All eyes on Greg Jennings knee
By Tyler Dunne, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
~Green Bay – Towel around his neck, wide receiver Greg Jennings gave the crowd a thumb’s up and was carted to the locker room. The Green Bay Packers have lived these nightmare scenarios before.
Midway through their 46-16 whipping of the Oakland Raiders, Jennings twisted his knee between a pair of defensive backs.
“It didn’t look very good, so we’ll see what the MRI says tomorrow and hopefully, you know, we got a bye wrapped up, so he really has close to five weeks before the next game, or our playoff game,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “So hopefully we can get him ready for that.”
However this unfolds, Jennings’ injury is a cautionary tale. This is the danger Green Bay faces these final three games – more injuries. Nothing has slowed Rodgers. Green Bay’s defense enjoyed a breakout game. The Packers are a perfect 13-0.
But chasing immortality has its perils, its attempt-at-your-own-risk disclaimer. Losing Jennings would be a major blow. While sympathizing with the No. 1 wideout, players inside the locker room remain steadfast. They don’t want to dial it back.
“Tonight was a freak injury like they all are,” tight end Jermichael Finley said. “We have to keep this offense rolling right now. We have to keep a full head of steam.”
Nose tackle B.J. Raji added, “We have the talent and capabilities, so why not go for it?”
One reason? The injuries are adding up. Running back Brandon Saine and defensive end Ryan Pickett both suffered concussions Sunday. Green Bay entered the game without left tackle Chad Clifton (back/hamstring) and right guard Josh Sitton (knee sprain). Inside linebackers Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk remained out with calf strains. And Rodgers – the MVP front-runner fueling this run – absorbed several crushing hits.
In the second quarter, he was blasted by linebacker Aaron Curry. In the third, he was drilled by Rolando McClain. Rodgers was sacked four times and hit seven times.
Past teams have dealt with Green Bay’s plight differently. The 2007 New England Patriots played their starters and came within one Eli Manning drive of 19-0. The 2009 Indianapolis Colts, sitting at 14-0, yanked their starters. With a hodgepodge of backups, that team lost its final two regular-season games and then fell in the Super Bowl to New Orleans.
Inside the locker room here, the consensus is clear. Enough with the 16-0 questions. They’re thinking bigger.
“We don’t want to talk about 16-0,” cornerback Tramon Williams said. “We want to talk about 19-0, if anything. That’s the only thing that really matters – 19-0. . . . We’re here in December. You don’t want to take your foot off the pedal going into the playoffs. We don’t want to slow down at all.”
Teammates agree. They’ve come this far. Yes, Jennings’ injury and those heavy hits on Rodgers are worrisome. But they don’t believe that should change their approach at all.
“I always felt that the team that lets their foot off the gas at the end of the season going into the playoffs is a little lackadaisical,” right guard Evan Dietrich-Smith said. “That’s when you let a team come into your house and beat you. We’re not looking for that. We’re looking to keep pushing.”
Kansas City, Chicago and Detroit stand in the Packers’ way. The latter two NFC North foes will be battling for their playoff lives. Green Bay might need to forge ahead without Jennings. The initial reaction was mixed. Veteran Donald Driver was optimistic and vague, saying he thinks Jennings “will be fine.” Finley reiterated the team’s “next man up” credo.
“Last year, I went down at the beginning of the season and Greg stepped up,” Finley said. “So this year, it’ll be on our receiving corps to step up.
“He’s a big-time playmaker on this offense, and he’s going to be missed. There’s going to be a lot of the shoulders of whoever takes his spot.”
If his role increases, Finley says he’s ready.
“No doubt,” he said. “I’m willing to take on that task and to tell you the truth can’t wait to take on that task and touch the pigskin.”
The Packers have been here before. Sixteen players succumbed to injured reserve last season. They know how to cope.
But this is somewhat different. Now injuries are striking within the prism of Green Bay’s pursuit of an undefeated season. Pointing toward the receivers’ empty lockers, Williams says he’s confident the offense will keep humming.
“We have a lot of firepower on offense,” Williams said. “It’s always unfortunate that a guy has to go down and to see another guy come in and do an excellent job. But that’s the way it is. It’s a game of opportunities. The next guy needs to step in and do what he has to do.”
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