Michael Cohen and Ryan Wood discuss the injuries affecting the Green Bay Packers' receivers and defensive backs ahead of the NFC championship game. (Jan. 18, 2017) USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
GREEN BAY - As much as Green Bay Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson would like to say there's a good chance he'll be available for the NFC championship game Sunday, he admitted he's in uncharted territory and isn't sure he can play through two broken ribs.
Nelson attended practice Wednesday and caught some soft throws from a team trainer, but that's a long way from being able to withstand another shot to his left side like the one he took against the New York Giants in a wild-card playoff game at Lambeau Field 11 days ago. Each day, he said, he makes considerable improvement, but there was no indication he was going to be able to take part in practice before Saturday, if at all.
"I’ve never played receiver with broken ribs," said Nelson, when asked how it would be possible to do so. "We’ll find out, hopefully. I don’t know if you can prepare. It’s one of those things that you’ll figure out when you get out there.
"If it happens, we’ll see how it goes. But right now I’m just focused on getting back to full motion and doing everything and seeing if we can get that opportunity and it’d be a great chance to have."
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Even if Nelson is able to withstand the pain and protect the ribs, he still has to justify with his play being out on the field against the Atlanta Falcons. He wouldn't be doing the team much good if he were 60 or 70 percent and unable to run full speed or reach for passes.
If the medical staff does give him the OK to play, then it's up to the coaches to decide if he would be effective. He said ultimately team physician Patrick McKenzie would decide whether it was safe for him to play, but he's being allowed to go through the rehab process to see how far he can get through the week. It's possible McKenzie already has decided Nelson can't play, but the Packers haven't listed him as out on their injury report, so technically there's a chance.
"(It's) a combination of that (and) pain tolerance, Doc’s approving that it’s OK and being fully functional," Nelson said of the first step. "I’ve got to be able to go out and perform. I just can’t be out there slowly running or just being some random person."
Nelson isn't the only receiver the Packers might not have when they face the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.
Davante Adams, who injured his ankle late in the divisional playoff victory over Dallas, did not practice and won't until at least Saturday, according to coach Mike McCarthy. The fact the Packers won't even put Adams on the field until then speaks to the severity of the injury.
Adams suffered a similar injury last year, tried to come back from it too soon and was not the same player the rest of the year. Like Nelson, he's going to have to prove that he can be an effective player in order to be cleared.
Worse yet, No. 4 receiver Geronimo Allison sat out practice with a left hamstring injury. He said he was sitting out for precautionary reasons, but he couldn't say for sure he would practice Thursday and was trying to work through the injury through rehab.
He was carrying around a device that was sending electronic impulses to two pads attached to his hamstring.
"We're just trying to give my body a little rest," he said. "I'd be out there any chance I could get. It's more mental preparation now with the game plan, film. You try to do more with that because you couldn't get physical reps today. That's when you definitely dial in and get some mental work. It's just that time of year."
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In practice, quarterback Aaron Rodgers had Randall Cobb, Jeff Janis and rookie Trevor Davis available at the wide receiver position. Practice squad receivers Max McCaffrey and Antwan Goodley ran routes for Rodgers in the early portion of practice open to the media.
Nelson said the one thing he's encouraged about is the improvement he has made each day. He said he did not suffer any injuries other than the broken ribs and stayed overnight in the hospital because he was able to rest comfortably there.
He said the pain was excruciating.
"I’ve never been like that before," he said. "It was the worst pain I’ve ever felt. Hopefully, it doesn’t happen again. It’s not fun."
Not having Nelson and Adams in a game in which the Packers are probably going to have to score a lot of points in order to win might just be too much to overcome. The offense was able to keep rolling against the Giants and Cowboys because Adams, Cobb, Allison, tight end Jared Cook and running back Ty Montgomery picked up the slack.
In the two playoff games, Adams has 13 catches for 201 yards (15.5 average) and a touchdown. If you take him out of the mix, it makes it easier to cover the others, especially Cook, who has been a key to the team's offensive success and generally hasn't drawn double coverage because of the threat of Adams, Cobb and Montgomery.
Cobb would move into the No. 1 receiver spot with Nelson and Adams out. He has 12 catches for 178 yards and three touchdowns in the playoffs but is better when he's in the slot than when he's outside. If Allison can play, McCarthy can use Cook and Allison as the two outside receivers and Cobb as the slot.
If Allison can't play, then Janis and Davis move up the depth chart. Janis has one catch for 8 yards in the last seven games and Davis had all three of his receptions this season (for 24 yards and a touchdown) in the first Atlanta game Oct. 30.
When asked about the possibility of playing without Nelson and Adams, Rodgers said, "Well, we’ve won without them before. So we’d like to have them out there, but we’ll see what happens."
The Packers don't have many options at receiver. They could use Montgomery there and go with fullback Aaron Ripkowski or backup Christine Michael in the backfield. But a big part of their success has been making teams guess how Montgomery is being used and if Montgomery and Michael are on the field together, the Falcons will know Montgomery is most likely going to be a receiver.
"It’s a long week yet," Nelson said. "We’ve got time until Sunday. Those guys are putting in the time and work to get healthy. Obviously, I think it becomes a mental game right now at this part of the season to make sure you’re ready to go, and everyone’s banged up. So hopefully they can get healthy and get ready. We’ll see."