GREEN BAY — Finally, the Green Bay Packers got their starting offensive line together. And now, after veteran right tackle Bryan Bulaga’s knee injury, they may not have the group back together the rest of the year.
Bulaga suffered what appeared to be a significant right knee injury during the Packers’ 30-17 loss to the Detroit Lions Monday night — an injury severe enough that even coach Mike McCarthy, who is loathe to admit the severity of injuries, acknowledged that team physician Dr. Pat McKenzie and the medical staff are worried.
“I haven’t talked to Dr. McKenzie yet, but they seem very concerned about it,” McCarthy said immediately following the game.
Bulaga was engaged in pass protection on Randall Cobb’s 46-yard fourth-quarter catch-and-run and went down after his knee buckled. He was carted to the locker room and was ruled out by the team immediately, which is also unusual.
After starting seven different offensive line combinations over their first seven games — and only one of them their preferred five-man unit — the Packers finally started the same group for a second time on Monday night: David Bakhtiari at left tackle, Lane Taylor at left guard, Corey Linsley at center, Jahri Evans at right guard and Bulaga at right tackle.
It marked just the second game this season where fivesome took the field together, although the last time, things didn’t work out so well, either. That was against Minnesota on Oct. 15, when the Packers not only lost quarterback Aaron Rodgers to a broken collarbone, but Bakhtiari (hamstring), Taylor (ankle) and Bulaga (concussion) all left with injuries. Taylor’s ankle injury kept him out of the Packers’ pre-bye loss to New Orleans on Oct. 22 and led to their seventh line combo of the season that day.
On Monday night, the Packers also lost do-it-all backup Justin McCray, who took over for Bulaga but suffered an ankle injury on the Packers’ final possession.
“Of course, you want all five of your guys out there, but injuries happen,” Bakhtiari said. “You don’t plan for them, but we’ve got a job to do at the end of the day. (We’re) just hoping Bryan’s going to be all right.”
The Packers also lost veteran safety Morgan Burnett, who returned to the starting lineup after missing two games with a hamstring injury but departed late in the third quarter with a groin injury.
A ‘boneheaded’ penalty
Mike Daniels said on Saturday he wanted his guys to “deliver some blows.” What he delivered on Monday night — a flag Daniels himself described as a “dumb (expletive) penalty” — was not what he meant, and it cost the Packers dearly to start the game.
The talkative veteran defensive lineman’s 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty in the first quarter led to the Lions’ first touchdown and was described as “boneheaded” by McCarthy.
On the play, quarterback Matthew Stafford threw deep to wide receiver Golden Tate on third-and-14 and Tate caught the ball out of bounds, which should have forced a punt. But Daniels was flagged for unnecessary roughness for mixing it up with center Travis Swanson, and the 15-yard penalty kept the drive going instead of ending after a three-and-out.
The Lions didn’t face another third down on the drive, which ended in a 25-yard Marvin Jones Jr. touchdown catch.
“I really take that upon myself because if we stop them there, then (we) get a short field (for the offense), we’re definitely going to score, and now they’re behind,” Daniels said. “I let my emotions get the best of me. Obviously, the referees aren’t going to make holding calls because they feel sorry for ‘em. But, nonetheless, I can’t respond. The second guy always gets caught, so stupid-ass penalty.
“We were stopping them, and that penalty really set us back. So, I’ve got to take that upon myself, and I owe it to this organization and the Packer fans to do better.”
Maybe referee Clete Blakeman and his crew were listening when Daniels, who has spoken out about the Packers defense’s perceived lack of toughness in the past, spoke out again on Saturday, pointing out that quarterback Aaron Rodgers (broken right collarbone against Minnesota) and wide receiver Davante Adams (concussion against Chicago) were knocked out of games against NFC North opponents earlier this season.
“We’ve had two division games, and we’ve had a guy get knocked out in each game,” Daniels said. “I’m like, ‘When are we going to retaliate?’ I’m not saying knock anybody out, but I’m saying make opposing offenses ... not too excited about having to line up across from us.
“That’s a rivalry game. These guys come in with bad intentions and bad blood against us. They knocked out one of our best receivers — one of the better ones in the league — out of the game. Dirty hit. Knocked our quarterback out. I don’t know how long he’ll be out. We’ve got to deliver some blows ourselves. Not saying knock people out but we need to let them know we’re here, let them know we mean business.”
