EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. Aaron Rodgers and the rest of the Green Bay Packers have heard the comparisons between this season and their run to the Super Bowl title in 2010 in regard to the way the injuries have piled up.
Rodgers, the league's highest-rated quarterback this season, has been through this before. The media reminds him of that, but he calls this a "different team." It is hard to get past the similarities, though.
When Rodgers led Green Bay to the Super Bowl in 2010, the Packers were without several key players, including linebacker Nick Barnett, safety Morgan Burnett, tight end Jermichael Finley, running back Ryan Grant and tackle Mark Tauscher. This season, the absences have included two of the top offensive skill players in running back Cedric Benson and receiver Greg Jennings, as well as offensive lineman Bryan Bulaga and Derrick Sherrod. The defense has lost the likes of linebackers Clay Matthews, Desmond Bishop and Nick Perry and defensive backs Charles Woodson and Sam Shields.
"I think we're hearing that a lot," Rodgers said on a conference call with Twin Cities media Wednesday in advance of Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings. "That was a different team, different guys, different challenges. We had a lot of injuries that season, brought some guys in and had some backups come in and play well. This season we've had some of the same stuff.
"We've had to move a lot of different guys around. It's been fun to see the young guys given opportunities, especially on defense, step up and play really well. And the veteran players have been counted on, the ones that have been able to be healthy, to keep the production up, and for the most part they have."
Green Bay might be getting healthy just in time for the stretch run this season, but don't go planning the parade route just yet. The Packers, who finished the regular season 10-6 in 2010, aren't declaring themselves ready for another Super Bowl run. The Giants ended their five-game winning streak, 38-10, in humiliating fasion Sunday. The Packers know at 7-4 and behind the Chicago Bears in the NFC North, there is still a lot of work to do just to make it into the playoffs.
"I would say that the year 2010 and this year compare to just the fact that our players and coaches have done a very good job of just staying above it," coach Mike McCarthy said. "You just keep going, and it's really not an issue as far as your mental approach and your confidence. But we also know the fact that 2010, the football team got it done. Our goal this year is to keep going. I'm not really talking about big-picture goals right now; we're focused on beating the Minnesota Vikings."
Green Bay should get a health boost this week but not quite as big as it was hoping. Jennings, who's been out since Week 3, has returned to practice and is expected to play Sunday. However, McCarthy told reporters that, "it would be a stretch" for Matthews to return this week, and he's already ruled out Woodson and Shields. Likewise, Benson had an evaluation Wednesday, and his status for the rest of the season is in doubt with a lisfranc foot injury. McCarthy also told reporters that starting defensive end C.J. Wilson likely won't be available for Sunday's game at Green Bay, while the other defensive end, Ryan Pickett, missed Wednesday's practice with a thigh bruise.
For the Packers, it's a different year, same old situation.
"We have an expectation around here in Green Bay that the next guy up is going to step in and play well, that there's not going to be a big drop-off in production, and that's the way we operate," Rodgers said. "We've counted on a lot of young guys to do that and for the most part they have."
Getting Jennings back should only improve Rodgers and the Green Bay passing game. Jennings, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, had only 12 catches for 78 yards before he was shut down Sept. 30. He had a groin injury that eventually led to abdominal surgery.
McCarthy wasn't sure if he would return immediately to a full workload, but Rodgers is excited to get back Jennings, who was second on the team in receiving last year after leading the team the previous three seasons.
"It's nice to look like we might get Greg back here for the stretch run," Rodgers said. "Definitely have missed him most of the season and missed his production, and just his presence out there on the field. It will be good to get him back in practice this week and see how he looks, see if he's ready to go."
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