The Green Bay Packers ran out of playmakers.
Then, they ran out of season.
The Packers lost Jordy Nelson to a season-ending knee injury during the second preseason game and Randall Cobb to a chest injury during the first quarter of Saturday night’s NFC Divisional playoff game at Arizona. Moreover, rookie Ty Montgomery lasted only six games because of an ankle injury and second-year pro Davante Adams was inactive with a knee injury. With their projected top four receivers out of commission, Green Bay forced overtime on an improbable Hail Mary to Jeff Janis but lost in overtime 26-20 to the Cardinals.
Last season, Nelson and Cobb combined for 25 touchdown passes. Entering Saturday’s game, Janis and Jared Abbrederis had combined for 13 career receptions.
“There’s no sense in making excuses about that,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “Jordy’s been out for a long time, Ty’s been out for a long time, Davante has had injuries the entire season. But I’m proud of the guys that played today. The guys gutted it out.”
Against the Cardinals, Janis and Abbrederis combined for 11 receptions for 200 yards. Janis had seven catches for 145 yards — a staggering 101 yards on the game-tying drive — and the first two touchdowns of his professional career. Abbrederis caught four passes for 55 yards, all in the first half.
“We had guys in spots that hadn’t been in spots all season and running routes they hadn’t run all year, even in practice,” Rodgers said. “We had such a package for Randall. We didn’t have Abbrederis run a lot of the stuff, even in practice, and he gets out there and does a great job for us and made a lot of plays. I’m just really proud of our guys.”
Cobb was injured on the third possession of the game. He made a one-handed grab of a deep pass by Rodgers, with cornerback Justin Bethel falling on Cobb’s chest. Cobb got up spitting up blood and was driven to the locker room for tests. Shortly thereafter, he was ruled out. He stayed overnight at a hospital rather than flying home with the rest of the team.
While Janis and Abbrederis were good enough to give the Packers a chance, the offense didn’t have enough firepower to get the job done. Green Bay mounted back-to-back 17-play drives in the second quarter but had to settle for field goals on both possessions as it trailed 7-6 at halftime.
With Adams ruled out on Friday, the Packers entered the game with only four receivers. An option would have been promoting Ed Williams from the practice squad but injuries to cornerbacks Sam Shields and Quinten Rollins — both were questionable — necessitated the promotion of practice-squad cornerback Robertson Daniel, instead.
Going down to three receivers took a bite out of coach Mike McCarthy’s game plan.
“There’s personnel groups you feel like you’re going to get better looks than the others and those looks come from the three-receiver sets,” McCarthy said. “You never want to be one player away from getting out of a personnel group. So, that’s why we didn't go in with any four-wide receiver sets. It just put us more in a traditional, regular two-back, tight end, two receivers.”
With All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson shadowing veteran receiver James Jones, Abbrederis and Janis had to carry the load. Abbrederis did it early, with three third-down conversions on Green Bay’s opening scoring drives. It was Janis who stepped to the forefront in the second half. He scored the go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter when Rodgers bought time and fired an 8-yard touchdown pass on third-and-goal.
“We felt pretty confident that anybody in our room could step up,” Janis said. “It’s unfortunate when someone gets hurt. When your time comes, you’ve just got to step in and act like you’ve been there.”
Then, when the Packers needed a touchdown to force overtime, it was Janis to the rescue. After being mugged on a third-and-20 heave that didn’t produce 60-yard pass-interference penalty, Janis inexplicably was wide open to catch Rodgers’ bomb for a gain of 60. Then, with the Packers down to a wing and a prayer, Janis made a leaping catch of Rodgers’ Hail Mary for a 41-yard, game-tying touchdown.
“I’m very proud of those young men,” McCarthy said. “The worked their tails off all year to get an opportunity. You look at Jared and what he went through in training camp, getting hurt in the first practice (concussion), missing all of training camp and just working his way up, and then had another setback in midseason (ribs) and kept working for the opportunity and definitely cashed in. Jeff Janis, he’s taken advantage of some opportunities and he’s just a young man who needs to play. He’s got a lot of raw ability. He made some huge, huge plays tonight.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.