wells would remain the starter at center if Spitz isn't cleared to play.
--DL B.J. Raji was a full participant in practice Wednesday as he tries to bounce back from an aggravated ankle sprain that knocked the rookie out of the last game.
--FB Quinn Johnson suffered an ankle injury in his first NFL game Sunday and didn't practice Wednesday. Indications are the rookie might need some time to recover, putting his status in doubt for the upcoming game.
--DE Jarius Wynn, another rookie, also was held out of Wednesday's practice because of a hamstring injury.
--RT Mark Tauscher is practicing on a limited basis this week as he continues to round into playing shape. The Packers re-signed their veteran starter Oct. 12, nine months after he underwent major reconstructive knee surgery. Tauscher isn't expected to play Sunday but could make his season debut the following week in the Nov. 1 rematch against the Minnesota Vikings.
--WR Jordy Nelson is expected to be sidelined at least a couple weeks with a knee sprain he incurred early in Sunday's game. Nelson had taken over for Will Blackmon, who is on injured reserve, on returns.
--FB Korey Hall has been ruled out for the second straight game because of a calf strain.
GAME PLAN: All signs point to Green Bay not only picking up a road win but in runaway fashion in its tuneup for the huge rematch against Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings the following Sunday at Lambeau Field. The Packers are getting the Cleveland Browns in dire straits - a 1-5 record, hit with key injuries and, this week, decimated further by a flu epidemic. Although Mike McCarthy is antsy to get the running game on track once and for all this season - hence, veteran Ahman Green was brought back as a reinforcement - it would be tough to take a pass on giving Aaron Rodgers the green light to throw at will, as he did with much success against a similarly porous Detroit Lions pass defense in the last game. The Pittsburgh Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger just torched the Browns for 417 yards through the air. The Cleveland defense is a mess, allowing 24 plays of at least 20 yards. As long as the offensive line can finally give Rodgers some protection after he's been dropped a league-high 25 times and early-season penalty issues are cleaned up, there's no reason the Packers can't dictate how many points they want to score. They won't need much, since the Browns are averaging a measly 11.5 points and have gotten next to nothing out of first Brady Quinn and then Derek Anderson at quarterback - they have a league-worst passer rating of 47.5. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers changed his tune from the first few games and went heavy on the blitz against the Lions. Since versatile receiver Joshua Cribbs is the only offensive weapon and will have to be accounted for as both a runner and a passer when he lines up in the Wildcat formation, Capers can crowd the box and unleash his array of zone blitzes.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Packers coverage units vs. Browns KR Joshua Cribbs. Perhaps the only threat Green Bay has to target on a bad Browns team is Cribbs, who has established himself in short order as the most dynamic return man in the league. He is Cleveland's all-time leader with eight touchdown returns, including two already this season. The Packers have been hit-and-miss in their kickoff and punt coverage this season under first-year special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum. While they are allowing only 20.6 yards on kickoffs, opponents have hit them for an average runback of 16.2 yards on punts. The burden likely will fall on kicker Mason Crosby and punter Jeremy Kapinos to keep the football out of Cribbs' hands. Crosby has the leg to drive the ball through the end zone, depending on the weather conditions Sunday, but also is adept on squib kicks. Kapinos will have to be on the money with his directional punts.
Packers ROLB Clay Matthews vs. Browns LT Joe Thomas. Matthews returns to Cleveland, the former longtime haunt of his famous linebacker father by the same name, on a big-time roll early in his rookie season. After a big strip and touchdown return at the expense of the Minnesota Vikings' Adrian Peterson two games ago, Matthews capitalized on his first full-time start in the shutout of the Detroit Lions with two sacks and three stops of running back Kevin Smith behind the line of scrimmage. The Packers' first-round investment in Matthews seems to be paying off. He is a demon rushing off the edge, as veteran Lions left tackle Jeff Backus can attest. This matchup with the hulking Thomas is intriguing. It will be Matthews' speed against the 6-foot-6, 312-pound Thomas' brute strength. Thomas, a first-round pick in 2007, will have the incentive of playing against the team from his home state for the first time in the regular season.
INJURY IMPACT: The Packers could be caught short-handed in the backfield for Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns. DeShawn Wynn, the top backup to Ryan Grant for most of the season, landed on injured reserve after undergoing knee surgery Wednesday. Brandon Jackson took over for Wynn in the No. 2 role in the last game, but Jackson doesn't seem to be fully recovered from a high ankle sprain that kept him out of the first four games. Green Bay brought back veteran Ahman Green to take Wynn's roster spot, but Green might not be game-ready right away after being out of football since last season. Green Bay's fullback situation also is tenuous. John Kuhn is the only healthy one out of the three. Korey Hall will miss a second straight game because of a calf injury, and rookie Quinn Johnson is on the mend this week with an ankle injury. ... Green Bay likely will give rookie T.J. Lang his first pro start in place of veteran Chad Clifton at left tackle Sunday. Clifton aggravated an ankle sprain in the last game and may not practice until Friday, if at all this week. ... Center Jason Spitz hasn't returned since lower back spasms set in late last week, leaving his status up in the air for Sunday. Scott Wells would remain the starter if Spitz doesn't improve by the end of the week. ... Nickel back Tramon Williams is first in line to handle returns Sunday after receiver Jordy Nelson suffered a knee sprain in the last game that will keep him out for at least a couple weeks.
