DENVER — Facing future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning — even despite his recent struggles — would be difficult enough for the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night at Sports Authority Field.
But when the Packers lost two of their top four cornerbacks to injury in the first half, the job got even tougher.
Green Bay’s top cornerback Sam Shields left the game with a shoulder injury sustained in the first quarter on Denver’s second possession. Shields was injured while diving and trying to tackle Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas during a 30-yard reception.
Then, early in the second quarter, rookie cornerback Quinten Rollins left the game also with a shoulder injury.
“It’s always tough,” said safety Morgan Burnett, who had missed five of the previous six games because of injury. “It seems like the injury bug has been hitting our locker room since training camp. Guys have to have that next man up mentality and be accountable and do their job just as good as those guys and hold the position down until those guys get back.”
The departures of Shields and Rollins set into motion a domino effect in the base and dime defensive packages.
Shields’ injury meant rookie cornerback Damarious Randall had to replace him at left outside corner. Randall’s duties as the dime defensive back were taken over by Rollins.
When Rollins went down, second-year cornerback Demetri Goodson replaced him in the dime. But since Goodson is strictly an outside corner, starter Casey Hayward moved inside to the slot position. Another cornerback, rookie LaDarius Gunter was inactive for the Packers.
Manning made the Packers pay, picking apart the secondary by completing 21 of 29 passes for 340 yards.
Meanwhile, linebacker Clay Matthews left the game in the third quarter when his left ankle was rolled up on by a teammate. After getting his ankle taped, he was in on the next series and finished out the game.
“I rolled my ankle pretty good,” Matthews said. “I was OK to go back out there, but obviously I was dealing with a little hindrance in regards to that.
“We’ll see how it is. I’m sure we’ll get some testing done tomorrow. The good thing is from the doctors on the sideline assessment, thankfully it wasn’t too serious. We’ll monitor it day-by-day and see how it is. Hopefully, it feels good tomorrow. It’s hurting pretty good right now.”
Both teams entered the game owning the first quarter — albeit in different manners.
The Packers’ offense dominated through the first six games, outscoring their opponents 66-9 in the first quarter through the first six games this season.
Denver, meanwhile, had not allowed a point in the first quarter all season, outscoring its opponents 12-0.
On Sunday night, it was the Broncos who had their way, scoring a touchdown on their second possession of the game. It was a 9-play, 83-yard drive that ended in a Ronnie Hillman 1-yard scoring run.
The quarter ended with Denver leading 7-0 as its consecutive game streak of not allowing first-quarter points extended to seven games. The Broncos became the ninth team in NFL history, and the first since the 2001 Pittsburgh Steelers to allow zero first-quarter points through seven games.
The Packers entered the game having scored in the first quarter in 22 straight regular-season games, an NFL record. The next longest was 17 by the Chicago Bears (1983-84) and the Pittsburgh Steelers (2004-05).
Third down, first down
Through its first six games, Denver was on opposite sides of the spectrum regarding third downs: Its defense ranked second in the NFL by holding opponents to a 32-percent conversion rate, while its offense was 30th in the league by converting only 30 percent of the time.
On Sunday night, the Broncos did well on both sides of the ball. On defense, they allowed the Packers to convert only 2 of 8 times (25 percent). On offense, they converted 6 of 12 times (50 percent).
Meanwhile, the Broncos entered the game leading the NFL by allowing only 3.6 yards per play on first down this season. Sunday night’s performance was even better: The Packers gained 10 total yards on nine first-down plays, a 0.9-yard average, including a fourth-quarter safety.
Returning the injured
The Packers’ starting lineup got several key players back on both sides of the ball Sunday.
On defense, Green Bay returned Burnett (calf), defensive tackle B.J. Raji (groin) and outside linebacker Nick Perry (shoulder/hand) from injuries. Perry was activated after being listed as questionable on the team's injury report.
None of them were on the field against the San Diego Chargers two weeks ago. Burnett had missed five of six games this season with a calf strain.
The Packers' offense also got help with the return of wide receiver Davante Adams (ankle), who missed most of the team's past four games. Running back James Starks (hip) also was active after being listed as questionable.
Wide receiver Ty Montgomery, who was doubtful with an ankle injury, was the only injured player on the inactive list. Joining him on the sidelines were Gunter, quarterback Brett Hundley, outside linebacker Andy Mulumba, guard Lane Taylor, guard Josh Walker and tight end Kennard Backman.
For the Broncos, Ryan Harris started at left tackle for the injured Ty Sambrailo. Michael Schofield moves into Harris' starting spot at right tackle.
• Manning tied former Packers quarterback Brett Favre for the most regular-season victories by a starting quarterback in NFL history with 186.
• How good are the Broncos at home? They now own the NFL’s best home record since 1975 in the regular season and postseason at 246-90.
• The Packers’ consecutive-game streak of registering a sack in regular-season games came to an end. Green Bay had sacked quarterbacks in 42 straight regular-season games, a franchise record and, at the time, the longest current streak in the NFL.
• The Packers now are 8-2 in games after the bye week. They’re also 23-8 in Sunday night games, a .742 winning percentage that still ranks No. 1 in NFL history since 1978.
• The game attracted 77,075 fans, the fourth-largest crowd in Denver franchise history. The largest-ever attendance in Denver also was against the Packers, an Oct. 27, 2007, game that drew 77,160 fans.
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