Aaron Rodgers used the word “proud” eight times in his postgame press conference.
Yes, it’s true that the Green Bay Packers lost to the Atlanta Falcons 33-32 on Sunday. And, yes, it’s also true that excuses are for losers. But the Packers appear to be a team on the rise, so long as they can withstand this onslaught of injuries.
And what an onslaught it has been. Running back Eddie Lacy is on injured reserve and backup James Starks is out with an injured knee. Receiver Ty Montgomery helped fill the void at running back but he was inactive. So, too, was leading receiver Randall Cobb. At cornerback, Sam Shields is on injured reserve, Damarious Randall had groin surgery and Quinten Rollins missed his third consecutive game with a groin injury. Outside linebacker Clay Matthews, the premier player on the defense, and tight end Jared Cook, who was supposed to be an explosive difference-making addition to the offense, were inactive.
Those aren’t just nine players. They’re nine of the, what, 25 best players on the team? So, Sunday’s outcome was to be expected. That the Packers hung in there on the road against a quality opponent given the lack of horsepower was impressive.
“Personally, I’m just really proud of those guys who made plays today,” said upbeat quarterback Aaron Rodgers. “We got Jordy (Nelson) going early with the big completion but we had three touchdown passes — one each to Geronimo Allison, who wasn’t on the opening-day roster, to Trevor (Davis), who’s had limited opportunities, and Jeff Janis for the go-ahead touchdown. I’m just so proud of those guys and the way they battled.”
What a battle it was.
Cobb, the NFL’s leader in third-down receptions, and Montgomery, with back-to-back games of 10 receptions, had combined for 37 catches the past two games. They were inactive for the game, meaning Rodgers had to run an offense without its top run-after-catch threats — never mind its top running backs. Rodgers was sensational, nonetheless, going 28-of-38. Combining his passing (246 yards) and rushing yards (career-high 60 yards), he drove the Packers to five scores on their first eight possessions. Davante Adams caught 12 passes, with some of them coming as, as Rodgers put it, the “backup-backup-backup-backup” running back.
“First of all, there’s no excuses,” Rodgers said. “We’re all professionals out here and we expect them to play well. To that accord, I’m proud of our guys. I’m proud of the way they battled and the offensive line — T.J. Lang is an absolute warrior. He was out there struggling and then dealing with a nagging injury. I’m proud of him, I’m proud of the young guys, I’m proud of Davante. He took some of the role that we’d been doing with Ty, with Randall, and did a great job with it. I’m proud of the way we played. This will be an important time for us to stick together and figure out what we’ve got to do to go on a run.”
Of course, there are no moral victories in the standings. And ultimately, the more talented team did what it was supposed to do and won the game.
Green Bay took a 32-26 lead with about 4 minutes left, only for Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan to carve up the Packers’ defense like a sharp knife through pumpkin pie for the winning touchdown. It’s what you expected from an offense that ranked No. 1 in the NFL in scoring, No. 1 in total yards and No. 2 in passing yards against a defense without four starters. Really, the only thing that didn’t happen according to script was Julio Jones’ predicted demolition of the Packers’ three backup-turned-starting cornerbacks. Instead, it was Mohamed Sanu who caught nine passes, including five and the winning touchdown on the final drive.
The Packers’ final drive had to move fast to get a shot at the winning field goal. Instead, as has been the case far too often with a quarterback of Rodgers’ greatness, the offense went nowhere fast with the game on the line. Rodgers threw too high to Nelson on a second-down play that would have pushed the ball to midfield, then wasn’t on the same page as Adams on the fourth-down failure.
If there’s a silver lining, it’s that this offense has improved without Lacy. With the offense basically limited to short passes, Rodgers appears to have gotten out of a lengthy funk. At some point in the not-too-distant future, Cobb, Montgomery, Cook and Starks will be back. A sharper Rodgers, plus a much better offensive roster, should provide for a dangerous unit.
All of which leads us to 2010. It’s easy to compare this season to 2010, when the Packers survived a similar onslaught of injuries and won the Super Bowl. Bit that team had big-play production in the passing game and a juggernaut secondary with Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams and Shields at cornerback. This year’s team, even when healthy, won’t have those elements.
Given what we know through seven games, you’d be a fool to bet on these Packers to make a run at the Super Bowl. Then again, given the flawed state of the NFC and what the bruised-and-battered Packers have showed the past two weeks, you’d also be a fool to be against them.
Bill Huber is publisher of 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 www.twitter.com/PackerReport.