Packers' patchwork WR corps finally unravels
ATLANTA - Twelve months and 1,800 miles ago, the Green Bay Packers left the desert with a motley crew of wide receivers and a loss to the Arizona Cardinals that ended the 2015 season. The trio of Jeff Janis, Jared Abbrederis and James Jones was unlikely to surface in a bad dream, let alone a playoff game — until, of course, it did.
Their No. 1 receiver, Jordy Nelson, had missed the entire year with a torn ACL suffered in an exhibition game. His primary accomplices, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams, were felled in the playoffs by a bruised lung and torn MCL, respectively, which made them unavailable as well.
What ended as an overtime loss to the Cardinals exposed the Packers to life without their dynamic receivers. What happened Sunday in the NFC championship game was a cruel twist to the same premise: This time Nelson and Adams were in the lineup, but both of them were severely hurt.
“Everyone’s banged up right now,” Nelson said. “We needed everyone out there, so everyone did their job to get healthy enough to go play. That’s what we tried to go out and do; we just didn’t execute well enough.”
While the box score reflects a complete receiving corps — quarterback Aaron Rodgers targeted nine different players — what the Packers had in the huddle was significantly weaker. Nelson, who missed last week’s game in Dallas, winced his way through broken ribs as Adams battled a balky ankle. The opportunity for Geronimo Allison fizzled on account of an injured hamstring.
In playing the Falcons, a team whose offense resembles an angry geyser, the Packers arrived at the Georgia Dome with minimal room for error in what figured to be a shootout. The offense was asked to keep pace as its bodies failed to perform. The end result was ugly: Atlanta 44, Green Bay 21.
“I believed in them,” wide receiver Trevor Davis said. “I believed that they would be able to be back.”
It didn’t always appear that way. As the Packers prepared for Sunday’s game, the prevailing storylines in Green Bay focused less on schematics and more on health. Whenever Mike McCarthy held a news conference, he knew what questions to expect.
With injuries to three of his top four receivers, McCarthy erred on the side of caution during practice. Nelson jogged through routes at half speed and was not cleared for contact. Adams did not practice all week. Allison stood at his locker with electrodes stimulating his injured hamstring.
The primary receivers in practice were Cobb, Janis and Davis, a rookie fifth-round pick.
“You play as many games as we do, everyone’s going to be banged up,” Nelson said. “When it comes to playoff time, everyone has to gut it out and do what they can to be on the field and make plays.”
In that respect, the Packers enjoyed their full complement of receivers. Nelson, who declined to discuss his level of pain, wore extra padding to protect his ribs and made six catches for 67 yards. He found the end zone on a 3-yard slant and played nearly every snap.
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BOX SCORE: Falcons 44, Packers 21 | Scores
Adams, who said he played through unrelenting pain, lacked his usual explosiveness off the line of scrimmage. Releases that used to devastate opponents regressed toward mediocre. He caught three passes for 16 yards including a 2-yard score.
Allison played more sparingly. He had one reception for 11 yards.
“We got Jordy going early, hit him on the first big plays there,” Rodgers said. “He felt good. The fact that he’s out there is just a tribute to him, putting his body on the line. And Davante as well. Tae was doing round-the-clock treatment just to be out there as well. To have those guys battling out there was pretty incredible.”
It was incredible because McCarthy said none of the injured receivers would have participated in a regular-season game. The signs of discomfort were there: Nelson jogging slowly to the huddle between plays; Adams practicing footwork when the Falcons had the ball; Allison grabbing at his hamstring as the play clock was winding down.
Which is to say incredible is different from influential, and in that regard the trio began to fade. Rodgers, who completed 27 of 45 passes for 287 yards, turned instead to Cobb and tight end Jared Cook. Together they accounted for 13 receptions and 180 yards.
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In the desert the Packers had no one; in Atlanta everyone was hurt.
“The receivers were banged up,” Adams said. “We just ran out of gas. That’s what it comes down to.”