Perfect No More, Injuries Mounting for Packers
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — The Green Bay Packers aren't perfect. That much was clear even before a surprise loss at Kansas City on Sunday cost them a shot at an undefeated season.
The Packers have been giving up too many big plays on defense all season, and injuries now appear to be taking a toll on the offense. Already missing wide receiver Greg Jennings, the Packers lost starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga to a left knee sprain and backup Derek Sherrod to a broken right leg.
It all caught up to them in a disappointing 19-14 loss to the Chiefs.
It's only one game, and it doesn't change the Packers' status as overwhelming favorites in the NFC. But the issues that came up at Kansas City are challenges the Packers will have to overcome to put together another Super Bowl run.
"Very quiet plane ride home last night, and understandably so," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Monday. "Everybody's disappointed with the loss and the opportunity to have an undefeated season. But the reality is upon us. We have the goal of getting of home-field advantage right in front of us. We have it at home, against the Bears, and that's what we need to get ready for."
Going into their Christmas night matchup against Chicago at Lambeau Field, players were disappointed to lose a chance to go through a season unbeaten but reiterated that another Super Bowl was always their main goal.
"The perfect season is over now," wide receiver Donald Driver said after Sunday's game. "We can let that kinda die out. We know we have five games left to win the whole thing, and it's going to start next week, Christmas Day. We've just got to go back and look at our mistakes, correct them and get ready to play ball."
Cornerback Charles Woodson wasn't buying the theory that a loss could help the Packers refocus.
"No," Woodson said Sunday. "Losing is never good."
On offense, the Packers appeared to dearly miss Jennings, who sprained his left knee in the Dec. 11 victory over Oakland and is expected to recover in time for the playoffs. When Jennings is healthy, he often becomes the primary focus for an opposing defense — allowing teammates to run free.
Packers receivers spent last week talking about having to step up in Jennings' absence. But when it came to Sunday's game, they had an alarming number of drops early on and struggled to get open at times. McCarthy said he hopes to practice outside Wednesday and Thursday to get his receivers more accustomed to catching in the cold.
"It's more focus," McCarthy said. "It's not something that we're physically unable to do."
Aaron Rodgers was sacked four times Sunday, and his protection looks thin going into Sunday's game against Chicago after injuries to Bulaga and Sherrod.
McCarthy said Bulaga would be "challenged" to play this week, and Sherrod is recovering from surgery.
The Packers hope to get veteran left tackle Chad Clifton back at practice Wednesday, but he has been out since hurting his hamstring Oct. 9 at Atlanta. His return to the field was delayed by a back injury he sustained during the rehabilitation process.
If Clifton can't go, the Packers could play Marshall Newhouse at left tackle, Evan Dietrich-Smith at left guard, Scott Wells at center, Josh Sitton at right guard and T.J. Lang at right tackle — meaning Wells and Sitton would be the only starters at their natural positions.
Of course, the Packers showed last season they have an uncanny ability to shake off significant injuries.
"Everybody goes through different challenges throughout their season," McCarthy said. "We've been hit with some injuries here and we'll fight right through them like we always have. My confidence hasn't wavered."
Meanwhile, the Packers' defensive problems weren't anything new, as Green Bay has been giving up too many big plays all year. It was a surprise against the Chiefs, who had been struggling on offense but managed to churn out a surprising number of clock-eating drives to keep Rodgers on the sideline.
After the game, Packers defensive lineman B.J. Raji said the team has some issues to correct and knows the offense can't bail them out every week.
"We just have to play better," Raji said. "Offensively, this is not what everyone's come to expect, but it's not going to happen every week. Defensively, you can't give up big plays, have the ball go over our head. We have to get off the field on third down."
Now that the Packers know they're not going to have a perfect season, they're concentrating on a perfect ending.
"It hurts because that's something special," Driver said. "We always talk about, if you get the perfect season, then you're part of greatness, but you take it for what it's worth. Right now, the only thing we can do is go 18-1. If that's 18-1 and you're the Super Bowl champs, I don't think anyone cares about the perfect season after that."
Connect with Chris Jenkins at www.twitter.com/ByChrisJenkins