GREEN BAY — No Bryan Bulaga. No David Bakhtiari. No Kyle Murphy. No Jason Spriggs. No Don Barclay.
And apparently, no problem for the Green Bay Packers.
Despite being down to their sixth and seventh options at tackle Thursday night — with left guard Lane Taylor kicking out to left tackle and Justin McCray making his second start in three weeks at right tackle — the Packers weathered the storm on their offensive line during their 35-14 victory over the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy said he and his coaches came up with the idea of moving Taylor on Monday, after Bulaga had reinjured his right ankle, Murphy had suffered a potentially season-ending foot injury and Bakhtiari’s hamstring hadn’t progressed enough to make playing on a short week realistic.
“We just went with the outlook to get your five most experienced offensive linemen on the field. So that decision was talked about Monday morning,” McCarthy explained. “You have to project. I just can’t say enough about those guys. Those guys didn’t even blink. I mean, there’s never any questions. Lane just stepped out there, he took the practice reps and I thought those guys did a heck of a job.”
Taylor, who had never played tackle in his five-year NFL career, his four years of college at Oklahoma State or even in high school, got the call when Bakhtiari couldn’t go for the third straight week. Before Thursday night, Taylor had played 1,508 career NFL snaps but none at tackle.
“I played one rep, (in the Oklahoma State) spring game, like my sophomore year, at right tackle and it was an interception or something,” Taylor said with a laugh. “That’s how it is at tackle. It’s a tough position. You’re usually getting the best pass rusher. There’s a lot of space, a lot of movement out there.
Asked what the coaches said to him on Tuesday when he was told of their decision, Taylor replied, “ ‘You’re going to tackle.’ I said, ‘All right.’ I just drowned myself in tackle knowledge and watching film. I was still even watching the guard on film on accident when I was studying.”
McCray got the call after replacing Bulaga during Sunday’s win over Cincinnati when Bulaga reinjured the ankle. Murphy suffered a foot injury against the Bengals and joined Spriggs (hamstring) and Barclay (ankle) on injured reserve this week.
“We just have a great group. This whole team, it’s a great group, but especially in the O-line room. Everyone believes in each other. When the next person’s number is called, we just stepped up to the task,” McCray said. “We just try to build off each other. Just know that everyone in here has our back. That’s enough for us.”
The Packers opened the game with a 10-play, 75-yard drive that began with running back Ty Montgomery carrying five times for 28 yards on their first six plays. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers completed his first three passes, getting the ball out quickly and not stressing McCray and Taylor in protection.
Rodgers wasn’t sacked until the Packers’ fourth series, when on a third-and- 5 play from the Green Bay 20-yard line, McCray was beaten on the edge by linebacker Pernell McPhee. McCray was later beaten for another sack by Leonard Floyd when Rodgers stepped up to escape pressure and Floyd came off McCray and grabbed Rodgers from behind. Rodgers called both plays “coverage sacks” and praised his linemen up and down after the game.
“They kept us in a very flexible game plan because, through experience, there’s times you have to play close to the vest and you can’t take advantage of your perimeter players, particularly Aaron and our perimeter players,” McCarthy said. “But that wasn’t the case tonight. Those guys, they kept me in a very healthy call sheet. So we were able to stay aggressive, especially in the red zone. I thought our red zone execution was outstanding.”
Injuries pile up
As if the Packers’ existing injuries at tackle weren’t painful enough, they had another position decimated Thursday night — running back — while also losing wide receiver Davante Adams to an illegal helmet-to-helmet hit by Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan.
Adams was injured with 4 minutes 30 seconds left in the third quarter, when he caught an 8-yard pass across the middle and his forward progress had essentially been stopped when Trevathan launched himself and drove the crown of his helmet into Adams’ facemask, dislodging his mouthpiece with the force of the hit. Wide receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb immediately waved over to the Packers sideline for medical attention for Adams.
Adams left the field on a gurney and was taken to a local hospital, where he was conscious and had movement in all his extremities while being evaluated for a concussion and head/neck injuries.
“The news I was given on Davante is so far everything looks positive,” McCarthy said immediately after the game. “He’s already giving them a hard time at the hospital to get out of there, so that’s a great a sign.”
Asked if he thought it was a bad enough hit that Trevathan should have been ejected, McCarthy replied, “(I) didn’t have a clean look at it. I know it was late and I know it was helmet to helmet. As far as launching and all that, I couldn’t tell you.”
Referee John Hussey was asked by a pool reporter why Trevathan wasn’t ejected for his hit, only flagged 15 yards.
“From my perspective I just didn’t see enough to have it rise to that level,” Hussey replied. “That issue I would say is a judgment call. Was it egregious? Was it completely unnecessary? I didn’t have enough information from my perspective to make that (call).”
Trevathan claimed he was not trying to injure Adams — “I’m not a dirty player, so I don’t do dirty hits,” he said — while Rodgers said he took issue with Trevathan and other Bears players seemingly celebrating after Adams was knocked unconscious.
