GREEN BAY – When Green Bay Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari missed four games with a hamstring injury earlier this season, the fifth-year veteran said he wanted to return weeks before team Dr. Pat McKenzie allowed.
Trying to persuade McKenzie he could play, Bakhtiari was on the field in Atlanta for a workout before the Packers' second game this season. The Packers' longtime team doctor wouldn’t budge. Bakhtiari was inactive against the team that ushered the Packers out of last season’s playoffs.
If McKenzie hadn’t eventually relented, Bakhtiari said, the Packers might have been without their franchise left tackle until after their midseason bye week.
“I was trying to pressure earlier,” Bakhtiari said. “I thank him for wanting to hold me back. Because he wanted to hold me back until pretty much post-bye. I want to contribute and compete, and he was being really smart and careful. We had scanned (the hamstring) as many times as I had wished, and going into the Minnesota game, pretty much (he told me), ‘I feel safe that you won’t do anything season-ending or career-changing. So I’m comfortable with you doing that, but I’m still uncomfortable that you may hurt yourself. So if you feel anything, we’re going to shut you down.’”
Bakhtiari, who injured his hamstring in the season opener against Seattle, finally returned for the Packers' sixth game of the season at Minnesota. But, Bakhtiari said, McKenzie monitored him closely. Before the game, Bakhtiari explained, McKenzie made a rule that the Packers' left tackle had to inform him of any discomfort in his hamstring.
After an extended break from play during halftime, Bakhtiari’s hamstring tightened.
“Once I told him I started feeling something,” Bakhtiari said, “he was like, ‘Done. That’s it.’”
Bakhtiari missed the rest of the Packers' game at Minnesota, a loss in which backup quarterback Brett Hundley could’ve used his blindside protector.
So after hearing former Packers tight end Martellus Bennett’s allegations last week that McKenzie pressured him to play after deciding to get shoulder surgery, Bakhtiari said he was upset.
“Flat out,” Bakhtiari said, “what he’s saying is crap.”
Bakhtiari was hardly the only Packers player angry about Bennett’s allegations against their team doctor.
Right guard Jahri Evans said “we all know there was some fabrication” in Bennett’s statement. Receiver Jordy Nelson said he thought Bennett’s accusations were “nonsense.”
"I think everyone knows what’s the truth," Nelson said.
Outside linebacker Clay Matthews pointed to the inconsistencies in Bennett’s timeline.
After deciding in Green Bay his shoulder injury required surgery, Bennett was active for the New England Patriots on Sunday night after being claimed last week. Bennett even caught three passes for 38 yards.
“He seemed to suit up and looked good on Sunday night,” Matthews said.
Matthews said he and teammates “got a good laugh from” Bennett explaining how his release from the Packers unfolded, specifically that McKenzie would ever ask a player to jeopardize his health by playing.
“My experience has been fantastic with Pat,” Matthews said. “I think he’s an awesome doc. I think he puts our health in front of the team first and foremost. In fact, I think a lot of people have gotten on his case because he’s too conservative. So I wouldn’t put much merit into those comments made.
“I think it really speaks volumes to hear everybody’s rebuttal, and come to his aid in that regard as opposed to the other person.”
In reviewing Bakhtiari’s perspective, it’s worth considering he was a second-team All-Pro last season in the midst of four-year, $48 million contract. Even before his big payday, Bakhtiari said, his experience with McKenzie never changed. When Bakhtiari sprained his ankle at the 2015 season, he missed three games.
One absence came in the NFC wild-card playoff game in Washington.
“For (Bennett) to kind of say (McKenzie) is pushing people,” Bakhtiari said, “I think he’s the opposite. He’s pushing you to pull back and think about yourself, think about your future, think about your life. Not only your career, but after.
“It did upset me. But everyone has their viewpoint of what went on, and whatever someone says, they’re going to have to live with what they claim at the end of the day.”