2011 December : Packers Insider

Jennings to miss 2-3 weeks, coach McCarthy says

December 12, 2011 by  
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From Mike Vandermause, Green Bay Press-Gazette

~Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Greg Jennings suffered a knee sprain against the Oakland Raiders yesterday and will need about 2 to 3 weeks to recover.

Packer fans shouldn't have to miss Jennings' smile for too long.

McCarthy said he expects Jennings, the Packers’ No. 1 receiver, will be ready for the playoffs, which begin for the Packers on the weekend of Jan. 14-15.

McCarthy said Jennings is going through treatment and will be in rehabilitation for the next couple weeks. 

McCarthy's injury "evaluations & timelines" have occasionally been a bit off, so it remains to be seen when Jennings will actually be back. But the news on Jennings is a lot better than many Packer Nation fears were on Sunday night.

McCarthy said he hasn’t seen Jennings today but was told the receiver was in for treatment and was upbeat. 

McCarthy said he feels fortunate the Packers will get Jennings back this season. There had been some speculation outside the building that he could be lost for the season.

McCarthy said next-day evaluation is as important as the initial on-field assessment.

Other highlights from McCarthy’s presser:

*Josh Sitton, who has been out with a knee injury, might be able to practice this week.

* Ted Thompson and McCarthy have had conversations about what to do if the Packers lock up homefield advantage early. But McCarthy stressed that the team is keeping its focus on Kansas City.

*The playing and practicing status of James Starks will be assessed on Wednesday.

* Robert Francois and D.J. Smith were awarded game balls for their performance against the Raiders. Each player had an interception. 

Green Bay Packers' Robert Francois (49) intercepts a pass in front of Oakland Raiders' Kevin Boss (87) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 11, 2011, in Green bay.

* Earning homefield advantage in the playoffs is important and it will be good to play a home post-season game for the first time since 2007.

*McCarthy repeated what he said yesterday about linebacker A.J. Hawk. It was his intention to play Hawk in the second half against the Raiders but with the lopsided score, McCarthy decided to give him extra time to rest his calf.

* He expects a highly contested football game against the Chiefs. He said he never likes to see head coaches fired and feels for the family of Todd Haley, who was canned on Monday.

* Linebacker Desmond Bishop will be close to practicing this week, while Hawk for sure will be ready to go.

* He’s optimistic Ryan Pickett and Brandon Saine will be available this week. They are going through concussion protocol.

* Chad Clifton was in the training room today. He’s got a chance to return. He feels good. If stays on course, he’s hopeful he will practice next week.

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All eyes on Greg Jennings knee

December 12, 2011 by  
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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.”

Green Bay Packers' Greg Jennings gives a thumbs up to the crowd as he is taken off the field on a cart after being injured during the second half of an NFL football game against the Oakland Raiders Sunday, Dec. 11, 2011, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Jim Prisching)

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. 

While the Packers receiving corps is deep, Jennings is the number one guy, and losing him will hurt, without a doubt.

“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.”

The most likely scenario seems to be a torn medial collateral ligament, which does not require surgery and generally requires two to six weeks of recovery. Until Jennings undergoes an MRI, the extent of the injury is unknown.

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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Packers make 13-0 look easy

December 11, 2011 by  
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By Michael David Smith

~Oakland and Green Bay may both have NFL franchises, but the Raiders are not in the Packers’ league.

Sunday’s game in Green Bay was so lopsided that the Packers had it wrapped up by the midway point of the second quarter, when they took a 31-0 lead. The entire second half felt like garbage time; the final score was 46-16 but the Packers easily could have made it 60-0 if they had wanted to.

For Green Bay, Aaron Rodgers actually had his worst statistical game of the season, completing 17 of 30 passes for 281 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception, for a passer rating of 96.7. Rodgers has reached the point where he has what qualifies as a bad game for him, and his passer rating is nearly 100 and his team wins by 30. Ryan Grant had a good game on the ground, with 85 yards on 10 carries and two touchdowns.  

Green Bay Packers' D.J. Smith reacts after intercepting a pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the Oakland Raiders Sunday, Dec. 11, 2011, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer)

For Oakland, Carson Palmer threw four interceptions in a generally dreadful game. The Raiders are now a game behind Tebowmania in the AFC West, and their playoff fortunes are falling fast.

Then again, the way the Packers played today, anybody would have lost to them. At 13-0, Green Bay is on another level from the rest of the league, and the biggest question facing the Packers right now is whether they can follow up three more wins in the regular season with three wins in the postseason. This team has a good shot at 19-0.

