Resilient Packers have overcome injuries, but losing Elgton Jenkins could be their biggest test

MINNEAPOLIS -- Aaron Rodgers’ first word – more of a sound, really – when he was asked about losing left tackle Elgton Jenkins served as an apt summary of all the injuries the Green Bay Packers have sustained this season.

“Oof,” Rodgers said while briefly shaking his head.

If the Packers’ season has turned into a game of which injury will finally doom them, then meet the latest contestant. Jenkins suffered a season-ending torn left ACL, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported, per sources, during Sunday's 34-31 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

It’s not just that Jenkins was lost, but that there is still no timetable for preferred starting left tackle David Bakhtiari to finally play this season, if he plays at all in 2021. Bakhtiari’s return from his Dec. 31 torn ACL has been delayed indefinitely. While the Packers insist he did not endure a setback, they halted his practice work last week after three weeks of at least limited participation.

The Packers likely would have moved Jenkins back to left guard, where he made the Pro Bowl last season, if – or when – Bakhtiari returned. They finished Sunday’s game with third-stringer Yosh Nijman at left tackle.

“Man, he’s been so versatile for us,” Rodgers said of Jenkins on Sunday before the severity of the injury was known. “He can play every position on the line; I think he’s played at least four of them. So, definitely hate to see that happen ... but with Dave’s status unknown, we have to rely on probably Yosh. He’s played some good football for us. Proud of the way he stepped in. Hopefully, the news isn’t so bad with Elgton.”

While Nijman held up OK on Sunday and in his three starts earlier this season while Jenkins dealt with an ankle injury, it’s the cumulative impact of the injuries that could be problematic. Opening-day starting center Josh Myers remains on injured reserve following knee surgery, meaning the Packers could be without three of their five preferred starters on the line.

This from an offensive line that committed five penalties (two false starts, two holds and one illegal hands to the face) against the Vikings.

If only the Packers’ injuries were contained to that one position or even that one side of the ball, where they also played without running back Aaron Jones (knee) and receiver Allen Lazard (shoulder) on Sunday. And that doesn’t include tight end Robert Tonyan, who was lost for the season to an ACL tear last month.

The defense surely could have used some combination of Rashan Gary (elbow), Za'Darius Smith (back) and Jaire Alexander (shoulder) against the Vikings. In all, that was eight of 22 preferred starters out by game’s end on Sunday.

"This is the ultimate team sport, right?" Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. "We know for us to accomplish all our goals, we need all three phases firing at the highest level possible. ... Certainly that is good that you can find different ways to win games, but ultimately we need everybody peaking at the right time, and we haven’t been able to do that consistently within a game."

While Preston Smith sacked Kirk Cousins twice and forced a fumble, he was largely on his own without fellow linebackers Gary and Za’Darius Smith to help provide pressure. And without Alexander, Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson nearly single-handedly wrecked the game. Whether it was veteran Kevin King or rookie Eric Stokes on him, Jefferson caught eight of the 10 passes thrown his way for 169 yards and two touchdowns.

That’s the kind of player the Packers (8-3) are likely going to have to face in the playoffs. Their much-needed bye is still a week away, with the Los Angeles Rams (7-3) still standing between the Packers and their week off.

“We’ve got some guys banged up right now, but we have a good football team where the next man can step in and play well,” Packers receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling said. “But obviously it’s tough losing guys. We’ve had the injury bug kind of affecting us all year. It seems like every game we’re losing a guy to something.”