The guys at PackersNews.com give their predictions for the Sunday night matchup between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers. USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
GREEN BAY – Jordy Nelson never would've won the NFL comeback player of the year award last season if there was nothing from which to come back, and Sunday night the Green Bay Packers receiver will return to the place where that journey began with one unfortunate twist of his right knee.
Nelson tore his ACL in the first quarter of a preseason visit to the Pittsburgh Steelers two seasons ago. He leaped to catch a pass from Aaron Rodgers at the 18-yard line and crumbled without being touched at the 16 after turning and trying to run. The injury cost Nelson all of the 2015 season, fatally wounding the Packers’ chances of going to the Super Bowl.
The Packers' game Sunday night against the Steelers will mark Nelson's first game back at Heinz Field since the injury. Nelson said he hadn’t thought about that play until being asked about it inside the Packers' locker room Friday.
“It’s not like you don’t know it’s there,” Nelson said, “but I’ve thought about it more in the last 10 seconds than I have all week.”
Nelson’s production hasn’t been the same in the five games since Rodgers’ broken collarbone last month in Minnesota, but the Packers couldn’t have realistically hoped for a better return after his torn ACL.
In earning last season’s comeback player of the year honor, Nelson led the NFL with 14 touchdown catches. He ranked fifth in the NFL with 97 catches in 2016, only one fewer than his career-high 98 as a Pro Bowler in 2014, and his 1,257 yards ranked sixth.
Without Rodgers for half of the Packers' 10 games this season, Nelson has only 35 catches for 382 yards. But he led the NFL in touchdown catches through five games with six, and still is tied for fifth in the league despite not catching a touchdown since Brett Hundley took over.
Nelson said he wasn’t sure whether he could return to such high production in the immediate aftermath of his torn ACL in Pittsburgh.
“You have no idea,” Nelson said. “You can’t predict the future. But I knew what I was doing in my rehab was everything I could do. I knew I was going to put the time and the effort into it and be happy with the results. I mean, obviously you want to come back and you want to be successful, but if I didn’t it wasn’t because I didn’t put the work and time in. That’s what I think I do with a lot of things, is if I do what I’m supposed to do to the best of my ability with everything I can control — control what you can control — then you’ll be satisfied with the result.
“Is the result going to be what you want? Yes or no. You don’t know. But you can live with it because you know you did everything you could.”
Tough assignment: The education of Packers rookie cornerback Kevin King will continue Sunday night.
King will get ample exposure covering Steelers receiver Antonio Brown, the lone wideout to enter Week 12 with more than 1,000 yards, but he’ll also get plenty of help. That’s because one of Brown’s best attributes is his versatility. The three-time All-Pro, perhaps headed for a fourth selection this season, is equally dangerous lining up in the slot or perimeter.
“He’s definitely a special talent,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said, “and they’re doing a great job getting him the ball. At the end of the day, you look at productivity and just the numbers he’s put up not only this year but just the last three or four years, it just speaks for itself. And the reality of it too, they can move them around and get him the ball so many different ways. And that’s what you focus on.”
McCarthy remembers when Brown entered the draft out of Central Michigan in 2010. Every team in the NFL missed Brown’s potential to be a superstar, and the Packers were no different. The Packers drafted running back James Starks in the sixth round with the 193rd overall pick, a good selection if not for the Steelers drafting Brown two slots later at No. 195 overall.
Since then, Brown has become one of the NFL’s elite receivers. He’s in his fifth straight 1,000-yard season and has a chance to catch double-digit touchdowns for the fourth straight year. He’s also on track to catch more than 100 passes for the fifth straight year.
Brown leads the NFL in receptions and yards this season, and he’s tied for fifth in touchdowns.
“He’s extraordinary in space,” McCarthy said, “but the other part of it you look at is the way he goes up and gets the football. Like I said earlier, they do a great job of getting him the football, but he can play the whole field. He can play from the backfield and play in motion. He can play the No. 1 spot, too. Which is, you would think more when you look at him, he may be more of a slot receiver. But he plays all four positions.”
King, upgraded to a full participant in practice after missing last week’s game because of a shoulder injury, will stay on the perimeter when Brown lines up in the slot. Yet he’s looking forward to the matchup, no matter how many coverage snaps he gets.
“He’s another one of those elite guys,” King said, “that playing against him, you know you’re going to get work. You’ve just got to keep your mind, because you know that he’s going to make some catches. He’s going to make some plays, of course. But you’ve got to just keep flowing.”
Checking in: Baltimore Ravens center Ryan Jensen texted Packers nose tackle Kenny Clark to tell him that he did not try to intentionally hurt him in last week’s game at Lambeau Field, a source close to Jensen said.
Clark responded via text that he appreciated Jensen's contacting him and did not blame him for the ankle injury that knocked Clark out of the game.
Several Packers said Jensen appeared to be finishing off a block unnecessarily with Clark caught in a compromising position with both legs bent underneath him. McCarthy called the block unnecessary and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix called Jensen a dirty player.
Jensen told friends that he was finishing his block but when he realized Clark was getting bent backward awkwardly, he tried to pick him up. Replays showed Jensen grabbing Clark and pulling him out from the pile as the play ended.
Clark, who is doubtful for the game against Pittsburgh on Sunday, has not been available for comment this week.
Fine time: Dean Lowry was fined $18,231 for his roughing-the-passer penalty against Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco last Sunday.
The Packers' second-year defensive end swiped his left hand against Flacco’s facemask, trying to deflect the pass. He missed the football and instead contacted the quarterback’s head, something that’s usually called a penalty.
Lowry wasn’t pleased with the call after the game.
“I saw his right hand moving the ball,” Lowry said, “and I saw him throwing at that point. I put my hand up there, and then the momentum took me into sort of his face, I guess, what it ended up to be. So I thought it was kind of a cheesy call, but I was just playing football, and my hand got stuck in his helmet."
Defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said Lowry could lower his target a little bit on the play, but he also sympathized with the difficult position.
“”When you hit a quarterback in the helmet,” Trgovac said, “you’re going to get called for it. He can lower his hand a little bit. When you’re swiping for the ball, sometimes football happens out there, you know? It’s not like he was purposefully trying to hit him in the head. He’s trying to swipe at the ball right there, and his hand comes down. Maybe try to lower his target a little bit.”
Lowry was not the only player from Sunday’s game to be fined.
Ravens backup quarterback Ryan Mallett was fined $12,154 for an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty after verbally abusing an official.