“I don’t like anybody celebrating when a guy gets carted off the field. That’s kind of the message I was conveying to them,” Rodgers said. “I trust when Danny said that he wasn’t trying to hit him like that. He is one of the hardest hitting players in the NFL. ... I don’t think he was intentionally trying to hurt Tae. But, he did give him a good whack and unfortunately Tae got knocked out.”
Before Adams went down, the Packers lost their top two running backs. First, they lost Montgomery, who suffered what was termed a chest injury by the team during that opening series. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that Montgomery suffered broken ribs on one of his initial carries but continued to play before finally coming out after his fifth run, a 5-yard gain.
Rookie fourth-round pick Jamaal Williams took his place and carried four times for 11 yards before he, too, departed. Williams suffered a knee injury on a 3-yard carry with 10 minutes 44 seconds left in the first half and had to be helped off the field. He did not return.
That left only rookie fifth-round pick Aaron Jones at halfback, and Jones did score his first regular-season NFL touchdown on the ensuing series, his 2-yard TD run set up by a 58-yard Rodgers-to-Jordy Nelson completion. Jones finished with 49 yards on 13 carries and was able to finish the game. The only other halfback on the Packers’ 53-man roster, seventh-round pick Devante Mays, was inactive.
“I was very confident (in Jones). I’ve been a big fan of his since the beginning,” Rodgers said. “I think he’s a very natural runner with the football. He knows what he’s doing. There wasn’t any hesitation. He asked me one time to repeat which side he was motioning to. But other than that, I think he did a great job. Like I said, he’s a natural runner. He had some good runs for us and I’m very confident with him.”
The Packers also lost inside linebacker Joe Thomas to an ankle injury during the second quarter. Two players who did leave the game — rookie safety Josh Jones with a back injury and inside linebacker Blake Martinez, who was evaluated for a concussion — were able to return later. Jones, who was coming off a 12-tackle, two-sack game against the Bengals, appeared to hurt his back when he dove to recover a fumble and collided with Martinez; Martinez left after making a hard tackle early in the second quarter.
Matthews sets sack record
Outside linebacker Clay Matthews broke the franchise record for sacks — and he did it in style.
Matthews, who entered the game a half-sack behind all-time franchise leader Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, burst through the Bears’ offensive line on Chicago’s first play from scrimmage and crushed quarterback Mike Glennon, who fumbled. Inside linebacker Jake Ryan pounced on the loose ball at the Bears’ 3-yard line, and three plays later, Rodgers his Randall Cobb for a 2-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
Sacks didn’t become an official stat until 1982, but Matthews now leads the Packers with 75 in his career. Gbaja-Biamila is next at 74.5, followed by Reggie White (68.5), Tim Harris (55), Aaron Kampman (54) and Ezra Johnson (41.5).
“(The record) will mean more when I’m done playing but, right now, just because we’re in full swing with the season, you don’t stop once you hit a certain milestone,” Matthews said. “To me, after that play, I wanted a few more. It’s cool to be up there with some of the greats, especially in such an amazing organization. That’s pretty cool. But the further I’m removed from it, the more it will mean to me.”
While Matthews might not have been impressed with the record itself, he was proud of the play, which led to a touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
“It was huge,” Matthews said. “To be able to force that turnover and get the ball back within the 10-yard line and put points on the board, really it changed the way Chicago wanted to run their offensive game plan.”
Third-year cornerback Damarious Randall was pulled in favor of Josh Hawkins after giving up a touchdown at the end of the first half, and during the second half, he was nowhere to be found on the Packers bench. The team said Randall was not injured, and McCarthy refused to answer when asked what had happened.
“It’s actually an internal matter that I’ll keep internal,” McCarthy replied. “We’ll work through that.”
Asked if Randall left the sideline on his own or if he was told to leave, McCarthy replied, “It’s an internal matter and we’re working through it.”
After being pulled to start the second half, Randall was seen on the Packers bench, away from his teammates until veteran cornerback Davon House, who was inactive because of a quadriceps injury, came over and sat next to him.
“Just to shake it off, it’s all part of the game as a cornerback,” House replied when asked what he told Randall. “It’s all part of the game. Just trying to make sure he kept his head on the game, that type of thing.”
Told Randall disappeared from the sideline at some point after their conversation, House said he had “no clue.”
The game was suspended for 47 minutes at the end of the first quarter when a storm passed through the greater Green Bay area and lightning lit up the sky above Lambeau Field. The teams left the field and fans were shepherded into the concourses. The delay hit just as the first quarter expired. Although another storm passed through the area during the second half, it only brought rain and the game was not delayed again. … Outside linebacker Nick Perry, who broke his right hand and didn’t play against the Bengals, returned to action wearing a large protective club cast. … Safety Kentrell Brice (groin) and linebacker Jake Ryan (hamstring/concussion) also returned to the lineup after missing last week. … Defensive tackle Mike Daniels (hip) and House were inactive because of their injuries.