GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — The Green Bay Packers found a way to earn the NFC’s top playoff seed even after injuries left them without a few of their top performers from last season.
Whether those guys will return in time for the postseason remains up in the air.
The Packers (13-3) are seeking their first Super Bowl berth since their 2010 title. That quest would get easier if offensive tackle David Bakhtiari, cornerback Jaire Alexander and outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith are able to help.
Bakhtiari was a first-team selection and Alexander and Smith earned second-team honors in last season’s All-Pro balloting.
“I would say we’ve been optimistic all season long and yet here we are, so it’s just one of those things,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said Sunday night after the 37-10 blowout of the Minnesota Vikings that clinched the No. 1 playoff seed. “I know those guys are doing everything they can to try to get back as quickly as possible. We’re hopeful, but nothing’s guaranteed.”
Bakhtiari hasn’t played since tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on Dec. 31, 2020. A back issue has kept Smith out since the season opener. Alexander hasn’t played since injuring his shoulder Oct. 3.
Alexander had been practicing before getting placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Sunday. LaFleur said Bakhtiari is expected to practice some this week.
“I think the ideal scenario is that he would play and get some snaps under his belt before you proceed to the postseason,” LaFleur said Monday. “But we’ll see where he’s at, at the end of the week.”
While the Packers’ regular-season finale at Detroit (2-13-1) has no bearing on their playoff positioning, LaFleur said he’s tentatively planning to play his regulars and approach it like a typical game.
LaFleur cited the long wait before the divisional playoffs take place on Jan. 22-23.
“I’m not comfortable having essentially a three-week layoff for our guys,” LaFleur said. “And I know that you can look at it a million different ways and there’s never a right answer unless it works out.”
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers and wide receiver Davante Adams say they both want to play Sunday.
Adams has 1,498 yards receiving to put him well within reach of the single-season franchise record owned by Jordy Nelson, who had 1,519 in 2014. Rodgers has been dealing with an injured left pinkie toe, but says he was encouraged by how he felt during the Vikings game.
“This is the first game that my toe got through the game without any issues, no pregame painkiller shot, so I’m feeling good,” Rodgers said. “I’m happy about it. There was definitely a time a few weeks ago when we started to project and think if we could get the one-seed it could be two-plus weeks of rest, but I’m going to play next week and I expect Davante to play and our guys to play, so we’re looking forward to finishing off the season on a high note and then getting the bye.”
One week after allowing 219 yards on 25 carries in a 24-22 victory over the Cleveland Browns, the Packers shut down the Vikings’ ground attack. The Packers outrushed the Vikings 174-27. Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook had just 13 yards on nine carries. … The offensive line hasn’t allowed a sack in either of its last two games.
WHAT NEEDS WORK
The Packers reached the red zone on three of their first four possessions Sunday, but totaled just six points from those drives. The Packers have been outscored 77-44 in the first quarter this season, though they’ve been dominant in the second and third periods.
Adams has 52 catches for 634 yards and eight touchdowns over his last six games. … Rodgers has thrown 18 touchdown passes without an interception over his last six games. … After a midseason slump in which he made just six of 14 field-goal attempts, Mason Crosby has gone 9 of 10 over his last five games. … OLB Rashan Gary has recorded three sacks over his last two games to increase his season total to 9 ½. … OLB Preston Smith has delivered four sacks over his last four games to move his season total to nine.
TE Josiah Deguara. He couldn’t hang on to a pass in the end zone on the game’s opening drive as the Packers settled for a field goal.
OT Dennis Kelly and S Darnell Savage went on the reserve/COVID-19 list Monday. … WR/PR David Moore was placed on the practice squad reserve/COVID-19 list.
1,000 — Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon have become the first Packers running back duo to each have over 1,000 yards from scrimmage in the same season since Eddie Lee Ivery and Gerry Ellis in 1980. Dillon went over the 1,000-yard mark Sunday and has 740 yards rushing and 309 yards receiving. Jones has 799 yards rushing and 391 yards receiving.
The Packers hope to avoid any major injuries as they close the regular season at Detroit on Sunday.
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