Last Hits: Lions 35, Packers 11

DETROIT – The Green Bay Packers finished their season with a 7-9 record after falling to the Detroit Lions 35-11 on Sunday afternoon at Ford Field.

Seventeen last hits for the 17-yard touchdown catch by wide receiver Randall Cobb in the final quarter of the season’s final game.

1. .This season didn’t go as planned for the Packers. When one of the NFL’s most important players goes down with an injury missing seven games in the middle of the season, things typically don’t go as previously expected.

2. The absence of quarterback Aaron Rodgers did just that for Green Bay. The Packers went from a team that was a Super Bowl contender to one that finished with a 7-9 record on the outside looking in at the playoffs.

3. When Rodgers left the field with his broken right collarbone on October 15th against the Vikings the reins were handed over to Brett Hundley at quarterback. Hundley went 3-4 in the stretch of games Rodgers originally missed. Those three wins came against opponents that will finish the season with a combined record of either 9-39 or 10-38 on the season (as of this writing, Tampa Bay has yet to complete their Week 17 game against the New Orleans Saints). The wins against the Buccaneers and Browns came in overtime.

4. To pin missing the season entirely on Hundley would be silly. While his play is certainly spotlighted because of the stark difference between he and Rodgers, the blame isn’t all his. Rodgers missing time this year showed that Green Bay’s roster has many holes that have been masked by the skill of Rodgers.

5. Those holes primarily fall on the defensive side of the ball. That was on display again as the Packers allowed 35 points to a Detroit Lions squad that finishes the year at 9-7 as rumors fly about whether or not they will fire their head coach, Jim Caldwell. This isn’t a piece being written to try and show how the Packers need to be fixed, but rather show that it does need to happen.

6. Hundley finished the day with 172 yards passing, a pair of interceptions, and a touchdown. One of the picks seemed to be a miscommunication with Geronimo Allison, and the other one was a pass intended for Jamaal Williams thrown behind him. The pass bounced off the hands of Williams into the waiting arms of Detroit linebacker Jarrad Davis.

7. Hundley did not finish the game, as Joe Callahan saw his first NFL regular season action for the final drive of the game. He completed 5-of-7 passes attempted for 11 yards in mop-up duty. Callahan’s appearance was one that doesn’t teach the world much about him. Allowing him to play extended action in a meaningless game may have been wise.

8. The reasoning for playing Callahan over Hundley would have been to see if he has what it takes to be the backup quarterback of this team. Over the past few months, if the Packers have learned one thing, it should be that if something were to happen to Rodgers again next season, they’re not in a position to be competitive with Hundley.

9. Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford finished the day 20/29 passing for 323 yards and three touchdowns. He had receivers open down the field all day, and missed out on plenty more yards with errant throws. Green Bay’s defensive backfield had no answer for him.

10. Three Detroit wide receivers, Golden Tate, Marvin Jones Jr., and Kenny Golladay had 80 or more receiving yards on the day. All three of them found the end zone and had a catch of 50 yards or more, as well.

11. Offensively, the Lions only rushed for 51 yards on 23 carries, but with a defensive backfield as weak as the one the Packers boasted, a successful ground attack isn’t necessary.

12. There’s a different feeling around the team as they failed to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Many of the men in that locker room have never seen the season end before the calendar changes over to a new year.

13. “A lot of us have never experienced this feeling of not making the playoffs,” Packers defensive tackle Mike Daniels said. “We’ve experienced the feeling of not making the Super Bowl but it’s a little different because you end on a high note, okay, you’ve got the Divisional Round, Wild Card, NFC Championship, but when you don’t make the playoffs it stings a little bit longer. It stings harder. It’s definitely a tougher feeling that you have to learn from.”

14. “Obviously, I’m disappointed on the way it went,” said linebacker Clay Matthews on the season. “I don’t think anyone anticipates, at least in this locker room and this organization, not making the playoffs and not playing for the Super Bowl. It’s just the standard we’ve set.”

15. Questions surround the Packers moving forward into the offseason. There was a report out late Saturday night that the Packers would be parting ways with defensive coordinator Dom Capers. A season like this raises questions like that one, including whether or not Ted Thompson should still be the man in charge in Green Bay.

16. Time will tell on all of the questions surrounding the Packers. They have plenty of time to answer them with their next meaningful game not until September of 2018. Until then, 2017 will be looked back at as a wasted year in the middle of the career of one of the greatest quarterbacks in the game of football.

17. If the Packers answer all of their offseason questions correctly, there’s very little doubt that they’ll be contenders for the Super Bowl next season. Even if they don’t, a healthy Rodgers at quarterback has proven to be a magic elixir before, and it may be once again.

