GREEN BAY - As he walked off the field in Seattle, Mike Daniels thought he just “tweaked” something in his foot.
He was limping, but that was far from alarming.
“That’s not the first time I limped off to the sideline before,” he said Friday. “And after I got checked, I tried to stand up, but couldn’t stand up. And that’s when I knew it was pretty serious.”
Turns out, Daniels might not return this season.
He scooted through the Packers locker room Friday – no longer walking – with his left foot in a cast. He’s not playing this Sunday in Minnesota – Daniels and outside linebacker Nick Perry were officially ruled out – and might not for some time.
“Obviously I want to come back as soon as possible, but that’s not realistic,” Daniels said. “I’m just taking the rehab one day at a time and stepping up my leadership, being there for the young guys and trying to give them tips and some nuggets, some good technical advice. Because we need guys to step up, and they’re going to step up.”
There is some good injury news for the Packers.
The extra padding wrapped around tight end Jimmy Graham’s broken left thumb didn’t limit him from Thursday’s practice, coach Mike McCarthy said. Graham, listed as questionable on Friday’s injury report, was able to do the full workload expected from him during the Packers' lone practice in pads this week.
McCarthy said he has “no reason to believe” Graham will have any restrictions for Sunday night’s game in Minnesota.
“He caught the ball fine,” McCarthy said.
Receiver Randall Cobb also continues to make progress recovering from his hamstring injury, McCarthy said. After missing half the Packers' games this season, including the past two, McCarthy said Cobb’s outlook has been optimistic. Cobb was listed as questionable Friday.
“He’s done a lot more in practice this week,” McCarthy said.
Along with Graham and Cobb, cornerbacks Kevin King (hamstring) and Bashaud Breeland (groin), safety Kentrell Brice (ankle), running back Tra Carson (rib) and offensive lineman Lucas Patrick (concussion) were listed as questionable. King was projected as a limited participant had the Packers practiced Friday, an upgrade after not participating Wednesday or Thursday.
A season in the National Football League can go by in a blink, yet also feel like it’s slogging when a team isn’t performing to expectation.
So on one hand, the Packers seem like they’re slowly wading in the mire of a mediocre season at 4-5-1. On the other, they seem light years removed from the center of controversy back on Sept. 16 after tying the Vikings 29-29 at Lambeau Field.
This is especially true for the members of the defense who were called for four roughing-the-passer penalties the first two weeks, ending with a controversial hit from Clay Matthews on Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins that nullified an apparent game-sealing interception by Jaire Alexander.
“Yeah, it was a long time ago,” Packers defensive tackle Kenny Clark said with a laugh.
Matthews was then flagged for roughing a third straight week against Washington.
“It does. It does feel like a long time ago,” outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell said.
But it’s not just the dozens of days that have passed on the calendar, or the eight games played since Matthews hit Cousins and ignited a national debate over the direction the league was going with its new safety rules – it’s because of the way the league has gone since.
“It feels even longer ago because I think that they’ve let up so much on those calls it just feels like a different season almost,” Fackrell said. “They’re calling it differently. Which is good. That’s what we wanted.”
The Packers have not been flagged for a roughing-the-passer penalty or an unnecessary-roughness penalty involving a quarterback since Matthews’ second controversial hit on Washington quarterback Alex Smith.
“I think with any new rule it’s like a point of emphasis so they were over-officiating a little bit on that,” Packers linebacker Oren Burks said. “I feel like there have been some hits across the league that have been a little bit questionable but they kind of let us play a little bit more as they get more understanding of what the rule actually means. We didn’t really change too much on our end. Just playing ball and being kind of mindful of that in situations.”
And it’s not like officials haven’t had occasion to flag a Packers player in the last seven games. The team is third in the league in sacks with 34, 28 coming after Week 3. They have also hit the quarterback 45 times since Washington.
“I think we’re moving forward with it. We’re moving somewhere with it,” Clark said. “We haven’t gotten penalized for it and we’ve still been hitting the quarterback pretty good and getting some good hits on him. I think a lot of players have been aware of it, too. I know there’s a couple times where I come in and I hit the quarterback and he throws the ball, I hit, I don’t really try to go to the ground. I hit him and then I look at the ref like ‘I didn’t try to do anything.’ I think it’s coming to a middle ground and they’re understanding we’re not trying to hurt these guys but we’re still trying to affect them and get after the passer.”
If there’s a lingering taste from the tie against the Vikings and the ensuing controversy it’s that the game ended in a tie, and not a crucial victory. But the Packers do feel like they’ve come out the other end of the safety storm relatively unscathed.
“I think it’s good that they’re not going too over the top and they’ve kind of brought it back down and it’s at a decent level to where you can play football,” Fackrell said of the officials.
Fackrell might not be able to pinpoint why his production has increased in his third season, but his defensive coordinator has some theories.
Mike Pettine, in his first year leading the Packers' defense, said Fackrell has seen his work in the weight room carry onto the football field. In his first two years, the undersized Fackrell would often get pushed around off the edge. This fall, that has begun to change.
“I think he’s done an outstanding job with (strength and conditioning coach) Mark Lovat,” Pettine said. “I think he’s become more explosive. I think just what I’ve seen from him from the spring and just the strength of his explosiveness.”
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Fackrell has emerged as the Packers' surprising sacks leader in 2018. The former third-round pick has eight sacks in 10 games, dwarfing the five sacks he had combined in his first two seasons.
Fackrell has twice had a hat trick this season, most recently the three sacks he had last week in Seattle. Pettine said it was Fackrell’s first hat trick in late September against Buffalo that gave him something to build on.
“I just think the confidence has really helped him,” Pettine said. “I think early in the year, he was a little beat up and he wasn’t getting results, and there were some plays that he wished he had back, especially in the run game. Once you start going and they come in bunches … I think that was kind of the breakthrough moment for him. You could see him carry himself a little bit differently after that. At any position, I think when you’re confident that’s going to help you.”
Olivia Reiner and Tom Silverstein look at one of the Vikings' well-known defensive schemes and discuss what the Packers will have to prepare for. Olivia Reiner, PackersNews