Packers' Ripkowski can carry heavy load

Tom Silverstein, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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Green Bay Packers fullback Aaron Ripkowski (22) makes a catch fora short gain against the Detroit Lions outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy (53) at Lambeau Field  September 25, 2016.

GREEN BAY – Green Bay Packers fullback Aaron Ripkowski is not an easy man to bring down.

He’s no Eddie Lacy, but by virtue of one 13-yard run in which he fought off four New York Giants while his teammates formed a scrum and plowed him an additional eight yards from where tacklers first made contact, he gained a large degree of respect most fullbacks never receive.

 “Incredible,” was the way offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett put it.

It was third-and-1 in the fourth quarter when coach Mike McCarthy called Ripkowski’s number for a second time on short yardage. It looked like Ripkowski was going to match the four yards he got in the first quarter until the Giants started trying to strip the ball.

With two arms around the ball, Ripkowski kept his feet as tight end Richard Rodgers, then guard Lane Taylor, then center JC Tretter, then tackle Bryan Bulaga and then tackle David Bakhtiari began shoving the pile forward. Finally, Bulaga, who had slipped off the pile, took a running start and knocked all the dominoes down.

Ripkowski enjoyed the ride, but he eventually went down in part because his grip on the ball couldn’t hold forever.

“There were a few hands in there,” Ripkowski said. “I don’t know if it was my decision to fall down or if I was just falling down. But it was probably good timing because there were a couple guys with their hand on the ball. It was smart to go down.”

The Packers went with Ripkowski instead of veteran John Kuhn this season, a move that appeared questionable when Kuhn scored three short-yardage touchdowns for the New Orleans Saints Oct. 2.

But the main reason the Packers chose Ripkowski was his blocking. It had been called upon sparingly in the first three games. He played just 21 snaps in that span and only 10 of them required him to block for Lacy or James Starks on running plays.

Against the Giants, Ripkowski’s snaps ballooned to 25 as McCarthy went to more of a power attack with Lacy leading the way. Lacy has had success both with and without Ripkowski, but two of his three longest runs (28 and 25 yards) were with the fullback in the game.

The Packers ran for a season-high 147 yards on 32 carries (4.6 average) Sunday and that was with Lacy missing a good portion of the second half with an ankle injury.

“We did some good things, some great things, but we also did some things we need to work on,” Ripkowski said. “There’s always room for improvement.”

Ripkowski doesn’t have folk hero status like his predecessor, but he gained a pretty good following with his tough run and may find himself having a bigger part in the weekly game plan if the offense continues to run the ball the way it did.

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