It doesn't matter how long Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley will be sidelined following surgery that found more damage in his right knee than originally expected. Reports have pegged his looming absence at six weeks, 10 weeks or possibly the remainder of the season. Losing Finley to injury is devastating and season-changing, something you could say about maybe three players on the Packers' roster.
Cataclysmically, the other two -- quarterback Aaron Rodgers and linebacker Clay Matthews -- joined Finley on the sideline of Wednesday's practice. Rodgers (concussion) and Matthews (hamstring) could miss Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins, but both should return in relatively short order. Finley, however, isn't going to be back anytime soon.
The Packers built their entire offense around him this season. They knew his exceptional speed and ball skills made him almost impossible for defenses to account for, and felt his blocking skills had progressed to the point where he could be trusted to play on every down. Finley caught a team-high 21 passes in the first four games of the season, and as we discussed during the preseason, he had earned the highest level of trust from Rodgers.
In an interview this summer, Rodgers levied every compliment a quarterback can possibly bestow on a pass-catcher.
"He's a very confident guy," Rodgers said at the time. "His confidence I think filters down to the rest of the team. He's an important part of our offense and allows us to do a lot of things. I think he's really improving his blocking, which will allow him to become an every-down player, which I think is important. That gives us the run/pass option every time he's on the field instead of being more pass-heavy. That's important."
The Packers lost tailback Ryan Grant to a Week 1 ankle injury, but Finley's presence -- and the combination he formed with receivers Greg Jennings and Donald Driver -- made the Packers' offense special. Without him, the Packers are a one-dimensional offense with an elite quarterback and two good receivers. Rookie tight end Andrew Quarless has displayed speed and decent hands, but it's irrational to expect him to approach Finley's production or flexibility.
It's not the same, and there is no way to sugarcoat it. With Finley sidelined for much, if not all, of the remainder of the season, the Packers will have to recast their offense dramatically. There are some injuries you can plan for, but the loss of your top offensive threat is not one of them. The Packers won't be the same team without him.