Shorthanded Packers lose 34-23 at Atlanta

If the Green Bay Packers have closed the gap between themselves and the defending NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons, it certainly didn’t show on Sunday night in a 34-23 loss.

A retooled defense looked exactly as it did last January, as reigning NFL MVP Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones picked up right where they left off in the conference title game. The duo hooked up on gains of 19 and 34 yards on the opening drive, one that was finished off by Devonta Freeman, the first of two touchdowns for the running back who ended up with 84 yards on the ground. Jones had 105 yards on just five grabs, while Mohamed Sanu added five catches and 85 yards.

Green Bay had an answer, going 75 yards in 11 plays before Ty Montgomery plunged in from 1-yard out to tie the game. After that, though, it was all Falcons, as they scored 24 unanswered points, including taking an Aaron Rodgers fumble back for a 15-yard touchdown. Rodgers also threw an interception, his second of the season, and Atlanta made him pay for it by scoring a touchdown just before half to make it 24-7.

“I gave them seven [points] on the fumble, gave another seven on the [interception] and we lose by 11,” Rodgers said. “We were in the game. I can’t turn the ball over like that.”

Unfortunately for the Packers, the real story of the game was a mounting injury list. They played without starting tackles Bryan Bulaga and David Bakhtiari, and then lost defensive tackle Mike Daniels, wide receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, along with defensive backs Davon House and Kentrell Brice during the game.

It’s unclear how severe any of the injuries were, but they were just another discouraging aspect on a discouraging night.

“Well, I hope we can,” Rodgers said when asked whether he took comfort in the fact it’s still early in the season and they can play better. “This is a potential matchup down the line. Hopefully, we put ourselves in that position. It was a tough game.”

Rodgers called Atlanta a fantastic team, but also intimated that the Packers don’t believe there is a big gap between the franchises despite Green Bay having lost each of its last two trips south by double digits.

“I think we can beat anyone at home,” Rodgers said, a nod toward the advantage the Falcons have at the new Mercedes Benz Stadium. “We don’t look at it as [needing to close] the gap.”

Green Bay scored the final 13 points of the game, with Rodgers finding Davante Adams for a 33-yard score and then Montgomery on a shovel pass for a 1-yard touchdown. That one gave him 300 for his career as he became the fastest player in league history to reach that mark.

It’s back home in Week 3 for the Packers, as they welcome the Cincinnati Bengals (0-2) to Lambeau Field next Sunday.

Green Bay lists five players as questionable for the NFC title game

The NFC title game is less than 48 hours away, and the Green Bay Packers still have major injury concerns and now an illness going through the team to worry about.

The team released its final injury report Friday afternoon, and saw five players — wide receivers Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison, along with defensive backs Morgan Burnett and Quinten Rollins — listed as questionable.

“They’ll be given every chance to play in the game,” coach Mike McCarthy said of the wide receivers. “If we know (Saturday), we’ll know (Saturday). If we know Sunday, we know Sunday. I’m going to give these guys the open time frame to do everything they can to play.”

If that wasn’t enough, there is an apparent illness that has hit the team, including Nelson, who was told to stay away from the facility on Friday to avoid spreading it. Still, quarterback Aaron Rodgers and kicker Mason Crosby have been affected by it.

“Rest, fluids, all that stuff. We’ll be OK,” Rodgers told reporters Friday afternoon. “We’re going to be OK and deal with it.”

On Atlanta’s side of the things, wide receiver Julio Jones practiced on a limited basis Friday and is expected to play on Sunday. He had missed the previous two days with a toe injury.

WR Davante Adams among several injury concerns for the Packers

GREEN BAY — Injuries continue to be the biggest story for the Green Bay Packers in advance of their NFC title game at Atlanta on Sunday.

The latest concern is wide receiver Davante Adams, who suffered an ankle injury late in the win over Dallas.

“We’ll see,” coach Mike McCarthy said when asked if he expected Adams to play on Sunday. “I’m curious to see him move. I don’t think he’ll practice until Saturday.”

Adams has played in every game this season and is the team’s second-leading receiver. The top guy, Jordy Nelson, is also very much in question as he battles a pair of broken ribs that kept him out of last week’s game. McCarthy said he’ll practice with the rehab group on Wednesday, but gave no indication of how he’ll handle the rest of the week.

