The Green Bay Packers selected Bryan Bulaga in the first round of this year’s draft in part to protect themselves for just such an occasion as the one they encountered Sunday at Lambeau Field.
Bulaga filled in for left tackle Chad Clifton for the final 2½ quarters after Clifton left with soreness and swelling in a knee that’s been bothering him since late in training camp.
Clifton, who missed practice Wednesday and Thursday last week, started against Buffalo, but coach Mike McCarthy pulled him with 5 minutes, 59 seconds left in the second quarter because the knee was hampering his play. The persistent problem suggests Clifton might have to sit at least a week or two before he’s healthy enough to go a full game.
“(Clifton) didn’t look good today,” McCarthy said. “He didn’t look like he was healthy. He struggled last week through the Philadelphia game, so that’s why Bryan played today. We’ll assess it in the morning and set our plan for next week.”
Bulaga finished the game without much incident. He was penalized for a false start in the fourth quarter, but he appeared to hold up fine in pass blocking against the Bills’ outside rushers, mainly Chris Kelsay, Reggie Torbor and Aaron Maybin. Rodgers wasn’t sacked in the game.
“I felt comfortable, felt like I did an OK job,” Bulaga said. “Obviously I had the false start, which is a mental error that shouldn’t happen. But those things can get cleaned up. We’ll see (today) how the tape looks, correct it and move from there.”
Mixed running reviews
In the first game without starting running back Ryan Grant, who was lost for the season after a Week 1 ankle injury, the Packers spread carries around and totaled 91 yards rushing on 27 attempts for a 3.4-yard average.
Throw out quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ 20 yards on five scrambles (including his 9-yard touchdown run), and the running backs gained just 71 yards on 22 carries for a 3.2-yard average.
“That’s extremely mediocre,” offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. “Certainly we lacked the explosiveness that we had the other day in Philadelphia. I’m certainly not excited about what I saw, but maybe it’s better than I think.”
New starter Brandon Jackson got the most carries (11) but managed just 29 yards. He scored on a 1-yard run in the first quarter. John Kuhn was slightly more effective with 36 yards on nine carries, while newly acquired back Dimitri Nance carried twice for 6 yards.
“We wanted to make sure we didn’t overburden Brandon Jackson to go from a spot player to a guy who’s getting 25 carries,” Philbin said. “So I think part of the plan was to spread them out a little bit.”
Though McCarthy never has been one to use a platoon system and spread carries around, he said he will continue to at least in the near future.
The Packers had not planned to play Nance, who was signed Tuesday off Atlanta’s practice squad, but did because fullback Korey Hall was inactive after injuring his hip in practice late in the week. Nance had only a limited knowledge of the offense and committed a false-start penalty in the fourth quarter.
“I still really don’t know the snap counts too well,” Nance said. “So I was just going off movement, and I cheated myself out of a carry. It was pretty difficult trying to learn all the plays, but they came to me before the game and told me this is what I would have, so I wouldn’t be overwhelmed. I just went out there and tried to play football.”
Bills' return men kept in check
The Packers’ special teams kept the Bills’ strong tandem of return men, C.J. Spiller and Roscoe Parrish, from making any meaningful plays.
Spiller averaged 29.0 yards on kickoff returns, but his longest, a 41-yarder, came in the fourth quarter, after the game’s outcome no longer was in doubt.
Kicker Mason Crosby played a significant role by pinning Spiller relatively close to the sideline on most of his returns and thus limiting the amount of field he had to work with. Three of Crosby’s kickoffs were where the Packers were aiming, at the numbers, and the other three were between the hash marks and the numbers.
“I think (the placement) did (make a difference), particularly early,” said Shawn Slocum, the Packers’ special teams coach. “They made a great adjustment and on that last one, maybe the last two, we did a poor job in that (No.) 3 spot containing the ball, it got outside. I thought it was solid (overall). It’s just our expectation, all the work we put in, I want every one of them to be right.”
Punter Tim Masthay averaged 40.3 yards and 4.09 seconds hang time on his three punts, including a good pooch punt that became a touchback when gunners Pat Lee and Jarrett Bush failed to down it inside the 5. Parrish had one fair catch, and picked up no yards on his lone return.
“I thought Tim over-strided on the first punt, he didn’t hit a very good punt,” Slocum said of Masthay’s 37-yarder in the second quarter. “I think he could do better. His last one, we should have downed that one inside the 5. That was very good and our gunners misplayed it.”
In addition to Clifton, linebacker Brad Jones (knee), nose tackle B.J. Raji (knee) and safety Nick Collins (hip flexor) sustained injuries.
Jones and Raji returned, while Collins’ injury happened on the last defensive series. It was not known whether he would have returned.
Cornerback Brandon Underwood (shoulder), linebacker Desmond Bishop (hamstring), defensive end Mike Neal (side/rib) and Hall (hip) weren’t healthy enough to play. They were joined on the inactive list by tight end Andrew Quarless, guard Nick McDonald, guard/tackle T.J. Lang and guard/tackle Marshall Newhouse.
Defensive end Cullen Jenkins found it easier to play with a club cast on his broken left hand this week.
He broke his fourth metacarpal in the Week 1 win at Philadelphia. He returned to that game with the cast but admitted it was uncomfortable. He looked more comfortable against the Bills. He posted three tackles and a sack.
“It’s definitely a lot easier this week,” Jenkins said. “I felt like I could actually use the hand in my rundowns and punch with it. It was a whole lot easier this week because last week at some points you’re kind of nervous to throw your hand in there.”
Linebacker Brandon Chillar is known for his coverage skills, yet before Sunday the seventh-year pro had never intercepted a pass in an NFL game.
He finally got one in third quarter, when he picked off Bills quarterback Trent Edwards.
“I’ve gotten a lot of hands on balls in the past, but to be able to pull it in is hard in this league,” Chillar said. “Guys like (Charles) Wood(son) make it look easy, but it’s harder than it looks. I’m excited. I’ll take it. I’m going to enjoy it and then move on to next week.”