The Packers entered Sunday's game at Kansas City short-handed on offense, with Pro Bowl left tackle Chad Clifton, Pro Bowl receiver Greg Jennings, top running back James Starks and promising young running back Brandon Saine out with injuries.
The Packers performed poorly throughout the 19-14 loss to the Chiefs, and the injury situation got much, much worse in the second half when standout right tackle Bryan Bulaga sustained a sprained left knee and his replacement, Derek Sherrod, suffered a broken left leg.
Coach Mike McCarthy said he didn't "have a pulse" on the severity of Bulaga's injury, though with Bulaga standing on the sideline in full pads, there's reason for optimism. Sherrod, however, sustained a broken leg.
Bulaga, whose bruised and sprained left knee early in the Week 3 game at Chicago kept him out for two games, was injured on the third snap of the third quarter, either while engaged with outside linebacker Justin Houston or when inside linebacker Derrick Johnson missed a diving tackle attempt on Ryan Grant and collided with Bulaga.
"We tried to warm back up, see if a little bit of the pain would subside, but we just couldn't give it a go in the second half," Bulaga said. "It wasn't where I thought I could play at the level I needed to be playing."
Sherrod, the Packers' first-round pick, played well. However, with about 5 minutes remaining in the game, Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali was pushed around quarterback Aaron Rodgers by left tackle Marshall Newhouse and fell into Sherrod, who was blocking Houston.
The Packers finished the game with left guard T.J. Lang playing right tackle and Evan Dietrich-Smith replacing Lang at left guard. On Dietrich-Smith's first play, he was beaten cleanly inside by rookie Allen Bailey and allowed a sack.
McCarthy said he'd assess the state of his line and its short-term future after getting a more extensive medical update on Bulaga on Monday.
If Bulaga can't play, the Packers would be without three of their top four offensive tackles, and they aren't exactly overflowing with options. They'd likely stick with Lang at right tackle, with Dietrich-Smith or undrafted rookie Ray Dominguez at left guard. Dominguez, an all-SEC performer at left tackle for Arkansas, worked at tackle during training camp but generally was overmatched.
Veteran Mark Tauscher, who hasn't played since injuring a shoulder against Detroit in Week 4 of last season, has kept in shape. But it's hard to imagine Tauscher — or any other street free agent, for that matter — could jump right into the starting lineup.
Newhouse has been plagued by fits of inconsistency. After dominating Detroit's Kyle VandenBosch in Week 12, Jason Pierre-Paul beat Newhouse for one sack, three hits and five pressures. Newhouse rebounded with a strong outing last week against Oakland before yielding three sacks to Hali.
As for Clifton, who sustained a serious hamstring injury in Week 5 at Atlanta, McCarthy said: "The path that Chad's been taking back (in rehab), it's been up and down. I don't know. I'm hopeful he can get back but I wouldn't know which way to lean."
Looking at the big picture, the injuries do the Packers no favor in terms of continuity. The strength of the line had been the combination of right tackle Bulaga and right guard Josh Sitton, who returned after missing two games with a knee sprain. Assuming Bulaga is out next week, that would be the third time in four weeks those two haven't been working in tandem.
Moreover, if Lang has to replace Bulaga, the Packers would have a new left guard and would be going without their preferred starters at three of five spots — which isn't ideal against Chicago's formidable defensive front seven. It's possible the playoffs could start with Clifton at left tackle and Lang at left guard, a combo without a single rep of game action since the Atlanta game more than three months earlier. That lack of continuity is a major, major concern, considering only Alex Smith (39) has been sacked more often than Rodgers (36), and the Packers as a team have allowed the ninth-most sacks in the NFL with 37.
The passing game really struggled without Jennings. Rodgers completed 17-of-35 passes — just his third sub-50 percent game of his career. Jordy Nelson had more penalties (three) than receptions (two). In fact, Nelson, Donald Driver and James Jones combined for six receptions for 53 yards. Tight end Jermichael Finley caught just three of 10 passes thrown his way.
"We missed Greg," Rodgers said. "It's tough to replace a guy like but I think Randall (Cobb) stepped up and did some good things. (Chiefs) played a lot of man. We need to do a better job of getting down the middle and making some plays when they're going to be so wide with their safeties. You've got to give them credit. They had a good plan, they executed well, got after me with their four-man rush and had a lot of guys in coverage."
The Packers, however, fared well at running back, even with Starks (ankle/knee) and Saine (concussion) among the inactives. Ryan Grant had a strong day with 12 carries for 66 yards — with a long of 18 and a 5.5-yard average — plus added 35 yards on three catches. Kuhn went nowhere on two runs — including on third-and-1 on the play after Bulaga's injury — and had one reception for 11 yards on the team's late touchdown drive.
On defense, with Ryan Pickett out with last week's concussion, B.J. Raji played most of the game at nose tackle, flanked by Howard Green and Jarius Wynn at end. The Chiefs finished with 139 yards on 39 carries — a 3.6-yard average. The Packers didn't lay a finger on Kyle Orton after his first pass of the game, when Morgan Burnett arrived a hair too late on a third-down conversion.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.