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Offense braces for life without Jennings

Pending results of tests, receiver could be out anywhere from 2 weeks to rest of season

Dec. 11, 2011
 

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Packers-Raiders postgame analysis: Pete Dougherty and Rob Demovsky weigh the implications of Greg Jennings' injury for the Packers offense.
Green Bay Packers receiver Greg Jennings hobbles off the field during the third quarter of Sunday's game against the Oakland Raiders at Lambeau Field. / Corey Wilson/Press-Gazette

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In Sunday’s 46-16 rout of the Oakland Raiders, the Green Bay Packers became the highest-scoring team in franchise history.

With three games still to play, they have scored 466 points, topping the previous mark of 461 set in 2009. With five touchdowns on Sunday, they have scored 57 for the season, topping the old record of 56 set in 1996. They now have had 19 different players reach the end zone, bettering of the previous high of 18 set in 2008.

Other than quarterback Aaron Rodgers, a near lock to win the NFL’s most valuable player award, perhaps no one has had more to do with that than Greg Jennings, which was why there was so much concern about the health of their number one receiver after he dropped out of Sunday’s game with a left knee injury early in the third quarter.

Coach Mike McCarthy said only that Jennings had a sprain, his standard post-game answer for almost every knee injury, and would undergo further medical tests Monday. But in the locker room, the players were preparing themselves for life without Jennings, if not for the rest of the year then perhaps until the playoffs.

“It didn’t look very good,” Rodgers said. “So we’ll see what the MRI says (Monday) and hopefully we got a bye wrapped up, so he really has close to five weeks before the next game or our playoff game. So hopefully we can get him ready for that.”

Indeed, the Packers did clinch a first-round playoff bye, which means they won’t begin their Super Bowl title defense until the NFC divisional round on either Jan. 14 or 15.

Jennings wasn’t in the locker room when reporters were allowed to enter following the game. In fact, Donald Driver was the only receiver present, and he wouldn’t discuss details of Jennings’ injury during a brief interview session.

Several players said they weren’t sure if Jennings had sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament, which would be a season-ending injury. If he didn’t tear his ACL, then he most likely damaged his medial collateral ligament, an injury that typically takes 2-4 weeks to heal. That’s believed to be the injury that has kept right guard Josh Sitton out of the last two games.

Jennings was injured when he landed awkwardly after he picked up 8 yards on an out route. Raiders cornerback Stanford Routt came down on Jennings’ left ankle, perhaps causing his knee to torque, and then cornerback Tyvon Branch fell on top of Jennings, who hobbled off the field without putting any pressure on his left leg. After a brief examination on the sideline, Jennings was carted to the locker room.

Voted to his first Pro Bowl last season, the 28-year-old Jennings came into Sunday’s game as the team leader in receptions (65) and yards (929) and was tied with Jordy Nelson for the team lead with nine touchdown catches. His yardage total ranked sixth in the NFC and eighth in the NFL heading into the week. He had just two catches for 20 yards against the Raiders, and the Packers had the game well in hand by the time Jennings left. They kicked a field goal to end the series in which he got hurt to take a 34-0 lead. Still, the Packers didn’t score another offensive touchdown after he left the game, although McCarthy pulled Rodgers from the game before the end of the third quarter.

“He’s a big-time playmaker on this offense, and he’s going to be missed,” tight end Jermichael Finley said. “It’s going to be a lot on whoever’s shoulders who’s going to take his spot.”

Last season, an injury to Finley forced McCarthy to revamp his offense. He went into the season having built a passing game around the tight end, which meant fewer opportunities for Jennings early in the season. But when Finley went down in Week 5 with a season-ending knee injury, Jennings returned to a prominent role in the offense and had a monster final 11 games.

Perhaps now, McCarthy will have to dig out his old game plans for Finley, who didn’t have a catch on Sunday. It marked the first time all season that Finley was shut out.

“I’m willing to take on that task,” Finley said. “To tell you the truth, I can’t wait to take on that task and touch that pigskin a little.”

Nelson’s role will change, too. He should move into the number one receiving position. On Sunday, he had three catches for 81 yards and caught his team-leading 10th touchdown pass of the season. He’s in the midst of his breakout season but without Jennings, now Nelson surely will draw opposing team’s best cover cornerback. It also could mean more opportunities for Driver (four catches for 75 yards on Sunday), James Jones (two for 29 yards) and rookie Randall Cobb (two for 45 yards).

“Anytime you lose one of your playmakers, it’s a blow,” center Scott Wells said. “But at the same time, you have to expect the level of play to stay where it’s at for whoever steps in. I don’t know how serious the injury is, but at the same time if he’s not able to go, we can’t have any let up.”

rdemovsk@greenbaypressgazette.com and follow him on Twitter @RobDemovsky.

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