Packers cornerback Davon House breaks up a pass intended for Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon during the fourth quarter Sunday. / H. Marc Larson/Press-Gazette Media
At some point, the injury-depleted Green Bay Packers may reach their breaking point, but that time has not arrived.
The resilient Packers managed to grind out a 31-13 victory over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday at Lambeau Field despite losing yet another key weapon, tight end Jermichael Finley, to what looked like a serious neck injury.
The Packers’ list of walking wounded is growing at an alarming rate. Receivers Randall Cobb and James Jones couldn’t play, and three of the Packers’ four starting linebackers were out of commission.
Things are getting so bad that the Packers barely had enough healthy players to fill out their 46-man game-day roster.
Despite the injury epidemic, the Packers won their third straight game and moved into first place in the NFC North. How are they surviving when their roster resembles a M*A*S*H unit?
“You go out there and tough games out like this one,” said guard Josh Sitton. “You just keep grinding. We’ve shown that we can win these tough games. We’ve done it the last three weeks, winning tough games, running the ball and great defense.”
It didn’t hurt that the Packers faced a Browns team that featured a below-average offense with no credible quarterback threat in Brandon Weeden.
But the Packers are getting it done with second- and third-stringers, plus low-round draft picks and undrafted free agents that have been forced to step up.
“Injuries suck, but we have enough talent in this room that we can just keep kind of going on,” said guard T.J. Lang.
The Packers refuse to use injuries as an excuse. It’s a message that starts with coach Mike McCarthy and filters down to the locker room.
“It’s definitely tough, but I think it starts with our head coach,” Sitton said. “You don’t ever hear him making injuries an excuse.
“Our job is to go win football games with whoever’s out there.”
It’s gotten to the point that some Packers players sound offended when the injury topic gets brought up.
“It’s an insult to everybody else that everybody is more focused on the fact that we’re down a couple people instead of focusing on the guys on the field fighting,” said second-year defensive lineman Mike Daniels.
“We’ve been doing this our whole lives. We’ve seen injuries our whole lives. It’s just another opportunity for somebody else. ... When our premier guys go down, we know we have pretty good players to step up.”
Unsung players like receiver Jarrett Boykin, linebacker Jamari Lattimore and cornerback Davon House made significant contributions against the Browns.
Perhaps the next-man-up philosophy has become a tired cliché, but the Packers are making it work.
“The young guys are biting at the bit to get out there,” said receiver Jordy Nelson. “They want their chance.
“We’re going to lean on these guys to make plays. They know the expectations. They’ve got to play.”
Yes, the long list of injuries can start to wear on the morale of a team. Yes, the level of play from preferred starters that get injured can’t always be matched by reserves.
But there’s an innate stubbornness on this Packers team, a refusal to cry “uncle,” a grim determination to keep soldiering on in the midst of any adversity.
“For us to come out and play the way we did today, it just says a lot about the guys in this locker room, especially with the situation that we have,” said cornerback Tramon Williams.
It’s not always going to be pretty. The bumps and potholes are evident. With the rash of injuries, the Packers don’t always look like a fine-tuned machine.
But they’re doing what is necessary to win, and that’s good enough for now. And there’s also the hope that better days are coming.
“At the end of the day, if we can get all of those (injured) guys back and the young guys continue playing well, then it’s just going to make our team better and stronger at the end,” Williams said.