Injured Jaguars limp into Lambeau at 1-5, while short-handed Packers have found their groove
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Jacksonville Jaguars were already reeling from their 1-5 start and one close loss after another. Now Maurice Jones-Drew's left foot is in a boot, and it hurts Blaine Gabbert just to lift his non-throwing arm.
Tough luck, fellas. And don't expect any sympathy Sunday from the Green Bay Packers, who have won back-to-back games for the first time this season despite having what seems like half their roster on the injured list.
"We line up with 46, and we have 46," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Thursday. "Every team deals with this at some point. I'm very confident in our plan, I'm very confident in our players. I'm excited about the opportunities some of our players that haven't had them in the past weeks are going to get on Sunday. Then it's all about winning. It's all about winning and beating Jacksonville."
When injuries hit, the Packers (4-3) like to talk about "next man up," the way everyone else in the NFL does. Unlike most teams, though, Green Bay (4-3) actually makes it work.
No. 1 receiver Greg Jennings has missed most of the year with a groin injury, but it's hardly been noticed because of the seasons Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and James Jones are having. Nelson had three touchdown catches against Houston, and has had back-to-back 100-yard receiving games. Jones caught two TD passes in three straight games. Cobb followed his first 100-yard receiving game, against Houston, with a pair of touchdown receptions against St. Louis.
Erik Walden has started two of the last three games at outside linebacker because Nick Perry is nursing a knee injury, filling in so ably he got the game ball as the best defensive player against St. Louis. Rookie cornerback Casey Hayward got his first start last weekend because of Sam Shields' ankle injury, and responded with an interception. Don't forget Ryan Pickett, who has picked up the slack with nose tackle B.J. Raji missing the last two games because of a bad ankle.
"You can't get caught up in that," said safety M.D. Jennings, who will have someone new starting beside him in the secondary after perennial Pro Bowler Charles Woodson broke his collarbone last Sunday. "In this age, things are going to happen. We've got a lot of depth. If someone's in this league, they're capable of doing their job. So you've just got to be ready, regardless of who it is."
Of course, it helps that the Packers have Aaron Rodgers, the reigning MVP.
Rodgers has thrown for 680 yards and nine touchdowns in the last two games, and he was 30-of-37 against the Rams. He leads the league in touchdowns (19) and passer rating (109.6), and is second to Robert Griffin III with a 69.8 percent completion rate. After four interceptions in the first five games, he hasn't thrown a pick in the last two.
"(He's playing) very well right now. A very, very high level," Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey said. "I think they just have guys out there that are weapons that he trusts that are going to be in the right spot. He's always been an accurate quarterback. He's got great confidence."
Compare that with Gabbert, who is still struggling to find a groove in his second year. His completion rate is just under 56 percent, and he's thrown half as many interceptions (three) as he has touchdowns (six). His receivers haven't been much help, with 20 drops through the first six games.
Gabbert's injury — neither he nor Mularkey will say exactly what it is — is to his non-throwing shoulder, and he insists he'll play this week. He went through the full practice Wednesday.
"You're always going to be in pain whether it's your arms, legs, knees, neck. That's just part of the game, it's part of the sport," said Gabbert, who can't remember missing a game other than in high school. "You just have to manage it and deal with it the best you can."
But the Jaguars have no margin for error. One of the NFL's most dysfunctional teams the last few years, they don't have the depth or the talent of other teams, and they're still adjusting to new coach Mularkey and his system. They're 1-5 for a second straight year, and their overtime loss to Oakland on Sunday came after they blew a 14-point lead.
Now they're without their best player, Jones-Drew. He'll be replaced by Rashad Jennings, who at least has familiarity with the offense after filling in during Jones-Drew's lengthy holdout this summer.
"We don't want to catch anything, we want to make a break," Jones-Drew said. "I feel like we keep working, something is going to turn for us. But the only way it's going to turn is if we make it turn. We have to be the one that makes those plays, be in the right position, whatever it may be so we don't have to feel like this next week."
That may be a tough order, however. Not only have the Packers appeared to put their early struggles behind them, but Sunday's game is at Lambeau Field, where they've won 21 of their last 23 regular-season games.
"We've had a couple of good games offensively the last couple of weeks," Rodgers said. "We have to keep it going."
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