When the sun rose Sunday morning in Arizona, Green Bay Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari hoped he would play against the Cardinals.
Three years into his career, the former fourth-round pick had never missed a start. Each game – 35 for 35, counting playoffs – Bakthiari lined up at his usual spot on the far left side of the offensive line. Despite an ankle injury, he didn’t want his streak to end.
“I was holding out hope on Sunday,” Bakhtiari said. “I wanted to do as much as I could to not miss the game. That’s just how I am. It sucked. Whatever hope I could, I was going to hold onto.”
Ultimately, Bakhtiari was inactive for the first time in his career. His absence was perhaps the biggest reason for the Packers offensive line’s struggles in Arizona. The Cardinals sacked quarterback Aaron Rodgers eight times, then added a ninth against backup Scott Tolzien after Rodgers was pulled in the fourth quarter.
How did Bakhtiari enjoy watching that debacle from the sidelines?
“I’ll be honest,” Bakhtiari said, “it (expletive) sucked. It was not good. Once game-time, it really hit me because I knew I had not missed a game. That was really heavy for me to know that it would be better if I didn’t (play). I just couldn’t do it. That sucked. It did a lot.”
Bakhtiari has yet to practice this week, and he's never played a game without practicing since arriving in the NFL. It could be a daunting challenge, but Bakhtiari's determination to be on the field is enough to not rule him out of the Packers’ game Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings. The winner will claim the NFC North title, so there’s plenty of motivation for Bakhtiari to play.
Not that he needs extra motivation.
Bakhtiari said he hasn’t considered taking it easy this week, being cautious with the playoffs approaching. He said he isn’t worried about whether playing Sunday could make his ankle worse.
“That’s a question for (the medical staff),” Bakhtiari said. “I’m too stupid to really think about that. I’m going to play if I can play. I’m sure my agent isn’t happy. In fact, I know he isn’t, but I told him, ‘I’m sorry, that’s just kind of how I am.’
“If I can play, I’m going to play. There’s no gray area. It’s black and white.”
It’s been a different season for the offensive line.
In 2014, the Packers had the same five starters on their offensive line for the final 16 games, counting playoffs. This season, Pro Bowl left guard Josh Sitton is the only offensive lineman to start every game. The Packers have had their preferred starting five in eight games this season – barely half.
Finally, Bakhtiari had to miss a game. He’d like his absence to not be repeated Sunday, but he knows it could be out of his control.
“It’s life,” Bakhtiari said. “You can do injury-prevention stuff all you want during the offseason, but when the injury bug wants to strike, it’s going to strike. And it’s been hanging around me for awhile, and it finally got me. I’ve just got to roll with the punches.”
-email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @ByRyanWood