Green Bay Packers linebacker Brad Jones, lower left, takes down Jacksonville Jaguars running back Rashad Jennings during the second quarter of the game at Lambeau Field on Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012. / H. Marc Larson/Press-Gazette
The way Morgan Burnett looks at it, he was still lining up next to Charles Woodson in the Green Bay Packers’ base 3-4 defense on Sunday afternoon.
In reality, Woodson, the 15th-year veteran defensive back, was standing on the sidelines with a headset and doing his best to contribute after getting sidelined for the next six weeks with a broken collarbone sustained last week against St. Louis.
That didn’t matter to Burnett. Sure, the personnel had changed, but the third-year safety’s approach didn’t during Sunday’s 24-15 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
With Woodson out of the lineup, the 23-year-old Burnett responded with one of the finer performances of his young career with a team-high 11 tackles (nine solo), one sack, a forced fumble and the Packers’ first fumble recovery of 2012.
It culminated in the Packers holding off the lowly Jaguars for their third consecutive win despite playing without a handful of starters, including Woodson and starting cornerback Sam Shields.
“I just did my normal job,” Burnett said. “I didn’t get outside of my element. I just did what I normally do if Wood was out there. Those guys who came behind Wood, they stepped up and did a great job – M.D. Jennings, Jerron McMillian, (Davon) House – those guys stepped in and didn’t skip a beat.”
As the injuries have mounted for the Packers this season, it’s tested their mantra of looking to the next man up. There was no better example of that than when Jacksonville was driving into Green Bay territory with 13 minutes left in the first half and the Packers clinging to a 7-3 lead.
On first-and-10 and on the heels of a 17-yard completion to Cecil Shorts III, Packers inside linebacker Brad Jones exploded through the line and popped the ball out of the arms of Jaguars running back Rashad Jennings, which was then recovered by Burnett.
Jones, who was making his second career start at inside linebacker, is the third player the Packers have turned to at the spot after seeing both Desmond Bishop and D.J. Smith go down with season-ending injuries.
After converting from an outside linebacker in the offseason, Jones improved from two tackles in last week's 30-20 win over St. Louis to 10 on Sunday, along with a first-quarter sack to aid a defense that allowed 341 total yards, but still limited the Jaguars to only 15 points.
“That’s kind of the mentality around here,” said Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk, who’s played alongside Bishop, Smith and Jones this season. “That’s the name of the game – football. Guys are going to get hurt regardless. It feels like we’ve had a lot of injuries more than normal, but there are a lot of guys waiting to get down on the field.”
Slightly hobbled, the Packers' defense had trouble stopping the Jaguars from moving the ball early on but shut them down on seven of eight third-down attempts in the second half.
More importantly, they finally got that elusive fumble recovery. Prior to it, the Packers had been the only team in the NFL to not have a fumble recovery this season while the league-leader, New England, had already recovered 11 in eight games.
They have Burnett and Jones to thank for ending that skid on Sunday.
“That was the weirdest thing I’ve ever been a part of,” Packers defensive tackle B.J. Raji said. “Through seven games, we haven’t recovered a fumble, so it was good to see it happen today.
“Morgan is a heck of a player. He’s still a young guy, but has the experience of a veteran. He carries himself like a veteran and plays well. He does good things out there and hopefully he’ll be around for a long time.”
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.