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Rapid Reaction: Packers 46, Raiders 16

December 11, 2011 by  
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By Kevin Seifert, ESPN.com

~GREEN BAY, Wis. — A few thoughts on a 60-minute romp at Lambeau Field:

What it means: The Green Bay Packers won their 19th consecutive game, dating to last year and including the playoffs, to grab sole possession of second place on the NFL’s all-time list of winning streaks. The record is 21, held by the New England Patriots. Now 13-0, the Packers have clinched a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs. They can secure home-field advantage throughout with their next victory. Finally, the Packers have set a team record for points scored in a season, breaking their 16-game mark of 461 set in 2009.

Jennings injury: The Packers began removing their starters when the fourth quarter began, but that was too late to avoid a scary injury to one of their best players. Receiver Greg Jennings limped off the field in obvious pain after suffering a left knee injury early in the third quarter. He never put any weight on the leg and ultimately left the field on a cart. We’ll get you further word as soon as we can.

RodgersWatch: Quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw for 281 yards in about three quarters of plays. Among his most impressive plays: a 37-yard touchdown pass to receiver Jordy Nelson while trying to catch the Raiders in a defensive switch.

Oakland Raiders' Aaron Curry tackles Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 11, 2011, in Green Bay, Wis. The play was ruled an incomplete pass, and Rodgers was not injured on the ominous looking tackle. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer)

Rodgers surpassed the 4,000-yard mark for the season in the second quarter, tying for the second quickest to that milestone in NFL history. (Drew Brees did it for the New Orleans Saints in 12 games.)

Injury report: The Packers opened the game without tailback James Starks, but starter Ryan Grant had a 47-yard touchdown run on the Packers’ first official play from scrimmage. Grant finished with 85 yards and had to play late in the fourth quarter because backup Brandon Saine suffered a head injury.

Takeaway city: The Packers defense intercepted Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer four times and also scored on a 5-yard fumble return by linebacker Erik Walden. That’s 27 interceptions for the Packers this season.

First time for everything: Packers tight end Ryan Taylor caught a 4-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter. It was not only his first NFL catch, but also his first play from scrimmage on offense, according to ESPNMilwaukee.com corporate cousin Jason Wilde.

What’s next: The Packers will travel to the Kansas City Chiefs next Sunday in search of their 14th win of the season.

Story found here

Packers raid end zone, crush Oakland 46-16

December 11, 2011 by  
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Associated Press

~GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Winning every week is one thing. On Sunday, Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers made a legitimate playoff contender look like a team that was ready to pack its bags.

Rodgers threw for 281 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in less than three full quarters’ worth of work, Ryan Grant had two touchdowns rushing and Charles Woodson picked off a pass against his former team as the Packers trounced the Oakland Raiders 46-16. 

Packers running back Ryan Grant finds a seam for yardage Sunday against the Raiders. Grant ripped off a 47-yard touchdown, and scored another one as he finally feels healthy and looks to be rounding into form as December rolls on.

The Packers ran their record to 13-0 – leaving them only three games short of completing a perfect regular season. And they did it with a near-perfect performance.

Carson Palmer threw for 245 yards with a touchdown and four interceptions for the Raiders (7-6), who looked like anything but legitimate contenders in the AFC West.

With little actual drama in the game, the biggest concern for the Packers was an apparent left knee injury to wide receiver Greg Jennings in the third quarter.

Green Bay Packers' Greg Jennings gives a thumbs up to the crowd as he is taken off the field on a cart after being injured during the second half of an NFL football game against the Oakland Raiders Sunday, Dec. 11, 2011, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Jim Prisching)

Green Bay defensive lineman Ryan Pickett also walked to the locker room after sustaining a head injury in the third quarter. Also, running back Brandon Saine suffered a possible concussion in the first half.

Rodgers got an early rest in the blowout, as backup Matt Flynn took over late in the third.

Oakland was playing without injured running back Darren McFadden , along with wide receivers Jacoby Ford and Denarius Moore . And the Raiders made plenty of mistakes to help an opponent that doesn’t really need it. Palmer threw an interception on the Raiders’ first possession, and Oakland committed eight penalties in the first half alone.

And while the Packers’ play has been far from perfect for most of the season, especially on defense, this one was total domination.

Green Bay had four touchdowns and a field goal on its first five possessions. Things got out of hand so quickly that the Raiders tried a fake punt midway through the second quarter. As was the case for most things the Raiders attempted Sunday, it didn’t work.

Grant rediscovered his big-play ability for the Packers, breaking a 47-yard run two plays after Palmer threw an interception to rookie linebacker D.J. Smith on the Raiders’ first possession.

The Packers were without injured running back James Starks , who had surpassed Grant in the Packers’ rotation. Until that play, Grant hadn’t looked like his explosive old self for most of the season.

After a defensive stop, Rodgers directed a 10-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Taylor – the rookie’s first career touchdown.