Daniels insisted that he was advocating for more physical play and not dirty play from the Packers defense, which came into the game ranked 23rd overall — 27th against the run and 16th against the pass — in the 32-team NFL. But Daniels did reference the Lions’ defense under former head coach Jim Schwartz — a unit that featured Ndamukong Suh and had a reputation for crossing the line with its aggressiveness.
“When Coach Schwartz was there, they had a really arrogant, violent, borderline-dirty type of defense,” Daniels said. “Something that was the complete opposite of us. They were really mean and tough and they would give us struggles. They got after us. That would really grind my gears quite a bit because I said, ‘We need to be like that.’
“They were laying hits on our guys and knocking our guys out of the game and it would make me upset. I’d get mad. I’d say, ‘Why are we always the ones getting pushed around instead of us doing the pushing around?’ That’s where I developed that. It’s kind of the same thing with Seattle – developed that type of mean streak with them, especially as a defensive player. It’s like, ‘Hey, we can be like that, too.’”
Not so special
New long-snapper Derek Hart’s night got off to a difficult start but he delivered a perfect snap on a last-second field goal to end the half. Perhaps not having time to think made a difference for the Packers’ third long-snapper of the season.
Hart’s first snap on a 38-yard field goal at the end of the Packers’ first possession of the game was low, and punter Justin Vogel appeared to get the ball down late for kicker Mason Crosby, whose kick was blocked by A’Shawn Robinson. Robinson split Taylor and Lucas Patrick on his penetration. Hart’s first punt snap to Vogel on the ensuing series was low.
But when the field-goal unit had to hurry onto the field so Crosby could attempt a 44-yarder just before halftime, Hart delivered a perfect snap and Crosby was good as the half expired, pulling the Packers to within 14-3 at the break. Crosby said all of Hart’s snaps after the first one were fine.
Hart was signed last week after Taybor Pepper suffered a broken foot in practice Thursday and was placed on injured reserve. Hart was with the team throughout the offseason and early in camp, but the Packers re-signed longtime long-snapper Brett Goode after Hart and the field-goal unit struggled during the Aug. 5 Family Night practice.
Goode suffered a hamstring injury in Week 3 and was released with an injury settlement, which led to Pepper’s signing. Goode could return to the Packers later this month if the team wants to re-sign him.
“With Taybor getting hurt on (Thursday), it was quick. We got enough reps (with Hart), I felt like, and he had a great pregame,” Crosby said. “We’ll just evaluate that one (on the blocked field goal) because the rest of his snaps were good. We just have to look at that first one and that we just eliminate (that). Just continue to eliminate those ones.”
Ex-University of Wisconsin linebacker Vince Biegel, activated off the physically unable to perform list at midweek, made his NFL debut and saw action on special teams and on defense. He was credited with two tackles on defense and one on special teams.
“I was actually pretty calm tonight. A lot of emotions flying around, I’ve got a lot of family in town, definitely a great atmosphere here in Lambeau on Monday night, but I was pretty calm tonight. I was very focused,” said Biegel, who said his final family ticket count was 17 tickets. “I had a great week of preparation. I was rock solid on all of my alignments and on my assignments. So I felt good rolling in there, and just being able to kind of let loose and play ball was awesome.”
Veteran tight end Martellus Bennett, who was apparently diagnosed with a shoulder injury during the week after practicing last Tuesday, was inactive. It capped a bizarre week for Bennett, who on Oct. 28 posted on his Instagram account that he was “pretty sure” he would retire after the season, then returned from the bye and took part in practice with the team, only to miss the Thursday, Friday and Saturday practices.
Asked if there was anything going on with Bennett beyond the shoulder injury, McCarthy replied, “No, no. It’s just really the same thing (that we) talked about (on) Saturday.” “Same thing. He’s going through different opinions, so we’re still collecting information.”
Bennett left the facility after last Tuesday’s practice telling reporters he likely wouldn’t speak with them the remainder of the week. Asked why he was contemplating retirement, Bennett responded with a one-word answer: “Life,” he said.
Asked if Bennett’s shoulder injury was pre-existing or occurred in Tuesday’s practice, McCarthy replied, “Just everything as far as the medical information being gathered was post-practice Tuesday.”