Packers injury crisis deepens
CINCINNATI—Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy has not been fired up in any way about his team's bye coming in Week 4, but he might want to reconsider what it means to have a week of rest right now.
Following a trend in two of the last three seasons, the Packers are fighting an epidemic of injuries, several of which cost them dearly in their 34-30 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.
The Packers came into the game missing two starters—safety Morgan Burnett (hamstring) and running back Eddie Lacy (concussion)—and a key backup—cornerback Casey Hayward (hamstring)—and ended up losing two starters and a key backup during the game.
Tight end Jermichael Finley left the game in the first quarter after suffering a scary hit to his head from safety George Iloka; linebacker Clay Matthews left in the second quarter after pulling a hamstring muscle; and running back James Starks left just before halftime with a knee sprain.
Finley's absence could have played a part in the lousy day the passing offense had, especially given his hot start to the season. Matthews was definitely missed after forcing two fumbles, one of which safety M.D. Jennings returned for the Packers' first touchdown.
Starks, who had filled in for Lacy a week ago and gained 132 yards on the ground, had 55 when he went out with the knee sprain.
“I've never had the bye after the third week,” McCarthy said. “I can't remember a bye this early. We'd all like to play next week. But the schedule is set. We have a process we'll stick to. We're 1-2. That's where we're at.”
McCarthy said that while Lacy was listed at having a 50 percent chance of playing against the Bengals, he was not able to pass all the concussion tests needed to clear him. Despite knowing it Saturday and also that fullback John Kuhn (hamstring) would not play, McCarthy went into the game with just two backs.
It came back to bite him on the final series when he had to use receiver Jeremy Ross as a running back, although Ross mostly lined up in the slot. He was prepared to be a third-down protector if needed.
Finley's day appeared over the minute he tried to walk back to the sideline. He clearly was foggy and had to sit down before getting there. Anytime a concussion is suspected, it's all but certain the player won't return under the NFL's new head injury guidelines.
“It hurt me,” fellow tight end Andrew Quarless said of seeing Finley get hit. “I don't ever want to see one of my brothers like that. He got up a little wobbly. I think it was definitely helmet-to-helmet. But the NFL, they'll figure that out.”
Asked how he thought Finley seemed as time wore on, Quarless said OK.
“He didn't seem too concussed,” he said. “I saw Lacy the other week and there was a big difference. Lacy was pretty concussed. J-Mike seemed pretty together.”
Finley would have been featured in the game, McCarthy said. Quarless wound up with three catches for 21 yards and Ryan Taylor added two for 11.
Matthews left the game with a hamstring pull, which has been his trouble since joining the team in 2009. He has missed 16 games since his rookie season and sat out four with a left hamstring pull last year, the longest stretch of regular-season time he has missed in his career.
How badly Matthews pulled the muscle this time isn't known, but he'll have close to two weeks to heal before the Packers return to the field against Detroit on Oct. 6
With Matthews out, defensive coordinator Dom Capers used Mike Neal mostly to fill the void with rookie Andy Mulumba also receiving some snaps. Matthews had two tackles, a sack and the two forced fumbles before leaving.
The running back situation probably won't be as dire as it was at the end of the game, when Starks and rookie Johnathan Franklin (ankle) were both out. It's very likely Lacy will be ready to return after the bye and Franklin returned to the game for a couple of plays at the end and appeared to be OK afterward.
“We have a week off and we have to get some guys healthy,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “We have to get Morgan back, John if we can, Jermichael hopefully will be back. And James and Eddie, hopefully, they will be back.
“We have some injuries. We need to get guys back and see what we can do at full strength.”