Nelson a playmaking rock for banged-up Packers

November 22, 2013


Green Bay Packers' Jordy Nelson tries to stay in bounds after catching a pass in front of Philadelphia Eagles' Colt Anderson (30) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 10, 2013, in Green Bay, Wis.

GREEN BAY On a team ravaged by injuries, Jordy Nelson has been a rock for the Packers.

Not that the receiver known for his tip-toe catches and sideline tight-roping acts is ever standing still. Nelson is doing his part to keep an offense going without injured starters Aaron Rodgers, Randall Cobb and Jermichael Finley.

"I'm going to play the game the same with or without those guys," Nelson said. "I'm going to run my route to the best of my ability and try to get open. It doesn't matter who's throwing it or who else is out there."

With so many injuries, the Packers (5-5) operate with a constant "next man up" philosophy. Scott Tolzien has been the named the starter for Sunday's critical game against the Minnesota Vikings with Rodgers (left collarbone) still hurt.

The earliest Cobb (leg) could return from injured reserve for a game is in mid-December. Tight end Finley is done for the year with a neck injury. Besides Cobb, fellow receiver James Jones also missed two games with a knee injury.

That leaves Nelson as the most the productive player out of Green Bay's vaunted quartet of receiving targets for Rodgers. He's seventh in the league in receiving yards (889), with seven touchdowns on 57 catches.

And he's remained productive with Tolzien, a former practice squad player, running the offense. On Sunday, Nelson caught eight passes for 117 yards in the 27-13 loss to the Giants.

It's the result of Nelson's preparation, and how he has put in extra time with all the quarterbacks, receivers coach Edgar Bennett said Thursday.

"What I admire about Jordy Nelson's growth here of late, the last year or so, is his leadership," coach Mike McCarthy said this week. "He's exerted himself more. He's a great representative of what a professional football player is. ... He does it on the field, off the field."

Philadelphia Eagles' Brandon Boykin intercepts a pass in front of Green Bay Packers' Jordy Nelson (87) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 10, 2013, in Green Bay, Wis.

Remarkably, defenses have been putting more emphasis of late on stopping rookie running back Eddie Lacy, whose 645 yards over the last seven games leads the NFL in that span. Rodgers would make opponents pay dearly if they stuffed the box.

Tolzien has had success with the deep ball, but has thrown five interceptions over the last two weeks, putting the Packers through midseason growing pains at a time they need to get moving in the playoff chase. A three-game skid has dropped them to third in the NFC North, a game behind Chicago and Detroit.

Nelson would like nothing better than to make a defensive back pay in single coverage while teams try to stop the run.

"But I think we can still do it, and I think if they do that, the play-action game will be there for us like it was last week," Nelson said. "We just need to continue to make more plays and eliminate some more mistakes."

Jarrett Boykin, who replaced Cobb, has remained productive, too, the last couple weeks, with 14 catches for 203 yards. He has 29 catches for 453 yards on the season.

"Jarrett's a playmaker, man. He's showed it on the practice field a lot of times that you guys don't get to see," Jones said. "But lately, he's had opportunities in the games. I mean he's a playmaker."

And learning from one of the best in the league in Nelson.

NOTES: LB Clay Matthews, working with smaller cast to protect his injured right thumb, said having his four other fingers free now is helping, and that he was "definitely getting better." Matthews was credited with a sack last week, his first since getting hurt Oct. 6 against the Lions. ... Rodgers did not participate in Thursday's practice. ... CB Sam Shields (hamstring) missed another practice, and McCarthy thought Shields might have a "50-50" chance of playing Sunday. ... CB Micah Hyde (groin) was a new addition to the injury report. ... RT Don Barclay (knee) and LB Nick Perry (foot/ankle) also missed practice. Both players missed last week's game against the Giants.

Tolzien in line to join select company for Packers

GREEN BAY Quarterback Scott Tolzien could join select company on Sunday, assuming he starts for the Packers against the Minnesota Vikings.

Tolzien would become the first Green Bay quarterback other than Brett Favre or Aaron Rodgers to start back-to-back games since Don Majkowski started the first three games of the 1992 season.

Coach Mike McCarthy has named Tolzien, a former practice squad player, the starter for Sunday's game. Rodgers, sidelined with a collarbone injury, has said he might be able to play if he practices Friday.

