GREEN BAY — The Green Bay Packers are, as coach Mike McCarthy put it so succinctly, “on to Dallas.” But will they be forced to face the top-seeded Cowboys in next Sunday’s NFC Divisional playoff game without No. 1 wide receiver Jordy Nelson?
Nelson absorbed a brutal hit to his ribs from New York Giants safety Leon Hall on a second-quarter sideline pass during the Packers’ 38-13 NFC wild card victory Sunday at Lambeau Field and did not return to the game after leaving the field in obvious pain, riding to the locker room in a cart with his head in his hands.
McCarthy said after the game he didn’t have any information on Nelson’s injury, but admitted, “I obviously have concern for Jordy.”
Nelson, who missed all of last season following reconstructive knee surgery, finished the regular season with 97 receptions for 1,257 yards and an NFL-high 14 touchdowns. He had one catch for 13 yards before Sunday’s injury, which forced the Packers to play undrafted rookie Geronimo Allison and Jeff Janis more alongside Randall Cobb and Davante Adams.
“It would be a huge loss for us, obviously,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said of facing the Cowboys without Nelson. “But Geronimo has been playing a lot for us and he’s been playing effectively. Randall being back healthy … having him out there is going to help. But Geronimo is going to have to step up and play extended time if Jordy is going to be out.”
Added veteran right tackle Bryan Bulaga: “No one can really replace what Jordy does and Jordy’s production. He’s a special player. Guys just have to step up when their number’s called and make plays. And they did tonight.”
Asked at midweek what it would mean to him to make up for his disappointing regular season by being a difference-maker in the playoffs, Cobb said he just wanted to win.
On Sunday, he was able to do both, catching five passes for 116 yards, including an NFL playoff record-tying three touchdowns — a 42-yard Hail Mary to end the half, a 30-yard post to retake control of the game at 21-13 and a 16-yarder to make it 31-13 early in the fourth quarter.
“I said this week (that) we’re better with No. 18 on the field,” Rodgers said. “And he showed it tonight. Made a ton of plays for us. He was excellent.”
Cobb, who sat out the final two regular-season games with a left ankle injury, said he’s still dealing with pain, but after seeing limited snaps early, his playing time increased after Nelson went down.
“I still didn’t know for sure if they were going to activate me or not. I was hoping so, but I thought I was going to be activated last week and I wasn’t,” Cobb said. “I definitely think that extra week helped out.”
Hail, hail the QB
Rodgers didn’t rank the three successful Hail Marys he’s had in the past 13 months — his 61-yarder to Richard Rodgers in Detroit on Dec. 3, 2015; his 41-yarder to Jeff Janis in Arizona in last year’s season-ending playoff loss at Arizona in January; and Sunday’s to Cobb — but he did say they all had something in common: the high arc each took.
“The high arc is definitely by design,” Rodgers said. “I want to make sure those guys have a chance to get down there and jump. But the key is the offensive line giving me a little bit of time. So we did a little roll(out) to the right, and obviously the back side was firm in the protection. By the time I hit my spot on the field where I wanted to throw it, I’m 100 percent confident that the ball is going to be catchable in a catchable spot. It’s just a matter of those guys getting the right situation. And that’s how your draw it up.”
Cobb said Adams was the designated “jumper” and that he was slightly surprised he was able to sneak behind the crowd to make the momentum-swinging 42-yard catch.
“It’s normally tipped and you’re trying to make a play off the tip, but I was able to get a clean look at it,” Cobb said. “It’s unbelievable.”
Gamble doesn’t work
McCarthy admitted his decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 42-yard line with 6 minutes left in the third quarter — and Eli Manning’s 41-yard touchdown pass to Tavarres King that came two plays later — resulted in a huge momentum shift. Fortunately for McCarthy, the Packers were able to answer with a quick touchdown drive of their own to push the lead back to 21-13 on the ensuing possession.
“As a play-caller, as a head coach, you’re sick to (your stomach). You feel totally responsible for the decision and the execution of the play and so forth, and then give up the (touchdown) play,” McCarthy said. “Obviously, you have confidence in your players to convert the third and fourth down. I had two calls there; frankly, I wish I would have went with the other one — not saying that that would have worked, either. It still comes down to execution. That’s the stuff that every coach goes through, but you’ve got to make those decisions. That’s the game of football.”
Gunter wins battle
Cornerback LaDarius Gunter spent most of the game matched up on Odell Beckham Jr. and again won that battle, just as he did in the teams’ Oct. 9 meeting. Beckham had four catches for 28 yards on 11 targets, with at least two drops among several drops by New York receivers.
“I love challenges, no matter who it is or where it’s at. That’s just the type of guy I am,” Gunter said.
Veteran pass rusher Julius Peppers, who had his snaps limited during the regular season and has had a reduced practice workload, finished with a sack, another quarterback hit and two pass deflections.
“Today was a good day,” Peppers said. “I guess you could say it’s working.”
From the infirmary
Inside linebacker Blake Martinez left the game with a knee injury and did not return. … Running back Ty Montgomery limped off with what appeared to be a right leg injury during the second half but was able to return.