Coach Eric Mangini is growing impatient with the dropped passes that have plagued the Browns this season. He couldn't put a number to how many passes were dropped in the 27-14 loss to the Steelers last week or the 6-3 win over the Bills on Oct. 11 -- reports put the total at 15 or 16 -- but whatever it was there were too many as far as Mangini is concerned.
Getting the problem corrected before the Browns host the Packers this Sunday in Cleveland Browns Stadium is a major challenge. Before he was traded to the Jets on Oct. 7, all the attention for dropped passes was heaped upon Braylon Edwards, but now the condition is epidemic.
Derek Anderson has completed only 11 of his last 41 passes, but Mangini is sticking with him because Anderson's numbers would be much better without all the drops. Anderson replaced Brady Quinn at halftime of the 34-3 loss to the Ravens and takes a passer rating of 41.7 into the game against the Packers.
"We have young guys," Anderson said. "That's no excuse for it. We're going to keep working with them. I have to do better, too. I have to give them a better chance to catch it and be more precise in my throws. They're good receivers and good players. I trust them."
Mangini doesn't usually call out players for mistakes, but he did single out tight end Robert Royal for a dropped pass that could have resulted in a touchdown in the third quarter in the Buffalo game. The pass, thrown from midfield, knifed through a strong wind and hit Royal in the hands. He flat out dropped it.
"I thought the throw to the tight end was a beautiful throw," Mangini said. "He should have been able to bring that one in."
Royal has been playing with torn ligaments on the ring finger of his right hand since the second day of training camp. On top of that he suffered a hamstring injury in Pittsburgh. If that lingers the Browns are in a real bind because veteran tight end Steve Heiden's knee injury has flared up.
In the Cincinnati game, a pass in the fourth quarter hit Royal in the facemask as he was coming out of his break inside the Bengals 25-yard line with 27 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Had he caught it, the Browns would have had a chance to kick the winning field goal in regulation. They punted two plays later and eventually lost in overtime.
"(The finger) isn't pretty at all, but he wants to be out there and contribute," Mangini said. "Robert cares deeply about what he's doing. It affects him. He never wants to let his teammates down."
Royal isn't the only one with work to do. Massaquoi has been very inconsistent. He caught eight passes in the Bengals game. He caught one and dropped three against the Bills. He caught five and dropped three in Pittsburgh.
SERIES HISTORY: 17th regular-season meeting. Packers lead series 9-7. This will be the first time the Packers have played in Cleveland Browns Stadium. The two former powers in the days before the AFL and NFL merged in 1970 have met twice in Green Bay in the expansion era, with each team winning once.
--Romeo Crennel's second game as head coach was in Green Bay on Sept. 18, 2005. Trent Dilfer threw three touchdown passes in a 26-24 Browns victory. A 62-yard hookup with 1:50 to play gave the Browns a 26-17 lead. Not even a touchdown pass from Brett Favre to Tony Fisher with four seconds left could spoil the moment.
No offensive or defensive starters from that 2005 team are still on the roster. The only players from 2005 still with the Browns are kicker Phil Dawson, tight end Steve Heiden, long snapper Ryan Pontbriand, safety Brodney Pool, quarterback Derek Anderson and special teams star Josh Cribbs. Pool, Anderson and Cribbs were rookies.
--The last game Jim Brown played in the NFL was against the Packers in the 1965 championship game, a 23-12 Browns loss. The Packers held Brown to 50 yards rushing on 12 carries. Brown was the league's MVP that season with 1,544 yards rushing.
--On Sept. 27, 1953, Otto Graham rushed for two touchdowns in a 27-0 victory over the Packers. It was the only game in the series resulting in a shutout.
--One reason the Browns are 1-5 this season and 5-17 over the last two years: Only 17 players on the active roster were drafted by Cleveland. They have 24 players who joined the team as free agents -- 14 of them this year. Three drafted players are on injured reserve. Nine players were acquired by trade and three are waiver pickups.
--A severe case of the flu prevented Kamerion Wimbley from playing against the Steelers. The next day a ladder was set up in front of his locker as a way to discourage teammates from using anything in the locker. It is common for NFL players to borrow shampoo, lotion, deodorant, etc. from each other on a daily basis.
