Packers' offensive line gets thinner
DETROIT - The Green Bay Packers started Thursday night’s game against the Detroit Lions with backups occupying the right side of their offensive line, then lost their starting center in the first half.
In the end, it helped contribute to another uninspiring offensive performance by Green Bay — until the game’s final play, of course.
Starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga and right guard T.J. Lang were inactive because of injuries and were replaced by Don Barclay and Lane Taylor, respectively.
Then the line was dealt another blow when starting center Corey Linsley went down after re-injuring his ankle with 4 minutes, 44 seconds left in the first half. Linsley, who was replaced by JC Tretter, never returned.
Even left tackle David Bakhtiari left the game briefly early in the fourth quarter. He was replaced by the only remaining healthy backup, Josh Walker, but returned on Green Bay’s next series. His absence, though, helped contribute to a big sack by Ziggy Ansah, who lined up opposite Walker on third-and-14 and got to quarterback Aaron Rodgers untouched on a stunt.
Minus the 61-yard Hail Mary pass that ended the game in victory for Green Bay, its offense compiled only 252 total yards, including 67 rushing yards (2.8-yard average). Rodgers was sacked three times for a loss of 27 yards and was hit another 11 times.
Barclay, especially, had trouble in pass protection. The fourth-year veteran, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, gave up two sacks on third-down plays in the second quarter, getting pushed back by Detroit’s Devin Taylor on both occasions. On the second sack, Rodgers fumbled the ball, which was recovered by Linsley.
Bulaga didn’t practice over the past week because of an ankle injury sustained in last Thursday’s game against Chicago. Lang was limited in practice with a shoulder injury. Both were listed Wednesday as questionable to play Thursday.
It was only the second game Lang has missed since becoming full-time starter in 2011. He was active, but sat out against Detroit in a Dec. 9, 2012, game.
The Packers' only backup offensive linemen entering the game were Tretter, who started in place of Linsley last week, and Walker. Linsley and Tretter both were listed as questionable with ankle injuries.
Besides Linsley and Bakhtiari, rookie cornerback Quinten Rollins also left the game for a time when he sustained a forearm injury during the Lions’ first possession. Rollins, who started the game in the nickel package in place of injured Damarious Randall, was replaced by Micah Hyde on the next series.
Rollins’ return was immediately announced as questionable but he was back on the field early in the second quarter and made a key play in his first series back, batting down a third-down pass.
Running back change
The Packers swapped third-string running backs Thursday, releasing Alonzo Harris and promoting John Crockett from the practice squad.
Crockett took full advantage of his pro debut, rushing for 22 yards on five carries. His yardage output was more than Eddie Lacy (4) and James Starks (15) combined.
Both Crockett and Harris signed with the Packers as undrafted free agents last May, with the more-acclaimed Crockett getting a $5,000 signing bonus and Harris signing for $3,500.
An ankle injury sidelined Crockett for the latter half of the offseason program. The 6-foot, 217-pound running back returned in time for training camp, but the Packers settled on the 6-1, 237-pound Harris, who had 21 carries for 85 yards and a touchdown in the preseason.
Harris, who played primarily on special teams, had four carries for 19 yards during the regular season. He has been inactive in the two games since Eddie Lacy returned from the groin injury that sidelined him for the Packers first game against Detroit on Nov. 15.
Crockett had 26 carries for 97 yards and a touchdown in the preseason. A record-setting running back at North Dakota State, Crockett possesses a different running style than Harris, whose power closely resembled that of Lacy and James Starks.
If he clears waivers, Harris could be re-signed to the practice squad. He's only the second player to be released from the team's 53-man roster this season, joining defensive lineman Bruce Gaston.
Besides Bulaga and Lang, Randall (knee/hamstring) and rookie wide receiver Ty Montgomery (ankle) also were inactive after being listed as questionable Wednesday. It was the sixth straight game Montgomery missed. Randall was a full participant in the Packers' practice Monday, but he was limited Wednesday.
Also inactive for the Packers were rookie fullback Aaron Ripkowski (illness), linebacker Andy Mulumba and rookie quarterback Brett Hundley.
The Lions, meanwhile, were without starting center Travis Swanson (ankle) and third wide receiver Lance Moore (ankle). Veteran Manny Ramirez started at center for Swanson.
Moore had 27 receptions for 321 yards and four touchdowns this season. Corey Fuller was the third receiver in place of Moore.
• The Packers didn’t activate tight end Andrew Quarless from temporary injured reserve. Quarless returned to practice this week from the sprained MCL he suffered in Week 3 against Kansas City but remains on injured reserve.
• The Lions entered the game 30th in the NFL in third-down defense, having allowed teams to convert 44 percent of the time. On Thursday, however, the Packers converted only 25 percent of the time (three of 12).
• The Packers won their fifth consecutive road game against an NFC North team. Dating to 2002, it ties for the longest road division winning streak by the Packers during the regular season (2006-07 and 2011-12).
• The Packers improved to 27-12 (.692) under coach Mike McCarthy during the month of December.
firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @RobertZizzo. Weston Hodkiewicz contributed to this report.