LeRoy lauds the play of Za'Darius Smith but was quick to add that Kenny Clark is having an impact every week. Packers News
GREEN BAY – The Green Bay Packers had plenty of reason to be excited about their running game after rushing for a season-high 184 yards Monday at Minnesota, but not all the news in their backfield was good.
Running back Jamaal Williams left the game in the second half with a right shoulder injury, went to the locker room and came back to the sideline in street clothes. His final carry came with 6 minutes, 27 seconds left in the third quarter.
After the game, Williams downplayed the injury.
“I’ll just take it day by day,” he said.
He declined to say if he would need further tests when he returned home.
When asked how he got hurt, he said, “I don’t really remember. I’m just happy we won the game.”
Williams’ performance wasn’t as flashy as Aaron Jones’, but he gained a respectable 33 yards on six carries and caught two passes for 19 yards.
Another injury the Packers will be monitoring is to nose tackle Kenny Clark, who injured his ankle on the play in which cornerback Kevin King picked off quarterback Kirk Cousins in the third quarter.
Clark limped off the field after being attended to on the field for several minutes. The Packers then ran off a five-minute touchdown drive and on the next series Clark was back in the lineup.
“It’s going to hurt tomorrow,” Clark said. “But I came back. It was good.’
Clark said the ankle injury was not as severe as previous ones he has suffered. In 2017, he had a right ankle injury that affected his play for the second half of the season and during training camp this year he nursed a sprained ankle.
Clark continued his hot December, racking up another sack to give him 4½ in his last three games. He finished with 4 tackles, a sack and a pass batted down.
Safety Will Redmond left the game with a hamstring injury and did not return. Coach Matt LaFleur did not address injuries in his postgame news conference.
LaFleur was willing to eschew the workaholic tendencies of an NFL head coach for a little holiday relaxation, but only under one condition.
Before Monday night’s game, LaFleur laid out the compromise to his players. If they “took care of business” against the Vikings, they could celebrate their Christmas. No work. Just presents and family.
So it’s no surprise that perhaps the loudest cheers in the visitors’ locker room at U.S. Bank Stadium on Monday night came when LaFleur made good on his word. Yes, players could have Christmas off.
“Obviously there’s still a lot at stake in this next game,” LaFleur said of Sunday's game at Detroit, “and it’s going to lead to a little bit longer of a day on Thursday and Friday in terms of our preparation, because we have to have a great plan. What this schedule does afford is our coaching staff to really have a good time period to put together a good plan for our guys.
LaFleur made it clear: The Packers can not afford to look past the Lions.
The Lions are in the midst of another dreadful season, carrying a 3-11-1 record into Christmas. After a hot start, they’ve won only once in their past 12 games. But one of those losses was a 23-22 nail biter at Lambeau Field, when the Lions jumped out to 13-0 lead. The Packers eventually won in part because of pass rusher Trey Flowers’ controversial illegal-hands-to-the-face penalties against left tackle David Bakhtiari.
If the Packers win, they’re assured of at least the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs and the first-round bye that comes with it. If that victory is joined by a Seattle Seahawks home win against the San Francisco 49ers, the Packers will be the NFC’s top seed, and they will have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
So while players have Wednesday off, LaFleur said coaches are expected to arrive to work by noon.
“That’ll give us the ability to spend the morning, a lot of us have kids,” LaFleur said, “and you know how special that is for kids on Christmas. I know my kids will probably be up at like 4 in the morning or whatever and ready to open up presents. It’ll just give us some time with our families, and then we’ll come back here and get to work. I’m sure it’ll be a pretty late night tonight, though.”
Close calls go Packers’ way
The Packers had already seen Jones, Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams turn the ball over in the first half Monday night, leading to 10 Vikings points. Then Jimmy Graham almost became the fourth to do so with 42 seconds left in the second quarter when Vikings corner Mike Hughes punched the ball out as the tight end tried to get out of bounds at the Minnesota 37-yard line. As Graham’s momentum carried him out of bounds the ball shot back into the field of play, but Packers receiver Geronimo Allison was trailing and dove on the ball at the 39. The play maintained possession and eventually the Packers made a field goal to make it 10-9 at the break.
Graham has not lost a fumble since Nov. 27, 2016, when he was with Seattle.
“I told him after the game how special that was,” Graham said of Allison's recovery. “He was pretty gassed. ... I can’t thank him enough. I literally gave him a big hug and told him I loved him after the game. We’ve all got each other’s backs and that’s what makes this team special. Everybody is unselfish. We don’t care who gets the ball or how it gets done. We don’t care what the play is. We’re going to go in there and do our job and rally around each other.”
Adams' fumble happened two possessions earlier at the Green Bay 48-yard line when he lost the ball following a 13-yard completion. After two Mike Boone runs set up third-and-4 at the Packers’ 42, Minnesota offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski dialed up a trick play.
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins handed off to Boone, who flipped it to wide receiver Stefon Diggs on what looked like a reverse. No Packers player paid attention to Cousins who leaked out into a pass pattern toward the Packers’ sideline. Diggs fired the ball just past the fingertips of Cousins, who dove to try and snag it.
“I wasn’t warmed up enough,” Diggs quipped. “No, it was a great play call. He was wide open. I should have made a better pass instead of leading him so much. Also, I should have set my feet instead of throwing the ball on the run.”
Then on fourth down, Cousins couldn’t complete a deep shot to Adam Thielen to turn the ball back over to the Packers. The Vikings would run only two more plays on the Packers’ side of the field the rest of the game.