ATLANTA – Donald Lee figured he was at the point in his career where he didn’t have to worry about his position on the depth chart.
That all changed this week for the Green Bay Packers’ veteran tight end.
He was a healthy inactive for Sunday’s game at Atlanta, something that caught him by surprise.
“I think either last Monday or Wednesday I heard that some guys are going to have to compete to be (active) for this game, but I didn’t think in a million years it would be me,” Lee said. “That’s just the way it is. Sometimes things work out different from what you hope for.”
Instead of using Lee, the Packers activated tight end Spencer Havner for the first time since they re-signed him on Nov. 12. Havner played on special teams before he dropped out of the game because of a pulled hamstring.
Havner said he wasn’t expecting to play much, if at all, on offense. Coach Mike McCarthy used rookie Andrew Quarless and first-year pro Tom Crabtree as the tight ends on offense. Quarless had three catches for 35 yards, but Crabtree didn’t have a ball thrown his way.
Lee, the eighth-year veteran, has only eight catches for 68 yards this season. In the previous three games, he had only two catches for a total of 5 yards.
“It’s very disappointing because I really feel like I can help this team win,” Lee said. “I prepare each and every day and work hard and just try to get better in every aspect of the game, and it’s kind of disappointing when you’re told they’re going to try different people at different positions, but I just try and control things I can control.”
When asked what he thought it would take to get him back in the lineup, Lee said: “You know what, I’m just going to keep doing what I’ve been doing, continue to work hard and try to improve and just keep fighting.”
When asked whether Lee’s demotion was performance-based, offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said: “Not necessarily, no.”
Havner, linebacker Brandon Chillar and cornerback Pat Lee all aggravated existing injuries while playing on special teams and could miss significant time.
The most serious could be Chillar, who missed three games after he first sustained the injury in Week 3 at Chicago. He hurt his right shoulder again while making a tackle on a kickoff in the first half, when his arm got caught behind him.
“The classic thing you don’t want to do when you have what I have,” Chillar said.
Since his return, he has worn a restrictive shoulder harness that might have prevented a complete shoulder blowout against the Falcons.
“It stopped it,” Chillar said. “But it was pretty painful.”
Before his injury, the Packers had used Chillar in certain nickel situations in place of starting inside linebacker Desmond Bishop.
Lee reinjured the same ankle he sprained against the New York Jets on Oct. 31.
For Havner, the pulled left hamstring is the same injury he sustained earlier this season while playing for the Detroit Lions, who eventually waived him injured.
The only other injury coach Mike McCarthy announced was a concussion for running back Dimitri Nance.
Airing it out
After using a five-receiver personnel grouping for a handful of plays last week, the Packers turned it to extensively against Atlanta.
By unofficial count, the Packers had all five of their receivers — Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones, Jordy Nelson and Brett Swain — on the field for 13 snaps, including on the game-tying 10-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers to Nelson with 56 seconds to play.
“We love it,” Driver said. “It gives us an opportunity to go out there with our weapons and make plays. We were excited. Mike (McCarthy) came up and told us we were going to air it out, ‘Let’s see what happens.’”
The Packers used the five-receiver so much — they also went with four receivers much of the game, and other than on the goal line rarely had fewer than three receivers on the field — in large part because of Atlanta’s coverage-oriented defensive scheme. When the teams played in 2008, Atlanta made mostly coverage-oriented calls when the Packers played four receivers, and for most of this season they’ve played primarily zone coverage and haven’t blitzed much.
So the Packers thought they could go with four or five receivers and still be fine in pass protection and also were hoping to spread out the Falcons, control the ball with the short passing game and perhaps open some running lanes for scrambles by Rodgers. Rodgers passed for 344 yards and rushed for another 51, including for a one-yard touchdown on a draw play.
“We felt like we could get some completions and try get some yards after the catch,” said Joe Philbin, the Packers’ offensive coordinator.
Atlanta stayed true to form and made coverage-oriented calls much of the game, often rushing only three players.
“It’s nice to have the five receivers back in the mix,” Rodgers said, “but the way they were covering us, they were dropping eight guys and when that happens, I need to move around a little bit. If I’m moving and I feel like I can get us a positive gain, I’m going to take off.”
No huddle, no problem
The Packers used their no-huddle offense more Sunday than they had previously this season, once on their lone scoring drive in the first half, and again for almost their entire game-tying, 90-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. On the fourth-quarter drive, they went to it immediately even though they had 5 minutes, 59 seconds to play, which is enough time that most teams will continue to huddle, trailing by only a touchdown.
“We feel it’s a strength of ours,” McCarthy said. “We spend a ton of time on no-huddle throughout the spring and throughout the summer but just — we never got to it early in the season because of all the changes going on with personnel. We feel it’s something that we do very well, able to get a best play mentality at the line of scrimmage.”
Said Rodgers: “I'm guessing it'll be a part of our plan as we move forward.”
No replay, no challenge
McCarthy said he didn’t challenge the 6-yard catch by Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez on fourth-and-3 in the second quarter because the replay in the coaches box “came too late.”
One replay angle left open the possibility that the ball hit the ground, although Gonzalez appeared to have control.
On the TVs in the Georgia Dome, there was a longer-than-usual delay in the TV coverage.
“It was very similar up in the (coaches) box,” Philbin said.
In addition to Lee, the other inactives were safety Atari Bigby, safety Anthony Smith, running back James Starks, linebacker Diyral Briggs, guard/center Nick McDonald, guard/tackle Marshall Newhouse and defensive end Jarius Wynn.