"Anytime a player has those symptoms, we'll try to get them the rest and the care they need and not put them in a position where they could potentially pass it on," coach Eric Mangini said.
--Former quarterback Bernie Kosar is working with the Browns as a consultant. His role has not been segmented, but team owner Randy Lerner said: "It's been my thinking that there are people in the organization with any number of roles that would benefit from knowing and being exposed to Bernie."
Kosar recently weighed in on the Browns' offensive woes during an interview on Cleveland radio station WKNR.
"I've got to figure out what we're doing offensively before I can even try to give input, because there are a lot of guys putting in a lot of effort and trying hard, but not making plays and scoring points," Kosar said. "It's hard to watch."
The Browns have scored four offensive touchdowns in 72 possessions. Kosar said he is not campaigning to replace offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.
BY THE NUMBERS: 30, 31, 32 -- The Browns league rankings in points scored, offense and defense.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He's dynamic. He's special with the ball in his hands. What I like about Josh is that he's inherently competitive and tough." -- Head coach Eric Mangini on kick/punt returner Josh Cribbs, who has returned a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns this season.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Browns, already last in the NFL defensively, are without their leading tackler for the rest of the season after placing D'Qwell Jackson on injured reserve Tuesday with a shoulder injury sustained Sunday in the 27-14 loss to the Steelers.
Losing Jackson is a major blow for the 1-5 Browns, who are trying to turns things around with new coach Eric Mangini. After reviewing the roster soon after taking over the team last January, Mangini said Jackson and left tackle Joe Thomas were the only two players on the team he would not be willing to trade.
"It's disappointing any time you lose a player for the season, and this is especially true with someone like D'Qwell, who has proven to be an outstanding leader for us both on and off the field," Mangini said.
Jackson goes on the shelf with 57 tackles, two pass breakups and a forced fumble in six starts.
Jackson's backup, rookie Kaluka Maiava, struggled when he took over for him on Sunday. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger picked on him quickly. Maiava, 6-foot and 229 pounds, about 11 pounds lighter than Jackson, appeared to be overpowered by the Steelers guards on running plays. He did, however, make six tackles and force one fumble.
--LB Kamerion Wimbley, who missed last week's game at Pittsburgh with the flu, was among a dozen players were sent home Wednesday morning with the flu. Six of them are starters: Wimbley, C Alex Mack, S Brodney Pool, NT tackle Shaun Rogers, TE Robert Royal and FB Lawrence Vickers. RB Jerome Harrison, DB Anthony Madison, WR Chansi Stuckey, LB Jason Trusnik, DE Corey Williams and practice squad player Brian Schaefering also missed practice.
--TE Steve Heiden missed practice with a knee injury that prevented him from playing against the Steelers.
--TE Robert Royal has hamstring and finger injuries in addition to the flu.
--TE Michael Gaines was signed in the wake of injuries to Heiden and Royal. Gaines has played in 74 games with 41 starts in a six-year career with the Panthers, Bills, Lions and Bears. He has 79 career catches for 810 yards and five touchdowns.
--KR/PR Josh Cribbs was held from practice with a knee injury.
GAME PLAN: The Browns were burned last week by Ben Roethlisberger, a patient quarterback who is willing to take a sack but ultimately is successful, and now they face another one in the Packers' Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers was sacked five times by the Lions last week but still threw for 358 yards and two touchdowns.
The Browns' cornerbacks did a poor job last week of staying with Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes. If they don't do a better job staying with Donald Driver and Greg Jennings, and if the pass rushers let Rodgers out of the pocket, the Browns could end up giving up 400 yards passing for the second week in a row.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Browns ILB Kaluka Maiava vs. Packers RB Ryan Grant. The Browns could end up juggling their linebackers by moving David Bowens inside and starting Alex Hall outside to compensate for losing D'Qwell Jackson to a season-ending shoulder injury. At some point, Maiava will play inside. He weighs 229 pounds and has difficulty shedding the blocks of guards 100 pounds heavier.
Browns CB Brandon McDonald vs. Packers WR Greg Jennings. McDonald had a bad day last week in Pittsburgh. He had coverage on Santonio Holmes on a pass that should have gained 10 yards, but McDonald missed the tackle and the play went for 41 yards to set up the Steelers' first touchdown. Jennings has 17 receptions. He is averaging 17.9 yards a catch. He can turn short catches into long gains.
INJURY IMPACT: With a dozen players suffering from the flu, the Browns will be taxed if they do not recover by Sunday. Six of the players are starters, including linebacker Kamerion Wimbley, nose tackle Shaun Rogers and safety Brodney Pool. Linebacker D'Qwell Jackson is out for the year with a shoulder injury. The Packers could run over the Browns.