The other starter that there is some concern about is safety Morgan Burnett. He suffered a quad injury in the first half against Dallas, and didn’t return. He won’t practice Wednesday, spending the day with the rehab group as well.

McCarthy said cornerback Quinten Rollins is getting closer to clearing the concussion protocol and will do some work in practice. He’s missed the last two games after getting injured in the season-finale against Detroit.

Starting offensive tackles Bryan Bulaga and David Bakhtiari each came out of the game against Dallas a little gimpy, and McCarthy said they’ll likely be limited in practice this week.

Aaron Rodgers leads the Packers to a 31-24 victory over the Lions and an NFC North title

It was a never a guarantee, just a feeling. But whatever you want to call it, quarterback Aaron Rodgers delivered on it.

A little more than five weeks after telling reporters that he felt the Green Bay Packers could run the table and win out, that’s exactly what the team did with a 31-24 NFC North-clinching win in Detroit Sunday night.

“That’s what you have to do sometimes as a leader,” Rodgers said of his ‘run the table’ comment that came in the midst of a four-game losing streak to drop the Packers to 4-6 on the year. “You have to exude confidence even in a situation where it seems to the outside world that confidence shouldn’t exist. And that’s what I did. I believe in myself and my abilities, but I also believe in this team. This wasn’t just a shot in the dark.”

Since making that comment, the Packers are 6-0 and Rodgers has thrown 15 touchdowns and no interceptions, and put himself firmly in the race for the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award, something he’s taken home twice in his career already.

“Great players make other players so much better around them,” coach Mike McCarthy said of Rodgers, who finished the season with 40 touchdowns to lead the NFL.

The Lions led at the half 14-10, but a 10-play, 75-yard drive, that Rodgers capped off with a 3-yard touchdown to wide receiver Davante Adams, gave Green Bay a lead it wouldn’t relinquish. All but one of the Packers four touchdown drives went at least 70 yards, including on back-to-back possessions in the fourth quarter to virtually seal the game.

“There was never any reason not to believe we were going to be here today,” McCarthy said when asked how his team turned things around after the 4-6 start. “This team, they’re different.

“This team has an energy, it has an edge, it has confidence that was evident very early in our preseason. I’ve always believed in that. And they believe in that. Maybe that’s why we aren’t doing cartwheels right now.”

They aren’t because the end goal wasn’t to win the NFC North. It was a goal, but not the goal. That — a victory in Super Bowl LI — remains out there, starting with a visit from the New York Giants on Sunday afternoon.

“We have bigger aspirations,” McCarthy said. “This is the first step. This is the threshold to get in the playoffs, getting in this tournament. We’ll move on Monday. Get healthy (and) get ready for the Giants.”

Injuries strike

Green Bay has been tormented by injuries throughout the year, and that continued on Sunday night, specifically in the secondary where they lost three cornerbacks — Quinten Rollins, Damarious Randall and Makinton Dorleant — in close succession.

The most serious appeared to Rollins, who landed hard on the Detroit sideline early in the second half, and had to be taken off the field on a stretcher. He was taken to a local hospital, and Packers officials said he was alert and able to move all his extremities.

Randall injured his knee in the first half and didn’t return, while Dorleant was carted off after being injured on special teams in the second half.

The injuries left safety Micah Hyde as one of the two outside cornerbacks along with LaDarius Gunter, while safety Morgan Burnett was forced to play as the nickel cornerback in the slot.

Tickets on sale

The team announced that about 8,000 tickets were available to the general public for the playoff game against the Giants at Lambeau Field. The sale was the result of tickets not claimed by season-ticket holders.

You can order them here:

Packers Family Night provides glimpse at 2016 team

GREEN BAY, Wis. — In front of a sold out crowd of nearly 67,000 at Lambeau Field Sunday night, the Green Bay Packers held their annual Family Night practice, displaying some strengths and weaknesses of the 2016 squad.

One of the positive takeaways from Sunday night’s festivities was the play of outside linebacker Datone Jones, who converted from a true defensive lineman role and dropped about 20 pounds in the process, down to 275. Jones appeared quicker off the ball and better in coverage, both aspects of his game he hoped to improve by playing the hybrid “elephant” linebacker role.

