Packers overcome the odds, injuries

The Packers overcame key injuries all season long, making their ability to work with replacements in the Super Bowl all the more impressive. A full-strength team in 2011 may be even harder to handle.

When the Green Bay Packers were preparing for the 2010 season, that roster looked a lot different than the one that won the Super Bowl. A total of 15 players went on injured reserve and the phrase "next man up" never meant as much as it did to that team.

Only a handful of teams in the modern 53-man roster era have ever seen that many players go on injured reserve during the season and none of them were able to avoid double-digit losses, but the Packers were not only able to overcome their injuries, but to thrive and, in the end, bring the Lombardi Trophy back home to Lombardi Avenue.

On the offensive side of the ball, it can be argued there was no bigger loss than running back Ryan Grant in Week 1. While he wouldn't be mistaken for Adrian Peterson on highlight films, in 2009, he ran the ball 282 times. The next highest total was from QB Aaron Rodgers (55). Third was Ahman Green with 41 carries – and he wasn't brought back to the team. The Packers had to change on the fly, refused to part with a second- or third-round draft pick to obtain someone like Marshawn Lynch – unlike the Vikings, who panicked on magic in giving up a third-round draft pick in April's draft to get Randy Moss. The Packers stuck with what they had – Brandon Jackson, John Kuhn and, emerging in the playoffs, rookie James Starks.

The receiver corps took a significant hit early, when emerging star TE Jermichael Finley was lost for the season. He and backup red-zone threat Spencer Havner were both lost for the season, leaving the Packers without their two top tight-end receiving threats. Yet, they persevered.

On the offensive line, it seemed as though the handwriting was on the wall for Mark Tauscher when the team drafted Bryan Bulaga in the 2010 draft's first round, but his apprenticeship didn't last long when Tauscher was lost for the season. Bulaga is expected to eventually take over at left tackle, where Chad Clifton missed time of his own and played through injury much of the season. Backup rookie guard/tackle Marshall Newhouse also went down, cutting into depth much in the same way losing Chris DeGeare would have left the Vikings shorthanded on the inside.

On the defensive side of the ball, it was just as bad. Projected starting defensive end Johnny Jolly was suspended before the start of the season for the entire 2010 year and backups Justin Harrell and Mike Neal both ended up on I.R. – testing the depth there about as far as a 3-4 defense can be stretched. Yet, the Packers defense rose to the occasion, especially in the postseason to keep the unit as one of the best in the league all season.

Of all the units hit by injury, none was hit harder or more frequently than linebacker. Starters Nick Barnett and Brad Jones hit the I.R. rolls. Amazingly, Barnett's primary backup, Brandon Chillar, and Jones' replacement, Brady Poppinga, both went down as well and wound up on I.R. Yet, Clay Matthews and A.J. Hawk held the unit together.

At safety, the four players on the first two lines of the pre-training camp depth chart were Nick Collins, Atari Bigby, Derrick Martin and Morgan Burnett. Bigby spent the first three months of the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list and Burnett and Martin wound up on the injured-reserve list.

So, it should have come as no surprise that, faced with the loss of veterans Donald Driver and Charles Woodson during Sunday's Super Bowl, the Packers didn't skip a beat. They held onto a lead by making plays and having the replacement guys, for the most part, do their jobs.

It's almost a certainty that the Packers fans in your lives are going to be intolerable, especially given the title came in Brett Favre's final NFL season when he was pummeled into submission. But, like long-suffering Saints fans from a year ago, maybe they deserve to bask in the reflective glory of what their team accomplished. Considering how devastating two or three key injuries were to the Vikings' 2010 season, it may take a little time to pass to fully comprehend what the Packers accomplished this season. As hard it is it for Vikings fans to swallow, the Packers overcame what have seemed like insurmountable injuries. If they come back at full strength next season, they could be a handful to knock off their perch.

MONDAY NOTES

  • It seemed fitting that, on the day he was awarded with the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award for his charitable work in the Twin Cities, in Maryland and in his native Sierra Leone, Williams was unable to pick up the award in person. Instead of hitting the party circuit that surrounds Super Bowl week, Williams was in Afghanistan as part of a U.S.O. Tour to pick up the spirits of the men and women fighting for our country overseas. The selection committee made the right pick.

  • The Packers can legitimately call themselves Titletown again, after winning just one title in the previous 42 years.

  • In an interesting twist on his championship win, Aaron Rodgers is 27 years old – just six weeks older than Brett Favre was when he won his Super Bowl.

  • In his postgame press conference, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said Favre will always be a key member of the Packers family, giving yet another clear indication that Favre's return to the Green Bay chapter of La Cosa Nostra is coming sooner than later. Don't be shocked to see a one-day deal signed at some point in the near future.

  • Approximately 400 fans spent $800 each on Super Bowl tickets that, as it turned out, didn't exist. They were none too pleased, but were offered a triple refund.

  • VU would like to extend the gratitude shown by the fans in attendance for the impressive ovation given to U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, the first living soldier to have fought in the most recent wars in Iraq or Afghanistan to receive the Medal of Honor – the highest honor awarded for valor under fire.

  • If Jordy Nelson had been able to hold on to at least three drops that were all but perfectly thrown by Rodgers, his monster day would have been even more significant and, like Max McGee in the first Super Bowl, could have been a solid contender for game MVP. Perhaps he should be happy Ben Roethlisberger didn't lead the Steelers on a last-minute touchdown drive or his name would have tarnished in Green Bay forever.


    John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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