Injuries haven’t slowed Packers’ run toward the postseason

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Evan Milkie, Reporter

The Green Bay Packers’ 2021 season got off to a disastrous start.

No one thought they would lose their season opener against the Saints. Legendary New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees had retired the year prior, forcing them to start the mistake-prone Jameis Winston; the Packers still had Aaron Rodgers, who had been crowned with the league MVP award just seven months ago.

And then the Saints absolutely clobbered the Packers, 38-3. 

Winston somehow threw five touchdown passes, while Rodgers threw two interceptions. Rodgers posted one of the worst passer ratings of his career (36.8) before being benched for backup quarterback Jordan Love in the fourth quarter.

Although the media did all but write the Packers off after that Week 1 game, it didn’t take long before Rodgers got back to looking like his old self, and Green Bay went back to looking like the elite team it was supposed to be. 

Unfortunately, Packers star linebacker Za’Darius Smith suffered a back injury in that game, possibly ending his season. Similar back issues had nagged him throughout training camp.

Injuries would become a theme for Green Bay this year. In addition to Smith, CB Jaire Alexander (who may be the best in the league at his position), LT David Bakhtiari (who may also be the best in the league at his position), Pro Bowl OL Elgton Jenkins, TE Robert Tonyan, C Josh Myers, LB Whitney Mercilus, and CB Kevin King have all missed significant time with injuries of their own.

Jenkins, Tonyan, and Mercilus are all out for the season, while Bakhtiari has yet to play a snap this year after tearing his ACL last December. 

Other notable injuries include star running back Aaron Jones spraining his MCL in Week 10, causing him to miss Week 11 and not look quite like himself in Week 12. Randall Cobb, who has been so good for the Packers after they basically traded used dental floss for him in July, suffered a groin injury on Sunday with the severity not yet known. And Rodgers has been carving up defenses while hobbling around the field after he broke his pinky toe during quarantine. No, that’s not a joke. 

While these injuries appeared almost insurmountable at first, they invited many lesser-known Packers to step up in the starters’ absence. Cornerback Rasul Douglas, whom Green Bay signed off the Cardinals’ practice squad, has been suddenly fantastic. Linebacker De’Vondre Campbell, whom the Packers signed off the street for $2 million in the offseason, is having the best season of his career as PFF’s highest graded linebacker. With these two difference-makers leading the squad, the Packers have an essential piece to the puzzle that has escaped them in recent years: an elite defense.

Running back AJ Dillon, a second-round draft pick in 2020, looks like a star in the making. Third-string left tackle Yosh Nijman has held his own against terrifying defensive linemen, including Aaron Donald and Von Miller. Tight end Josiah Deguara has been a pleasant surprise in the past few games as he takes on the daunting task of replacing Tonyan, making a great catch for his first career NFL touchdown against the Vikings and converting third downs in clutch situations.

With the help of these under-the-radar players, the Packers have gotten back to their winning ways. After a crucial victory over the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, the Packers improved their record to 9-3 heading into their bye. As it stands, they trail only the 9-2 Arizona Cardinals for the top seed in the NFC, and they are ranked number one in most NFL power rankings lists, including that of ESPN. This banged-up team will get some badly needed recovery time during its bye week before hosting the Chicago Bears in Week 14. 

Despite the enormous list of injuries that the Green Bay Packers had to manage so far, they look like they’re primed for another deep playoff push come January.