Rodgers, who has missed the last two games, hasn't practiced this week. He has otherwise had a durable nine-year career in Green Bay, following the equally dependable Favre.

The quarterback situation has been less stable for the rest of the NFC North. According to STATS, the Lions have had 18 different quarterbacks start consecutive games since 1992, while the Bears and the Vikings have each had 21.

The Packers have lost three straight since Rodgers got hurt Nov. 4 during the first series of a 27-20 loss to Chicago.

"All of us want him playing. But at the same time, you don't make excuses," Tolzien said this week. "It's what we have in the locker room and you make the most of it, plain and simple, and you go from there."

Peterson says he's playing against Green Bay

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. Adrian Peterson's injured groin has robbed him of some the explosiveness that makes him the best running back in the league, and the Minnesota Vikings have been all but eliminated in the playoff picture with six games to go.

As long as there's even a sliver of a chance for the Vikings (2-8) to turn things around, Peterson isn't giving even a moment's thought to taking a seat. Peterson said he plans to play on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers and is spending this week doing whatever it takes to get as close to 100 percent as he can for the game.

Peterson said he didn't think his injury was that severe, and that with a little rest this week he would be good to go by game time. Given that the Vikings are buried in the NFC North, Peterson was asked what he would do if coach Leslie Frazier and head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman came to him to recommend he sit out a week.

"I'd look at them crazy," Peterson said Thursday. "I'd be like, 'Well, I know my body and I'm not going to do anything to hurt myself. Just trust me.'"

The Vikings also expect to get receiver Greg Jennings back after he was a scratch on Sunday against Seattle with a sore Achilles tendon. Jennings returned to practice Thursday and said he would definitely play against his former team at Lambeau Field.

"The way it felt, it was definitely concerning," Jennings said. "I think we took the proper precautions to wait it out and see how we felt. The training staff did an awesome job and it's all good now."

There is no arguing that Peterson's body has held him back the last few weeks. He's topped 100 yards only once in the last six games and said he knew early in the loss to Seattle that his groin wouldn't let him hit the extra gear that separates him for most running backs. That much was apparent on an early outside run when Peterson couldn't get the burst that he normally has to blow through the secondary.

"It wasn't frustrating. It was just disappointing," Peterson said. "The main thing was to be out there helping my team. I was out there putting my best foot forward. But there were a couple of plays where I was like, 'Wow, if I had that explosion, it would be a different turnout.'"

Peterson finished with 65 yards on 21 carries in the 41-20 loss. But he's not giving up on himself or the Vikings season. Minnesota has not been mathematically eliminated yet, and the ever-optimistic Peterson is conceding nothing.

"In my eyes, I don't know how you all think, but I still think we've got a chance," Peterson told the assembled media. "Call me crazy. But I still feel like we have an opportunity. That's the way I'm going to approach this week and the rest of the season."

Peterson said he likes the competitiveness that his teammates have shown even during the tough times, which is what helps him separate this season from 2011, when the listless Vikings went 3-13.

"I have faith in the guys in this locker room," Peterson said. "When I look in these guys' eyes, when I'm on the field with them, they're playing their hearts out. They're out there competing. I don't see guys quitting."

Frazier is hoping that belief is contagious.

"You'd like for more guys to feel that way and just fight as hard as we can and just get a win this week and try to build on that," Frazier said. "But if you don't have any hope, it can be difficult, especially if things aren't going right early. I hope some of that rubs off on the rest of the team."

Peterson has watched the New York Giants rebound from an 0-6 start to get back in the mix in the muddled NFC East. So until the Vikings are officially eliminated from contention, Peterson is staying positive. It may be incredibly unlikely, but he's hearing none of that.

"Not to look at the end of the tunnel but finishing 8-8, who knows what could happen?" Peterson said. "Six more weeks a lot of things can happen. We've just got to control things that we can control and that's trying to go down to Green Bay this week and get a win."

NOTES: LB Erin Henderson missed practice on Thursday for personal reasons. Frazier seemed doubtful that Henderson will be available against the Packers. If he can't play, Audie Cole would start in the middle. ... C John Sullivan (concussion) did not practice. The Vikings were hopeful he'd pass his concussion tests and be cleared for practice on Friday. If not, Joe Berger will start.

Associated Press