Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers reacts to being sacked in the fourth quarter during Sunday's game against Washington at FedEx Field in Landover, Md. Corey Wilson/Press-Gazette
LANDOVER, Md. — It’s one thing to lose players to injuries. It’s another to lose playmakers.
Jermichael Finley and Clay Matthews aren’t just run-of-the-mill starters for the Green Bay Packers.
They’re impact players.
And when their biggest threat in the passing game and their best pass rusher couldn’t finish Sunday’s game at Washington, the Packers didn’t have enough difference makers to leave FedEx Field with a victory.
Throw in the sprained ankle that prevented defensive end Ryan Pickett from finishing the game and the shoulder injury that wiped out Finley’s backup, Donald Lee, and injuries eventually crippled the Packers.
Without quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ favorite target, Finley, the offense couldn’t convert third downs. Without sack-master Matthews, who added 1½ sacks before he left to run his league-leading total to 8½, the Redskins stunned the battered Packers 16-13 in overtime.
The worst part of it is Finley and Matthews might not return any time soon. Finley strained the hamstring tendon in his right leg on the game’s second play from scrimmage, and Matthews reinjured his left hamstring late in the third quarter. The injury kept Matthews out the entire preseason.
What’s more, quarterback Aaron Rodgers sustained a concussion on his last play, the interception that set up the Redskins’ game-winning field goal, when defensive end Jeremy Jarmon hit Rodgers high just as he threw.
Rodgers did not speak to reporters after the game, so there was no way to know how severe his head injury was, but this season, starting quarterbacks Kevin Kolb of Philadelphia and Jay Cutler of Chicago have missed games the week after sustaining concussions.
“Those are some key contributors and playmakers on this team,” Matthews said. “So anytime you lose that, you’re definitely going to lose some of the volatility, if that’s a word, to the offense and defense. It’s tough. The walking wounded so to speak need to hurry up, get back, get healthy and help this team out. It’s early in the season, so there’s still a lot of football left to be played.”
If the injuries hadn’t reached epidemic portions last week, perhaps they have now. The Packers lost running back Ryan Grant (ankle) in Week 1 and safety Morgan Burnett (knee) last week to season-ending injuries. Linebacker Nick Barnett didn’t play on Sunday and almost certainly will need wrist surgery that could end his season, although there’s a chance he could return late in the year. Linebacker Brandon Chillar and right tackle Mark Tauscher, both with shoulder injuries sustained a week earlier, didn’t play and are out indefinitely.
“In my 10 years (in the NFL), I’ve never seen it like this before,” said Pickett, who was injured on the second defensive snap when someone rolled on his ankle. “Hopefully, we’re just getting them all out of the way so we can be good later in the season.”
When told there might not be anybody left later in the season, Pickett shook his head and said: “I know.”
Finley’s injury was first feared to be a torn anterior cruciate ligament. He was carted off the field after someone rolled into his leg while he was trying to make a tackle after the Redskins recovered Lee’s fumble. Finley needed the help of crutches to leave the locker room after the game but said there was no damage to his knee.
If his hamstring tendon is torn, that’s almost as bad an ACL injury, but he doesn’t believe it was a tear.
“If it was torn, you’d know,” Finley said. “When it first happened, it didn’t even hurt. It was just a funny feeling. I thought I could walk and try to pop it out, but it wouldn’t go anywhere.”
Finley still seems likely to be miss some time. How much won’t be known until he undergoes an MRI today.
“It looks like it’s going to be a week or so,” Finley said.
Without Finley, the Packers were ineffective on third-down conversions, going 2-for-13.
After Matthews went out of the game on Washington’s last drive of the third quarter, Redskins quarterback Donovan McNabb overcame a 13-3 deficit. Frank Zombo and Brady Poppinga split Matthews’ snaps and while Poppinga had a sack, neither could make up for Matthews’ absence.
Without the injury, Matthews might have been headed for another monster game like the three-sack performances he had in each of the first two games.
“Was really getting after the passer today,” Matthews said. “Unfortunately, I took one wrong step.”
Matthews said he may have been able to return to the game but was held out by the coaches and medical staff, who undoubtedly were guarding against the full-blown pulled muscle that kept him out for a month this summer.
“We don’t need another four-week setback,” Matthews said. “I’d like to say it’s definitely not going to be as long as it’s previously been.”