Trailing 31-0 with about six minutes left in the half, the Raiders tried the fake punt. But Shane Lechler threw high to Rock Cartwright for an incompletion, and the Packers took over at the Oakland 28-yard line.

The Raiders ran into more bad luck on the second-half kickoff, when Green Bay’s Randall Cobb appeared to step out of bounds during a 50-yard return. Officials said the replay system was malfunctioning, and the Raiders couldn’t challenge.

But Jennings had to go to the locker room after hurting his left knee early in the third quarter, and the Raiders finally got on the scoreboard when Michael Bush ran for a 2-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 34-7.

Packers outside linebacker Erik Walden scored on a fumble return late in the third quarter. Walden has been in trouble off the field for the Packers and was charged Wednesday with misdemeanor disorderly conduct-domestic abuse following an altercation with his girlfriend.

Full story here

Green Bay Packers defeat New York Giants 38-35, remain undefeated

December 4, 2011 by  
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By Mike Vandermause, Green Bay Press-Gazette

~EAST RUTHERFORD, N.Y — Mason Crosby kicked a 30-yard field goal on the last play of the game, keeping the Green Bay Packers’ undefeated season going with a 38-35 victory over the New York Giants on Sunday.

The Giants had tied the game at 35 with 58 seconds left on a 2-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning to receiver Hakeem Nicks and a two-point conversion run by D.J. Ware.

Aaron Rodgers then drove the Packers downfield, hitting four straight passes to put Crosby in field-goal position at the Giants’ 12-yard line with 3 seconds left.

Green Bay Packers kicker Mason Crosby (2) is mobbed by teammates after kicking the game-winning field goal Sunday against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. / Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette

The Packers took the second-half kickoff and drove 80 yards in 10 plays, with Rodgers hitting Greg Jennings on a 20-yard touchdown pass and 28-17 lead with 9:50 remaining in the third quarter.

The Giants responded with a five-play, 71-yard scoring drive, with Manning hitting Hakeem Nicks on a 4-yard scoring pass against Charles Woodson. Nicks caught four passes for 71 yards on the drive.

On the first play of the second quarter, Clay Matthews intercepted Manning and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown to give the Packers their first lead of the game, 14-10.

But Aaron Rodgers was picked off deep in Packers territory by Chase Blackburn, who returned it 9 yards to the Giants’ 12. Two plays later Brandon Jacobs scored on a 1-yard TD run to put New York ahead 17-14.

The Packers responded with an 11-play, 80-yard drive for a touchdown, with Rodgers connecting with a wide open Donald Driver on a 13-yard scoring pass.

Clay Matthews first half pick-six of Eli Manning was the biggest play of the game for the defense and one of few times the Giants offense was stopped by the Packer defense.

Mason Crosby missed a 43-yard field goal on the final play of the half that could have given the Packers a 24-17 lead.

Manning connected with tight end Travis Beckum on a 67-yard touchdown pass on the third play of the game, with Charlie Peprah getting beat in coverage.

The Packers responded with a 64-yard TD drive getting capped off on a Rodgers 12-yard touchdown pass to Jermichael Finley.

Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes booted a 38-yard field goal to put the Giants ahead 10-7.

The Packer Express returns to Green Bay to face the Raiders on Sunday at Lambeau Field.

My Sportsman of the Year: Aaron Rodgers

December 2, 2011 by  
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By Tim Layden, Sports Illustrated

~Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Dec. 5. Here’s one of the nominations for that honor by an SI writer.

Aaron Rodgers does many things well. Right at this moment, he throws a football better than anybody else on earth. This can be supported statistically (33 touchdowns, four picks, 9.6 yards per completion and a 127.7 quarterback rating for the only unbeaten team in the NFL) and viscerally (even among the very best throwers, Rodgers’s ball comes out a just a little tighter and sharper than others, a widely acknowledged fact in the NFL quarterback underground; and he’s arguably the best on-the-run thrower in history, certainly the best since Joe Montana and Rodgers has a much bigger arm than Montana did, which is not to say he’s better than Montana was but maybe that he’s headed in that direction).

It certainly hasn't always been smiles, fun & games for Rodgers in the NFL.

And he wins. The Packers have won 17 consecutive games (four short of the NFL record), a streak that (obviously) includes last year’s four-game run to the Super Bowl title. The Pack hasn’t lost since last Dec. 19 at New England, a game in which Rodgers didn’t play, because of a concussion. (Their last loss with Rodgers in the lineup came a week earlier at Detroit, a game in which Rodgers was knocked out: their last defeat with Rodgers going the distance was more than a year ago, Nov. 28 at Atlanta).

For more than a year, he has been the best player at (by far) the most important position in American professional sports and led a storied franchise to its most recent championship. For these reasons alone, Rodgers belongs in the Sportsman of the Year discussion. He deserves to win it because he’s even better at something else: Waiting.

