PETE DOUGHERTY

Packer Plus - - News - Pete Dougherty Colum­nist USA TO­DAY NET­WORK – WIS.

In­juries bring ex­tra pain to dif­fi­cult loss

Lan­dover, Md. — This was more than just an early-sea­son L on the Green Bay Pack­ers’ record.

They played poorly, no ques­tion, in their 31-17 loss to Wash­ing­ton. But that hap­pens to pretty much ev­ery team dur­ing the long NFL sea­son. Three weeks into this NFL sea­son, only three teams (the Kansas City Chiefs, Los An­ge­les Rams and Mi­ami Dol­phins) are 3-0.

But a team that had been re­mark­ably healthy since train­ing camp — yes, Aaron Rodgers is hurt, but at least he can play — fi­nally sus­tained some hits that will leave a mark.

The Pack­ers have plenty of play­ers on the ros­ter they can be fine play­ing with­out. But the in­juries to Muham­mad Wilk­er­son (left an­kle) and Bryan Bu­laga (back) are the kind of losses that can erode their team.

A source con­firmed Wilk­er­son's in­jury was sea­son-end­ing. He had to leave FedExField on a cart and re­port­edly was taken to the hos­pi­tal dur­ing the game. On Mon­day, Pack­ers coach Mike Mc­Carthy said the de­fen­sive tackle suf­fered a “sig­nif­i­cant” in­jury.

That’s go­ing to cost a de­fense that’s short on dif­fer­ence-mak­ers. Not that Wilk­er­son had dom­i­nated, but one thing new co­or­di­na­tor Mike Pet­tine had go­ing for him was a trio of qual­ity de­fen­sive line­men (Wilk­er­son, Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark) who formed the core of strong run de­fense the Pack­ers will need over the long haul of the sea­son. When Pet­tine needed to stop the run, he could put all three on the field and have a pretty good chance of get­ting that done. But now Wilk­er­son is gone.

“Those guys were play­ing well, play­ing the run well,” cor­ner­back Tra­mon Wil­liams said. “… The next guy has to step up. It’s re­ally as sim­ple as that.”

Then there’s Bu­laga. He left the game late in the sec­ond quar­ter and never re­turned. And if we learned any­thing from train­ing camp, it’s that the Pack­ers can’t af­ford to lose ei­ther of their start­ing tack­les for a long stretch, or worse yet, the sea­son.

Ja­son Spriggs re­placed Bu­laga on Sun­day and couldn’t get it done. He gave up three bad pres­sures on the first 11 plays of the sec­ond half, and a few snaps later had a false start penalty. Es­pe­cially with a hob­bled Rodgers, that’s a big prob­lem. Any game Bu­laga misses, Mc­Carthy’s of­fen­sive plans have to change, and not for the bet­ter.

The thing is, the Pack­ers don’t have any good op­tions to re­place ei­ther tackle. They could move Justin McCray from right guard to Bu­laga’s spot, but McCray is much bet­ter in­side, and re­gard­less, he got hurt Sun­day (shoul­der) and could be out for a while, too.

The other op­tions are un­drafted roo- kie Alex Light, a left tackle who played lit­tle if any right tackle in camp, and vet­eran By­ron Bell, who like McCray should be a guard.

There was no re­port after the game on the sever­ity of Bu­laga’s in­jury, but if it side­lines him for more than a week or two, the Pack­ers have a real prob­lem. Rodgers doesn’t have the mo­bil­ity to pro­tect him­self with his feet, and de­fenses will sense blood in the wa­ter if Bu­laga’s not on the field. Rodgers and Mc­Carthy can’t be real ex­cited about the pos­si­bil­ity of play­ing with­out their right tackle for even a game or two, though there’s noth­ing they can say that might help.

“Ob­vi­ously, we’ll see how (Bu­laga and McCray) feel this week,” Rodgers said. “If they can’t go, By­ron (Bell) has got to step in, Ja­son (Spriggs)’s got to step in or Lu­cas (Patrick) could step in (at guard), and we’ve got to keep rolling. There’s no de­lays.”

The Pack­ers can’t pin this loss on los­ing Wilk­er­son and Bu­laga, though. They fell be­hind Wash­ing­ton while both were still on the field, and it was oth­ers’ mis­cues that cost this game. With a steady rain fall­ing most of the day, Wash­ing­ton didn’t have any prob­lems catch­ing or hang­ing onto the foot­ball but the Pack­ers sure did. Ran­dall Cobb (a fourth-down drop and a lost fum­ble in the fourth quar­ter) and Lance Ken­dricks (drop on a wide-open bomb) had huge mis­han­dles that crashed a Pack­ers fourth-quar­ter come­back.

And Pet­tine’s de­fense put Rodgers in a big hole by giv­ing up 28 points in the first half with the kind of cov­er­age er­rors that got Dom Capers fired last year.

About the only things the Pack­ers can feel OK about com­ing out of this one is that Rodgers sur­vived an­other week play­ing on his in­jured knee, and their main ri­val in the NFC North, the Min­nesota Vik­ings, were blown out at home (27-6) by Buf­falo, of all teams.

Rodgers said his knee felt no bet­ter this week than last, and it was painful watch­ing him try­ing to elude pass rush­ers while drag­ging his leg. But at least he can play. This prob­a­bly is the way it will be for a cou­ple months.

“I hope (it’s bet­ter in a month or two),” Rodgers said. “I re­ally do. It can be painful at times mov­ing around, es­pe­cially lat­eral move­ment, but I’m go­ing to be out there if I’m up to it and try to get this thing back turned the right di­rec­tion with a win next week.”

If the Pack­ers learned any­thing from this one, it’s that Aaron Jones needs to get the ball more and ear­lier. He rushed for 42 yards on six car­ries in his first game after miss­ing two weeks be­cause of a drug sus­pen­sion.

There isn’t too much more to con­clude from the Pack­ers’ 1-1-1 start. They’re in the same boat as most of the league, and the games that will de­fine their sea­son haven’t yet been played.

But chances are, they’re go­ing to miss Wilk­er­son, and they have to be hop­ing that Bu­laga isn’t out long.

JIM MATTHEWS / USA TO­DAY NET­WORK-WIS­CON­SIN

Pack­ers head coach Mike Mc­Carthy called the in­jury to Muham­mad Wilk­er­son’s an­kle “sig­nif­i­cant.”

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