With receivers Jordy Nelson and Ty Montgomery sidelined by injuries, Davante Adams got to flash his skills with Aaron Rodgers throwing the ball, hauling in passes of 26 and 35 yards. But during the two-minute drill, Adams’ night unraveled, dropping a pass for a would-be first down and also misjudging the ball for a sure touchdown grab.

“The first one I definitely should’ve come up with,” Adams said. “I think I just misjudged it in the lights. It kept soaring up. The other one was a stretch. I laid out for it but couldn’t come up with up.”

For the second year in a row, punter Tim Masthay will be in a competition for the starting job, jockeying for depth chart position with rookie Peter Mortell. After a sub-par 2014 season, Masthay came back in 2015 to set a franchise record 40.2 yards per punt. However, inconsistencies meant exploring other options and Mortell showed his leg late in the practice with an unofficial 54 yard punt.

Odd man out: Packers planning to keep just five or six wide receivers

The Green Bay Packers have a glut of wide receivers on their roster, and head coach Mike McCarthy doesn’t know which ones or how many will still be around when the team opens the season on Sept. 11 in Jacksonville.

“You’d like to think you’d have six receivers coming out of it,” McCarthy told reporters before Saturday morning’s practice. “Maybe it will be five. The players will decide that.”

Some had speculated that Green Bay would keep seven receivers but McCarthy clearly is not thinking that way. And it means that at least one of the players the Packers have drafted over the past three seasons will not be on the roster opening day.

Seemingly the only two players guaranteed a spot are veterans Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. Nelson missed all of last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), and is now on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list due to a “hiccup” in his other knee.

“I see him putting everything he has into it. That’s the way he goes about his business,” offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett said when asked what he expected of Nelson when he came back. “You talk about being a true pro. That’s Jordy Nelson. So he’s going to do everything he possibly can classroom-wise, rehab-wise and then when he steps back on the practice field he’ll be ready to play.”

Cobb is coming off a disappointing season for him when he was forced to be the No. 1 wide receiver and wasn’t always able to deliver. He led the team in catches with 79, but his 829 yards were the fewest for him in a full season since his rookie year of 2011.

The other three or four spots will come down to third-year receivers Davante Adams, Jeff Janis, and Jared Abbrederis, 2015 third-round pick Ty Montgomery and 2016 fifth-round pick Trevor Davis. All five have obstacles to overcome.

For Adams, it’s his sophomore slump. Tabbed as the “offseason MVP” by McCarthy in the spring and summer of 2015, Adams didn’t have the season many expected. He averaged just 9.7 yards per catch on his 50 receptions after being at 11.7 as a rookie. The former Fresno State star appeared on the verge of a bounce back in the playoffs, grabbing four passes and a touchdown against Washington in the Wild Card game before a knee injury ended his season.

“[I’m] leaving everything negative behind me, bringing the positive things forward and growing on that,” Adams said this week. “[I’m] just ready to compete with myself and continue to get better. Because I know the sky is the limit. I know my potential is there, I just got to make sure I’m capitalizing.”

For Abbrederis and Montgomery, it’ll be about staying healthy. The latter played in just six games last season before an ankle injury ended his year. And he remains out, joining Nelson on the PUP list. Abbrederis, the former Wisconsin standout, missed all of his rookie season with a torn ACL, and then most of training camp last summer due to a severe concussion. When on the field, Abbrederis is among the best route runners on the team.

Janis is the most talked about among the young guys, largely because he’s an athletic freak. He had a breakout game against Arizona in the playoffs, catching seven passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns, including one that sent the game into overtime. But he’s not always where he’s supposed to be and hasn’t necessarily been able to gain a lot of traction with quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

“We want all our football players to just be consistent,” Bennett said this week. “That’s the goal. We always talk about controlling the controllables, and how we go about doing that. The main thing is being fundamentally sound … and that’s what we’re working on right here and right now.”

If any of the young guys has turned heads in the first week of camp it’s Davis. A speedster that the Packers clocked at 4.3 seconds in the 40-yard dash, the Cal product had a leaping one-handed catch on the first day. He’s the type of receiver that was missing when Nelson went down last year – a guy that can take the top off a defense. But he’s still learning. And despite the competition, the other receivers are willing to help.

“Whenever I have a question, whenever I need to learn anything, I can go to them,” Davis said after a recent practice. “Just knowing I can come to them any given time and they’re great at teaching me. They’re great at teaching every single receiver here. It’s the best situation. It’s great, really.”