They might not be the Fantastic Five, but the Green Bay Packers offensive line that closed the game on Sunday against Detroit certainly was the Final Five.
When center Scott Wells exited with an ankle sprain in the first quarter and guard Allen Barbre went down with the same injury in the third quarter, the Packers were down to their final five offensive linemen.
"We tested the full spectrum of depth of this offensive line," versatile Daryn Colledge said.
It was a strange week, followed by a strange Sunday, for the line. On Wednesday, the Packers went to work with a shuffled line of Colledge moving from left guard to right tackle to replace the demoted Tony Moll, Jason Spitz moving from right guard to left guard and rookie Josh Sitton moving into right guard.
How'd that group do? How about 211 rushing yards and a 7.8-yard average in a 31-21 victory to close the season.
"It gave us the opportunity to have as productive a day that we did have offensively," coach Mike McCarthy said of his line. "It all starts up front. They did a hell of a job."
At the top of that list is Colledge, who made his first career start at right tackle. When Wells went down, Spitz moved to center and Barbre took over at left guard. When Barbre was injured, Colledge moved back to left guard and Moll came in at right tackle.
"The corner went in motion with the down-blocking wide receiver," Colledge explained. "Jordy Nelson made the adjustment on the move and actually picked up my guy. So, I was the free guy. Jordy was making a block. I saw the guy I needed to block beyond Jordy. I punched the guy for Jordy, and I was able to be a free hitter. When you have a young guy that makes an adjustment like that and allows you to have a big play, that's what you're going to get. He turned a little play into a spectacular play."
Thanks to the line, the Packers became the first team in NFL history to have a 300-yard passer, two 100-yard rushers and two 100-yard receivers in the same game. While Aaron Rodgers was sacked four times, one of them was when the ball slipped out of his hand on the first possession of the game. That 24-yard loss prevented the Packers from piling up 500 yards of offense.
"I thought our offensive line did a geat job," McCarthy said. "We obviously made the change this week with the three position changes and we had two injuries we had to overcome. The one part that is definitely in place is the flexibility aspect of our offensive line. I think we'd like to get back to more of a solid five guys playing to get the continuity. That's a real credit to those guys. It's hard to do. It's hard to switch positions during the game, let alone switch positions during the week and have to switch back during the game."
Speaking of injuries
It was one thing for Donovan McNabb to admit he didn't know a game could end in a tie. Overtime rules should be common knowledge. But what happened at the end of the first half, with both teams heading to their warm locker rooms, can be excused.
By rule, a team can attempt a free kick after a fair catch on a punt. With time expired at the end of the first half, after Will Blackmon's fair catch, McCarthy sent kicker Mason Crosby out to attempt a 69-yard field goal. With a decent wind at his back but kicking a cold ball, Crosby's boot from the hold of Matt Flynn fell right at the goal-post support.
"That's a good question," McCarthy said when asked if he'd been part of a game with a free kick. "I'm going to say this maybe my first."
Jeremy Kapinos' 35-yard beauty of a punt pinned the Lions at their 10-yard line with 22 seconds remaining in the half. The Lions ran the ball three consecutive times, and McCarthy used a timeout after each one with the intention of getting a shot at a free kick.
Had Nick Harris' punt into the wind not covered an impressive 42 yards, Crosby might have made the first free kick in the NFL since Chicago's Mac Percival beat the Packers with a 43-yarder on Nov. 3, 1968.
"We factored in the wind. It's worth a shot," McCarthy said. "Mason has a strong leg. We were probably at the limit there. We watched the flag, and the flag was still gusting pretty strong. The decision was based on whether he could get it up in the wind to carry."
Packers historian Lee Remmel told The Associated Press: "It was definitely an unusual kick to most people, but not to me."
Confidence in Rodgers
With the Lions within a field goal, the crowd restless and the Packers in danger of getting in the way of Detroit's march toward 0-16, Rodgers came to the rescue with a 71-yard touchdown pass to Donald Driver.
McCarthy was asked if that play call showed his confidence in Rodgers, who has played well all season but come up short in key situations.
"To come out and take that shot at that specific time based on the circumstances that just occurred, it says a lot about the play-caller and the quarterback being on the same page," McCarthy said. "I think it's been evident all year."
Asked what he was most proud of after a disappointing 6-10 season, McCarthy said: "Just the way they fight. It's a group that works hard and they fight on game days. That's clearly evident every time we take the field. We've had our share of self-inflicted wounds that have cost us football games, but the one thing the team has never wavered is how they prepare and how they approach games."
What does this mean?
Sunday's win, of course, means little for this season. The Packers' season, after all, had been over for about a month.
McCarthy, however, said the win was big for the team entering the offseason. A win sure beats taking a six-game losing streak into training camp next summer.
"Winning is the goal," McCarthy said. "And anytime you have an opportunity to win and beat a division opponent, those are all aspects of your program you can point to and build off of. This is the way you want to start the (next) season. It's short-term. It's definitely something positive we can point to."
Veteran cornerback Charles Woodson, on the other hand, had a different answer when asked if this win could be used as a springboard for next season.
"It doesn't," he said bluntly.
"There's no playoffs. It's a win that we should have won. That doesn't mean anything going into next season."
A 45-yard return of the opening kickoff by Nelson matched Blackmon for longest of the season. ... John Kuhn caught his second touchdown pass of the year. ... The Packers led 14-0 after the first quarter, their biggest opening-quarter lead. ... Ryan Grant recorded his fourth 100-yard game of the season. ... The Wynn touchdown was the longest run of his career and the longest run for the team this season. The Driver touchdown was the longest pass of the year. ... The Packers have won 18 in a row over Detroit in Wisconsin. ... Among the inactives were running back Brandon Jackson (wrist) and Justin Harrell (back and hip).
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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