Veteran right tackle Mark Tauscher's superlative career with the Green Bay Packers might be over.
Tauscher left Sunday's latest heartbreaking loss after the first play of the second quarter. Coach Mike McCarthy said Tauscher sustained a "significant" knee injury that likely would sideline him for the rest of the season.
Tony Moll replaced Tauscher against Houston and likely will be elevated to the starting lineup.
"We miss a leader, experience, absolutely," running back Ryan Grant said. "I hope everything's all right with him, but it's a tough situation. We need to find a way and be able to step up."
With Tauscher's contract up after this season, his tenure in Green Bay may be over.
Tauscher, a ninth-year pro out of the University of Wisconsin who grew up in Auburndale, Wis., was a seventh-round pick in the 2000 draft after starting just one season for the Badgers. He moved into the Packers' starting lineup in the third week of his rookie season and has manned the fort at right tackle ever since. He started the final 14 games during his rookie season, and started all 16 games in 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2007.
In 2002, he played in only two games before sustaining a season-ending injury to his left knee. He started the next 57 games before being sidelined for five games in 2006 with a groin injury.
Tauscher left the New Orleans game on Nov. 24 after injuring a hamstring on the second play, but was back in the lineup last week against Carolina and helped the run game churn out 145 yards.
"I have a guy in front of me with many years of experience behind him," Moll said in the days leading to the Carolina game. "So, every day, I'm watching him, seeing how he handles things, because I'm definitely learning from what he does."
Tauscher, the Packers' nominee for the NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year award, might have played his last game for the team. The Packers hadn't approached Tauscher about signing a contract extension, and the injury perhaps lessens his chances of coming back to his home-state team. More often than not, general manager Ted Thompson has erred on the side of caution when it comes to retaining players who are nearing the end of their career, and Tauscher will turn 32 before next year's training camp and apparently will be coming off major surgery.
On the other hand, the injury could lessen interest around the league and allow the Packers to bring him back at a reasonable price.
Plus, there are no ready-to-go heirs for Tauscher's spot. Moll was a fifth-round pick in the 2006 draft. He started his career at Nevada as a tight end but was an all-conference pick at tackle as a senior. Moll started 10 games as a rookie, including the five games Tauscher missed with his groin injury. A neck stinger, however, derailed Moll in 2007, and he might have been released among the final cuts this summer had rookie fifth-round pick Breno Giacomini developed faster.
Moll started the first three games this season at right guard when the Packers were forced to shuffle their line with center Scott Wells injured. For the most part, Moll held his own against the Texans' star defensive end, Mario Williams, who finished with just one tackle, no sacks and two quarterback hits. But Moll was flagged for holding – a call the Packers questioned – which doomed their chances to score the go-ahead points in the final 3 minutes.
The other long-term possibility is the 6-foot-7, 311-pound Giacomini, but he's a major project. He struggled with pass protection during training camp and gave up a few sacks during the preseason. He's been deactivated for the last 11 games.
Bill Huber is the Lead Analyst for Packer Report and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tauscher likely finished for season
Packer Report Top Stories
Fine Line Delivers for RodgersWith Aaron Rodgers' limited mobility, the Packers' offensive line needed a big game against Houston.
Packer Report7:55 AM
Essentials from Sunday: Old Guys Get RecordsIt was a big day for Green Bay's Julius Peppers and New England's Tom Brady. Plus, other noteworthy accomplishments from this week's games.
Scout NFL Network5:53 AM
Packers-Texans: The Winning NumbersHow did the Green Bay Packers beat the Houston Texans? We have our weekly 20 key statistics, including some history on Jordy Nelson and long drives.
Packer ReportYesterday at 9:06 PM
Packers Frolick in Winter WonderlandThe weather was a factor for everybody, regardless of hometowns, and especially so on the Packers' go-ahead touchdown.
Packer ReportYesterday at 7:59 PM