"It's giving me some flashbacks to 2010," wide receiver Jordy Nelson said Sunday, after Green Bay outlasted the Baltimore Ravens 19-17.
That year, they placed 16 players on injured reserve, and won a Super Bowl. No one would be so bold as to predict such a finish for this year's club. Not after five games, three of them victories. But again they are banged up. Again they will have to improvise on the fly, find different players to contribute, find different ways to win.
They began Sunday's game without linebackers Clay Matthews (broken thumb) and Brad Jones (hamstring pull). They ended it without wide receivers James Jones (leg) and Randall Cobb (knee). But the defense was excellent for three quarters — and excellent against the run all day — and the offense pieced together two critical drives in the final period to salt the game away.
"We took a step as a team today," coach Mike McCarthy said.
And they did it together, out of necessity. McCarthy talked about how lively the sideline was, how guys were picking each other up.
"When I hear good chatter behind me," he said, "I know good things are ahead."
They won Sunday despite scoring just a single touchdown, as had been the case in last week's 22-9 triumph over Detroit. With resurgent kicker Mason Crosby nailing four more field goals, after hitting five against the Lions. With the defense limiting the Ravens to 47 yards on 22 rushes. With rookie running back Eddie Lacy grinding out 120 yards, the most of his five-game-old NFL career, and veteran inside linebacker A.J. Hawk providing a career-high three sacks.
"Guys come in and it doesn't matter," Hawk said. "It doesn't faze us. We know it's next man up."
Except there wasn't a next man when Cobb injured his right knee in the second quarter, on a low, hard hit by Baltimore safety Matt Elam (and a questionable one, in Rodgers' view); Boykin was the last wide receiver on the roster.
So the Packers improvised, played two tight ends more and continued to pound the ball with Lacy. He slid to the ground after going 4 yards to convert a third-and-2 with 1:32 left, ensuring that the Packers would be able to burn off the remaining time. Packers general manager Ted Thompson, seated in the press box, was so overjoyed by that move that he pounded the desk in glee.
"That dude," Finley said of Lacy, "is huge."
And growing in stature by the week. In all, Lacy ran for 44 yards on Green Bay's last two drives, a 12-play, 72-yarder that consumed 7:35 and led to Crosby's final field goal, and a six-play, 67-yarder that included the rookie's Bernie Brewer impersonation.
Both marches were in response to touchdown passes by Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco, the last an 18-yarder to Dallas Clark with 2:04 left, bringing the Ravens within two, at 19-17. (That play was made possible when the Ravens converted a fourth-and-21 on a 63-yard Flacco-Tandon Doss connection, after nickelback Jerron McMillian fell in coverage.)
But Rodgers, 17-for-32 for 315 yards on the day, hit Finley for 52 yards on third-and-3, and it was all over but the sliding.
"This was a lot of fun," Rodgers said. "It's days like this that remind you of why we all love this game so much."
Except, of course, for the injury part.
The one suffered by Cobb had Rodgers yapping at Elam late in the second quarter, and the quarterback again voiced his displeasure after the game. Nelson was a little more circumspect, noting that defenders are afforded only a small target area.
"They can't go high," he said. "There's really only one other way to go. I'm not saying that low, but I mean, I haven't been in that situation, so I'm not going to judge anyone making a play. I think it's a split-second decision. I doubt he was back there thinking, ‘If he throws it high, I'm going to take a guy's knee out.'"
McCarthy wouldn't say how severely Jones or Cobb were injured, only that he hoped to receive "good information" about them on Monday. And Nelson, whose 64-yard catch from Rodgers in the third quarter accounted for the Packers' touchdown, said that as far as he knows, neither injury is "as bad as what it could have been."
"Hopefully," he said, "it's a quick recovery. We're going to miss them while they're gone."
In the meantime, it's back to the future. Or back, anyway, to 2010.
"It's similar," defensive tackle Ryan Pickett said. "It's an eerie feeling. We have a lot of injuries. We're overcoming them, learning from it, growing. The next guy's stepping up and is balling."
No telling how far that can take them.