The Green Bay Packers, who have won four consecutive NFC North crowns, have stacked those successes with a simple philosophy: Next Man Up. That mantra will be put to the test in a big way after Sunday afternoon’s 24-19 preseason loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
On one innocuous play in the opening drive in the Steel City, receiver Jordy Nelson went from an All-Pro to a no-go. Nelson came down funny after catching a ball in the flat without being touched. But there was nothing humorous about it. Early reports, that will be confirmed by an MRI in the next day or two, have it that Nelson tore an ACL in his right knee, effectively ending his season.
Guard TJ Lang suffered a possible concussion in the game and rookie DB Damarious Randall got nicked up but came back in the game. Randall had a nifty pick just seven seconds into the second half of action.
The injury to QB Aaron Rodgers’ favorite target will more than sting, to be sure. However, Randall Cobb, second-year man Davante Adams and Jeff Janis will likely divvy-up Nelson’s quarry. Tight end Richard Rodgers make also see more leather and expect to see the Packers go to Eddie Lacy out of the backfield as well, thereby taking up the slack.
The focus on Nelson’s knee made people forget the crisp drive the first-team ‘O’ put together in this second tuneup. The 10-play beauty was finished off by a nine-yard down hill dash by Lacy a hair over five minutes into the opening quarter. James Starks popped over the right side for the two-point conversion and an 8-0 lead.
The Steelers punt coverage team pinned the Pack deep at the two. And the injured David Bakhtiari’s replacement on the blind side, Don Barclay, got swamped over in the end zone. A-Rod went down in a heap and the safety cut the lead to 8-2 seven minutes later.
Scott Tolzien, who is almost a shoo-in for backup quarterback, connected with tight end Rodgers who stretched for a 21-yard touch with twelve ticks left in the half. Running back Alonzo Harris earned a second straight two-point conversion on the ground. The Green & Gold could muster just a field goal in the second half.
Green Bay was nearly decimated by injuries in 2010 but still managed to win Super Bowl XLV over these Steelmen. Head coach Mike McCarthy, GM Ted Thompson and the rest of Packer Nation hopes that that history does, indeed, repeat itself.
As with every exhibition game, there are things to be massaged and nuanced as this edition of the team forms its unique personality for 2015. McCarthy will have to close ranks and work Nelson’s replacements into the mix until he can rejoin the team.
Next up, the Pack plays host to the Philadelphia Eagles at Lambeau Field on Saturday, August 29. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. There will be roster spots up for grabs and youngsters and veterans alike will be trying like mad to hold onto their paychecks.