This, of course, is a lost art in nearly all of sport. Waiting is for the foolish, the unambitious, the unglamorous. Junior high basketball players land on recruiting lists. High school football players graduate in January so that they can attend spring practice at their chosen college, play sooner and possibly leave for the NFL after three years. College basketball players play a single, perfunctory year before jumping to the NBA. And that old staple, the young quarterback understudy, standing dutifully on the sideline beneath a baseball cap, waiting his turn — that image has been trampled by a stampede of Newtons and Gabberts and Daltons who were too ready to just sit and watch.

Rodgers sat. Not that he wanted to sit, but there are two kinds of athletes. You know them from your youth. Those whose size and talent are so overwhelming that they simply can’t be held back. They play with the older kids. And those who have talent, but are forever being forced to prove themselves. That was Rodgers.

He was late growing, and so he waited four games to start a game on his eighth grade team in Chico, Calif., and that was the weaker of the two eighth-grade teams in town. He played on the freshman team as a tiny, big-footed 14-year-old and on the JV as a sophomore, as he waited for varsity spots to clear. He stayed in on weekends and hung out with his buddy Ryan Gulbrandsen, while others went out and partied.

As a junior, Rodgers was elevated to the varsity and made the starting quarterback at Pleasant Valley High, but only because there was nobody else to do the job. As a senior, he grew to 6-2 and 180 pounds and broke a bunch of school passing records, but Division I recruiters showed no interest. They would make him wait, too.

Manning may have been the QB of the last decade (00's), Rodgers has a great lead on the QB of this decade.

He did that waiting at Butte College, where he lit up defenses for a year and then went to California and waited while well-liked senior Reggie Robertson started the first four games of the 2003 season. Rodgers led Cal to a 10-1 regular season record in 2004, losing only at USC, and then famously waited 24 long picks in the green room on draft day before the Packers plucked him from his embarrassing vigil.

Most of all, he waited three long years in Green Bay, while Brett Favre — one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the game but a drama queen to his marrow — played the last three years of his Packers’ career and flirted with a fourth well into August 2008. Rodgers threw 59 passes in those three years, some of them significant but most of them not. (JaMarcus Russell, who was drafted first overall two years after Rodgers, threw 66 passes in his rookie season of 2007, meaning that entering ’08, Russell had thrown seven more passes than Rodgers).

Through all this waiting Rodgers never lashed out at the nonbelievers. His default response is “I’m blessed with a very good memory,” and it’s a good response, because you can read into it whatever you like, but it leaves open the possibility that Rodgers wakes up every morning with a chip on his shoulder. He has forgotten none of what’s transpired or who made the journey with him.

(I wrote a story on Rodgers last month in SI; during the reporting we were talking about some of his high school receivers and I asked if he had cell numbers for those old friends. Rodgers looked at me incredulously. “Of course I do,” he said. And while it may have seemed obvious to him, it’s rare that a celebrity athlete stays as grounded and connected to old friends as Rodgers has. That’s another thing he’s good at).

Rodgers has done everything he can to support the #2 and #3 QBs, Matt Flynn & Graham Harrell.

Rodgers’ dignity while awaiting his chance to play made him a fan and media curiosity. Potential is always intriguing, especially in a backup quarterback. In his own locker room, that same dignity stockpiled belief. When I was in Green Bay last month, guys like Jennings and James Jones told me they knew how good Rodgers was going to be, because they were playing with him on the scout team every day. The saw the arm. The anticipation. The study time. Players know talent.

But even more, they saw the willingness to just keep his mouth shut when a very hungry public wanted him to demand playing time or a trade, or to take a shot at Favre, who was doing absolutely nothing in the way or mentoring Rodgers. That’s a rare form of toughness.

Rodgers had help. Early in his career, while still sitting behind Favre, he sought out Steve Young, who had endured a similar, difficult apprenticeship behind Montana. I wrote about their exchange last January, but some of Young’s advice bears repeating in this context:

“I told that him what’s really important,” says Young, “is never, ever allow yourself the cheap thrill of saying something just to make yourself feel better for a moment because something is unfair or not right. That always backfires on you. It never works out in the long run. And I’ll tell you what: I’ve given that advice to other people and they have not heeded it, because it’s hard. But Aaron, he absolutely took the high road. He’s managed through a tough situation in a really gracious, awesome way. There are things that he went through that no one knows about. Just do your job. Play football. And the benefits are great when you just hang tough. Don’t play the victim. Don’t complain.”

Now the benefits are measurable. One Super Bowl. Seventeen consecutive wins and maybe soon, another Super Bowl. Maybe more after that with a young team just hitting its prime. Maybe someday a trip to Canton. All to be determined. But for now Rodgers has done something truly rare: He’s achieved greatness patiently.

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