As injuries take their toll and a story of alleged team dissent leaks out of the locker room, Green Bay Packers (7-4) quarterback Aaron Rodgers tries to put out several fires while the second-place NFC North squad prepares for Thursday’s matchup with the rival Detroit Lions.
Five Packers, including starting linebacker Julius Peppers, reportedly did not dress for practice on Monday as Green Bay hopes to string together some victories over the last five games of the regular season and move up the NFC playoff standings.
Speaking to reporters Sunday, Rodgers denied the Packers held a players-only meeting prior to Week 11’s victory over Minnesota and instead claimed everyone on the roster needed to better prepare for games.
"It goes back to what you're doing in your spare time and what you're doing with your time in the facility," Rodgers said. "Being a pro is all about making sure you're as ready as possible by the time the game hits. I think that's the important thing for guys to remember here, especially young guys.
"We're 15 games into the season, counting preseason. That's a long grind for those guys, especially the rookies. This is the time where they really got to get through that wall, and the vets -- the vets have had some [missed assignments] as well. So we've got to buckle down our preparation and make sure we're ready to play."
Rodgers specifically addressed the comments and anecdote of NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth, who said the players-only meeting occurred while calling Green Bay’s 17-13 loss to Chicago on Thanksgiving night.
"First of all, it's false," Rodgers said. "It didn't happen in the way that he explained it. I saw something about guys were worried about people playing video games. Sometimes, in those production meetings, obviously, the message doesn't get conveyed the right away or whoever [NBC sideline reporter] Michele [Tafoya] talked to or Cris, I don't know what he was referring to there, but I heard the comments, and it's just not true.
"There wasn't any players-only meeting, no. There's meetings with the offense all the time. We break up offense and defense, we break up into position groups, but there wasn't anything resembling what he talked about, from what I heard. I didn't see the broadcast."
Green Bay suffered its fourth loss of the last five games and lost first-place in the division to Minnesota last week, and the previously prolific offense has averaged 19.6 points during that span compared to the 27.3 points per contest Green Bay put up in the first six game of the season.
The Packers at first excelled despite the season-ending injury to top receiver Jordy Nelson, with Davante Adams and Ty Montgomery stepping up their production. However Adams received criticism for two critical drops against the Bears and Montgomery’s dealt with a high ankle sprain and missed the last five games.
Green Bay did see some encouraging signs from receiver Jared Abbrederis ahead of “Thursday Night Football” against the Lions, but Montgomery continues to struggle with his recovery. Abbrederis left Week 10’s loss to Detroit with chest and rib injuries and has missed the last two games, but the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported he returned to practice on Sunday and took part in light drills. It’s unclear if Abbrederis will come back against Detroit.
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy addressed Montgomery’s status with reporters prior to Monday’s practice.
"He hasn't made much progress,” McCarthy said. “We're just not quite getting there. We need to do some more research."
Tight end Andrew Quarless, however, returned to practice on Monday for the first time since suffering a knee injury in Week 3. Since then he’s been on the temporary injured reserve list. Sitting behind leading tight end Richard Rodgers, Quarless could give Aaron Rodgers an extra target on pass plays and help a struggling offensive line block for their quarterback. Rodgers has taken 15 of his 26 sacks in the last five games and been hit another 39 times.
According to ESPN’s Rob Demovsky, Peppers hadn’t missed a single practice since signing with Green Bay back in 2014. But he was seen on the sideline during Monday’s session, and the nature of his injury is presently unknown. The 35-year-old Peppers leads Green Bay with 6.0 sacks this season, and while his game status won't be announced until Wednesday the Packers could use fourth-year linebacker Nick Perry in his place.
Guard T.J. Lang (shoulder), tackle Bryan Bulaga (ankle), Montgomery (ankle), and cornerback Demetri Goodson were also held out of practice. Rookie cornerback Damarious Randall (knee) and center Corey Linsley (ankle) are still dealing with their injuries but participated in Monday’s practice.