The Packers lost tight end Jermichael Finley to a concussion on the first series of the game. Running back James Starks injured a knee on a first-and-goal run at the end of the first half. Outside linebacker Clay Matthews didn't play a snap after halftime due to his annual hamstring injury.
Those injuries were a major setback to a team already without running back Eddie Lacy (concussion), fullback John Kuhn (hamstring), safety Morgan Burnett (hamstring), cornerback Casey Hayward (hamstring) and cornerback Jarrett Bush (hamstring). In the end, the Packers didn't have enough talent on the field to hold off the rising Bengals.
"That's the challenge of our game," coach Mike McCarthy said. "You have to be able to adjust on the sidelines. Losing Jermichael early like that, he was a featured player today. So, you adjust, and I thought Ryan Taylor did some good things, I thought Andrew Quarless started slow but he did some good things. It affects your rhythm. The guy that ultimately is probably affected the most by that is our quarterback."
With Lacy ruled out after further testing on Saturday, the Packers gambled by going into the game with just Starks and rookie Johnathan Franklin at running back rather than promoting practice squad rookie Michael Hill.
The decision really didn't backfire, other than Franklin missing a couple snaps late in the game. Starks ran for 55 yards on 14 carries, including runs of 13, 8 and 7 yards. Franklin, who didn't play a snap on offense the first two weeks, provided a huge lift with 103 yards on 13 carries, plus 23 yards on three catches. Among them was a 51-yard run in which Franklin showed the patience that he lacked during training camp and the explosion that he showed at UCLA. He also converted a third-and-3 with a 10-yard run on the drive that ultimately ended on his game-changing fumble.
"Johnathan Franklin came in when James got hurt right before halftime and I thought James was in a groove," McCarthy said. "We knew it was going to probably be some tough sledding early against this defensive front but we felt that if we could sustain it for four quarters that we'd be able to have some more success. Johnathan came in and did a heck of a job. He obviously had the one play there on fourth down. That's tough. It's definitely one of the most different games that I've had to call in my time."
"I've just got to keep it high and tight," Franklin said. "It's not an excuse for what I was doing or how I was doing it. It's all about technique. It's a big play, a big down, and I've got to make a play for my team regardless of whether it's my first game or not. If they call on me, I've got to do my job."
Meanwhile, with Matthews out for the second half, the Bengals had touchdown drives of 65 and 95 yards. Green Bay had three sacks and four takeaways in the first half — including Matthews' strip of Andy Dalton, the play in which he sustained the injury — but no takeaways and one sack in the second.
"It's very frustrating, especially in the manner in which we lost and to be on the sideline and feel as if you could've impacted the game in a positive manner for your team," Matthews told reporters. "It's obviously very difficult, but it's part of the game."
Matthews missed four games last year due to a hamstring injury, and has battled preseason or in-season hamstring issues in each of his five years in the league. He called sitting out the second half a "preventative measure more than anything."
Without Burnett, Chris Banjo started alongside M.D. Jennings rather than Jerron McMillian. Jennings had a sack and returned a fumble 24 yards for a touchdown. Banjo had two tackles and McMillian broke up a pass.
Without Finley, who was drilled by safety George Iloka, Quarless caught three passes for 21 yards (one drop) and Taylor caught two passes for 11 yards, including an 8-yarder for a first down on the final drive.
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