This year, the Packers should consider building an addition to their training room. Simply put, they are sustaining injuries at an alarming, season-crippling pace. The latest, most devastating blow was to defensive end Cullen Jenkins, who likely will be placed on injured reserve on Wednesday with a torn pectoral.
Was it any wonder the Buccaneers scored 10 points on their final two possessions on Sunday to beat the Packers? Sidelined were four starters: Jenkins, linebacker A.J. Hawk and safeties Aaron Rouse and Nick Collins. And let's not forget half of the starting secondary, safety Atari Bigby and Al Harris, were out with injuries, as well, and cornerback Charles Woodson is playing valiantly through a broken toe.
Losing Jenkins is the worst news imaginable. After a subpar 2007 season that was derailed a bit by knee, ankle and rib problems, Jenkins was a flat-out stud through the first four games of this season. His 2.5 sacks don't do justice to the menace Jenkins had been. Defensive ends coach Carl Hairston agreed with the assessment that Jenkins was one of the Packers' top defenders this season.
"The way you practice is the way you play," Hairston said Monday. "Rushing the passer, he works hard at it and it shows up. All of that is showing up on tape, and when it shows up on tape, other teams look at that and they have to account for it."
Packers coach Mike McCarthy on Monday called the injury a chest strain. Instead, it turns out Jenkins tore a pectoral, which will require surgery.
Jenkins on Monday said his chest was sore and felt "funny," and acknowledged that it's "really frustrating" to be injured while playing so well. He mustered a grin when asked if he could raise his arm over his head.
"I'm not going to try that right now," Jenkins said, either unaware the injury might require surgery or flashing a good poker face.
How the defense will survive without Jenkins is a mystery. Michael Montgomery likely will take Jenkins' spot. Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila likely will see more snaps, too, but he hasn't shown much in his limited role as a pass rusher, so to expect him to become a 30-snaps-per-game player is a long shot. Jenkins also was part of the defensive tackle rotation, which already was a position of weakness.
It gets worse from there.
McCarthy said Hawk, the Packers' most productive linebacker, has a groin injury — FoxSports.com's Jay Glazer on Sunday the injury was a tear. Even after missing a lot of training camp, Hawk is the Packers' leading tackler with 28 and has added two sacks.
"It's a pretty good strain," McCarthy said. "(Practice on) Wednesday is important. Knowing A.J., I'm sure he'll do everything he can to play this week."
Collins, who aggravated his sore back against the Bucs, was a big-time tease in his first three seasons in the league. He looked the part but, outside of a two-interception game against Chicago in 2006, the former second-round pick rarely played to his potential. Not so this year. After recording no interceptions last year, Collins has two this season. He seems so much more instinctive this season. And when he's out of the lineup, his skills in keeping the defense organized have been sorely missed.
"Collins, he feels about the same way he did coming out of the Dallas game," McCarthy said. "He has the back contusion, and he really gutted it out and made some big plays in the game. So, we'll see where he is Wednesday. I'm sure his practice time will be limited."
Meanwhile, Woodson continues playing at a supremely high level despite a broken toe that hasn't allowed him to practice. Against Detroit, he rescued the Packers from a stunning loss. Against Tampa Bay, he almost did it again.
McCarthy said it takes until Wednesday or Thursday for Woodson's toe to get over the stress of game day. The Packers can't afford having the injury worsen to a point where he needs to miss a couple of games, but with Harris out, the Packers don't have the luxury of giving Woodson a week off, either. So, the Packers are crossing their fingers and hoping Woodson can make it to the Oct. 26 bye week.
"We actually didn't talk about Charles this morning," McCarthy said when asked if the Packers would consider giving him a week off. (Atlanta, with a rookie quarterback and average receivers, is Sunday's opponent.) "He really doesn't feel very good until probably Wednesday or Thursday, so I anticipate that will be the same this week. He'll be in the boot again. If I was to project the week, I would say it would go very similar to the way it has gone the last two weeks. We have not discussed a week off as we did last year."
With injuries to Rouse (aggravated a knee sprain for the third consecutive game) and No. 4 cornerback/kick returner Will Blackmon (thigh bruise), only Tramon Williams is healthy among the Packers' top seven defensive backs.
"That's part of the business," defensive backs coach Lionel Washington said Monday, refusing to make excuses.
Excuses don't win football games, of course, but the Packers' injury situation is reaching a critical juncture. The Packers and Bears are tied for the NFC North lead at 2-2, and with Kyle Orton looking like a real, living and breathing NFL quarterback, the Packers can't continue their losing ways.
Super Bowls aren't won in September and October, but they most certainly can be lost. And at this bumped and bruised rate, a promising season is in danger of having a painful, early ending.
Bill Huber is editor of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at email@example.com