CHICAGO — The first play of the Chicago Bears’ second series of the game Sunday ended with Green Bay Packers nose tackle Kenny Clark kneeling on the ground in obvious pain.
His coach, Matt LaFleur, was feeling some discomfort as well while watching from the sidelines.
“I really thought I was going to throw up,” LaFleur said.
It’s been that kind of season for the Packers, whose injury list has grown by the week. So has their win total — they improved to 5-1 with a 24-14 victory at Soldier Field — though it’s fair to wonder how well this patched-up roster will hold up once LaFleur’s team reaches the meat of its schedule in a couple weeks.
For now, all the Packers can do is celebrate each victory and hope the bleeding stops sometime soon.
That Aaron Rodgers and Co. have reeled off five consecutive victories — albeit during a favorable stretch on the schedule — despite being without key starters each week has been a credit to players, coaches and front-office personnel alike.
“I’m really proud of the guys,” Rodgers said after throwing for two touchdowns and running for another. “I really, like I’ve said before, felt like the first week was an anomaly. We’ve backed it up the last five weeks.
“But (it’s) the way that we’ve done it, with the guys that we’ve done it with, with the kind of injuries that we’ve had. You look at our roster now, there’s a lot of guys that weren’t with us at the start of the season that are playing big minutes.”
As long as the big three of Rodgers, running back Aaron Jones and wide receiver Davante Adams remain healthy, the Packers have a chance against any team in the league. But there have been plenty of moving pieces around those playmakers and that was the case again Sunday.
Rookie center Josh Myers, who missed an overtime win at Cincinnati with a finger injury, returned to the lineup but lasted only four plays against the Bengals due to a knee injury. Enter Lucas Patrick, who practiced only a handful of snaps with the No. 1 offense during the week, according to LaFleur.
The bigger injury issues were on the other side of the ball, where the Packers were already minus outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith and cornerbacks Jaire Alexander and Kevin King before losing safety Darnell Savage (concussion) and outside linebacker Preston Smith (oblique) during the game.
LaFleur’s queasy stomach went away when Clark returned to the game after a short absence, but only diehard fans didn’t need a roster at their disposal while watching a defense filled with players who started the season either low on the depth chart or not on the team at all.
Cornerback Rasul Douglas, signed off the Arizona Cardinals’ practice squad 11 days earlier, played 49 snaps after replacing ineffective replacement starter Isaac Yiadom to start the second series.
Preston Smith’s injury led to a career-high 40 snaps for outside linebacker Jonathan Garvin, the team’s final pick of the 2020 draft. Safety Henry Black, an undrafted free agent in his second season, played 35 snaps. Linebacker Jaylon Smith, released earlier this month by the Dallas Cowboys, was on the field for 15 plays.
“A lot of guys stepped up,” Clark said. “You see Garvin got a sack. Henry came in and played a huge role in the second half. We’ve got a lot of guys who’ve been stepping up, with Kevin out, guys have been coming in and just making an impact on our team. It says a lot about our depth. It says a lot about how the guys prepare. Everybody prepares as a starter. It’s a next-man-up mentality. It’s good to see. It’s good to know guys are preparing and always ready.”
This could all be some sort of market correction taking place after the Packers were remarkably fortunate on the injury front in 2019, LaFleur’s debut season, and relatively healthy throughout last season.
The good news for the Packers is that LaFleur said he doesn’t believe Myers’ injury is of the season-ending variety. Left tackle/left guard Elgton Jenkins returned to the lineup Sunday and two other key starters on offense — left tackle David Bakhtiari and wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling — are eligible to return to practice as early as this week if healthy.
It’s hard to imagine the Packers surviving an upcoming brutal stretch of the schedule if they’re not close to full health. Then again, this team has found a way to survive to this point by relying heavily on its remaining stars and filling in the pieces at other spots.
“These are character wins,” Rodgers said. “These are wins that are really, really important. We’ve got to get healthy. We’ve got a lot of guys banged up, a lot of guys we could use moving forward. But I really like where we’re at, two up in the division after six and playing winning football.”