GREEN BAY, Wis. – About all Josh Sitton could muster late Monday night, after the Green Bay Packers left guard watched quarterback Aaron Rodgers leave after one series in a 27-20 loss to the Chicago Bears because of an apparent left shoulder injury, was something of a history lesson.
Sitton wanted to go back to 2010, when Rodgers was knocked out of a late-season game at Detroit because of a concussion. On that day, then-backup Matt Flynn failed to rally the Packers, who lost an ugly game 7-3 at Ford Field.
The following Sunday, with a full week of practice to prepare for the New England Patriots and coach Mike McCarthy’s proclamation that the Packers were “nobody’s underdog,” Flynn turned in a Rodgers-like performance and nearly led the Packers to an upset on the road before Green Bay fell 31-27.
“Well, we didn’t let the situation take over our minds,” Sitton said, recalling the week between the Lions and Patriots games of 2010. “Your starting quarterback gets every rep in practice, for the most part, so when the backup has to play, it’s tough for him to come in without having barely any reps. So when we know that he’s going to be playing he’ll be getting the reps at practice, and, like I said, that chemistry will come.”
At that moment, it probably was the best Sitton could do.
But in the coming days, the Packers will have to find something more concrete if Rodgers’ injury keeps him out for even a week. Rodgers was expected to undergo additional tests on his non-throwing shoulder Tuesday. If Rodgers broke his collarbone, then he could miss a decent chunk of the remaining eight regular-season games.
Perhaps Seneca Wallace, the journeyman backup who completed 11 of 19 passes for 114 yards with no touchdowns and one interception Monday in relief of Rodgers, will make a Flynn-like improvement before the next game Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lambeau Field.
Flynn had 2½ years of preparation in the Packers’ system. Wallace, despite being in his 10th NFL season, has only had two months.
“I think just now it’s about timing and getting the right reps in practice and get better,” said the 33-year-old Wallace, who has a career record of 6-15 as an NFL starter.
But will that be enough?
The best showing by a Packers running back in nearly six years wasn’t enough to make up for Wallace’s deficiencies. Rookie Eddie Lacy rushed for 150 yards -- the most by a Packers’ running back since Week 14 of 2007 (Ryan Grant with 156 yards) -- and Green Bay rushed for a season-high 199 yards.
What else could the Packers have accomplished on the ground?
“We might have to get a little dirtier,” fullback John Kuhn said. “Teams might start putting more guys in the box and we might have to play a little tougher, take more 4- and 5-yard runs and wait for the big one to open up later in the game.”
Both Lacy and James Starks did just that. Lacy ripped off a 56-yard run in the third quarter against the Bears to set up his 1-yard touchdown run. Before that, Starks burst through a hole for a 32-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.
The Packers’ running game is better than it has ever been in McCarthy’s eight seasons as head coach. Of their five best rushing performances over the past five seasons, four have come in the past six games, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Lacy has run hard and run often. Since Week 5, his 545 rushing yards are tops in the NFL. Against the Bears, 97 of his 150 yards came after contact, the most by any running back in a game this season and the most by a Packers back since Grant had 102 in Week 7 of 2009.
Even Lacy wasn’t sure whether those kinds of performances would be enough if Rodgers can’t play.
“I guess we’re all going to figure that out,” he said.
There comes a point in every game where only the quarterback can make the difference. On Monday, one of those times came on third-and-goal at the Bears' 5-yard line in the third quarter. Wallace threw a fade for tight end Andrew Quarless that was way off the mark, and the Packers had to settle for a field goal.
“We missed a couple things,” Wallace said. “Obviously the timing and things like that, but like I said, if I make some better throws on a couple deals, I feel like we could have gotten some good things going, got a couple first downs, got a little momentum. The offensive line did great; we ran the ball well. I’ve just got to make some better plays here and there.”
Wallace could not get Jordy Nelson involved. After catching a 27-yard post from Rodgers on the first drive, Nelson had just three more catches for 40 yards from Wallace. The return of James Jones, who played for the first time since his Oct. 13 knee injury, did not help, either. Jones caught just one pass for 17 yards, and it was a ball that went through the hands of Bears linebacker James Anderson and should have given Wallace another interception.
“He’ll be taking more reps, so that’s how the chemistry will grow,” Nelson said of Wallace. “And I think we’ll be fine for next week.”