Packers likely to be without both starting tackles on Thursday

Finding two NFL-worthy offensive tackles isn’t an easy task for any team. Finding six or seven is nearly impossible. And yet that’s what the Green Bay Packers are being forced to do this week, as they are likely going to be without their two starting tackles, as well as their three main backups when they take on the Chicago Bears on Thursday night.

The team released its final injury report Wednesday, and it listed starters Bryan Bulaga and David Bakhtiari as doubtful, which when combined with Green Bay having already placed Jason Spriggs, Kyle Murphy and Don Barclay on injured reserve, leaves the Packers without their top five tackles.

The plan Thursday night appears to be starting Justin McCray at left tackle and rookie undrafted free agent Adam Pankey at right tackle. It’s possible the team could also use the recently signed Ulrick John, though it’s unclear how up to speed he is with the offense.

It wasn’t all bad news on the injury front, though, as wide receiver Randall Cobb (chest) will play, as will safety Kentrell Brice (groin). Both of them missed the Cincinnati game. Defensive tackle Mike Daniels (hip) and outside linebacker Nick Perry (hand) are listed as questionable. Daniels told reporters he expects to be a game-time decision.

Kickoff at Lambeau Field is set for 7:25 p.m.

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.

Cobb’s persistence has opened the door for reps in return game

GREEN BAY, Wis. — One thing has been very clear about Randall Cobb heading into the 2017 season: he wants more touches.

Speaking with reporters following Friday’s training camp practice, the Green Bay Packers receiver was happy to learn coach Mike McCarthy will be giving him a chance to earn in-game reps in the return game.

“Punt return has always been a part of who I am as a player,” Cobb said. “That’s always been something that I’ve wanted to do. I asked about that last year and the year before, and I’m going to continue asking about it. I’m going to do everything I can to be back there.”

Cobb burst onto the scene in 2011 when he returned a season-opening kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown, setting a franchise record. He also added an 80-yard punt return touchdown that year, though his reps at either position have decreased since 2012. In fact, Cobb has only returned two kickoffs since 2012 and 25 punts.

But that’ll change in 2017 when he competes with youngster Trevor Davis, a second-year wide receiver out of California who ran a 4.42 second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. Perhaps the biggest hesitation to use Cobb on returns is health. Ever since a fractured fibula caused Cobb to miss 10 games in 2013, his role as a returner has remained minimal.

“Every injury I’ve had in this league has been from [playing] receiver, not returning,” Cobb explained. “This is a very violent game. I understand that. We take that risk every time we walk on the field, regardless of what position we’re at.”

As a junior at Kentucky in 2009, Cobb led the SEC with 28 punt returns. He was also tied for the conference lead in punt return touchdowns in 2010.

Packers’ LB Clay Matthews won’t play vs Tennessee, other injury updates

A hamstring injury will keep linebacker Clay Matthews from playing in Green Bay’s matchup with Tennessee on Sunday.

That was the word from Packers coach Mike McCarthy when he met with the media Friday morning.

“We’re going to list Clay as out this week,” McCarthy said. “(He’s) making progress, (but) he won’t be available this week.”

This will be the third-straight game Matthews has missed due to the injury. He’ll be replaced by veteran Julius Peppers.

Also, McCarthy said running back James Starks and tight end Jared Cook have looked good this week, but it’s still unclear if either will play against the Titans.

Starks has missed the last month following knee surgery, while Cook hasn’t played since Week 3 when he suffered a high ankle sprain.

“James is very close,” McCarthy said. “We’ll see how Jared is coming Saturday.”

McCarthy believes that cornerback Damarious Randall has a chance to play after missing the last three games with a leg injury, while he anticipates wide receiver Randall Cobb not being limited at all after being used sparingly a week ago in a loss to the Colts because of a hamstring injury.

“It’s better than last week, so that’s an improvement,” McCarthy said of the injury list. “We’re getting healthier and that’s important. But frankly, the focus is on finalizing the preparation for the Titans.”

Matthews, Montgomery, Cobb inactive vs Falcons

ATLANTA — Packers linebacker Clay Matthews joins receivers Ty Montgomery and Randall Cobb as key players who will sit out Green Bay’s week eight contest against the Atlanta Falcons.

Montgomery’s absence adds to an already limited receiving corps, missing Randall Cobb due to a hamstring issue that popped up during practice this week.

Don Jackson and Knile Davis will carry the load in the backfield for the Packers, but Montgomery and Cobb were complement pieces while Jackson and Davis get more comfortable with the offense.

The entire inactive list includes:

WR Randall Cobb
CB Damarious Randall
CB Quinten Rollins
RB James Starks
LB Clay Matthews
WR Ty Montgomery
TE Jared Cook

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.”