Senior writer jclombardi highlights Packers headlines.
Packers and Cowboys headed in separate directions: Viewers who tune in will witness a team whose season has spiraled out of control playing an opponent that could easily be in that same predicament if it hadn’t righted its ship with back-to-back impressive victories. Green Bay (5-3) finds itself atop the NFC North standings after beating the Vikings and Jets. The victories over their biggest rival and one of the best teams in the NFL on consecutive Sundays showed a lot about the Packers’ moxie in times of adversity. “This group of guys around here, we just love to fight,” Packers safety Nick Collins said. “We love to compete and we’re going to compete every week. That’s our mind-set. We just love our job. We love what we do. That’s how we approach every game.” Leader of the pack–There doesn’t appear to be a drastic difference between the Packers and Cowboys in terms of talent, so it’s reasonable to conclude that having better leadership helped Green Bay avoid a Dallas-like collapse. Safety Anthony Smith has a unique perspective on the Packers’ turnaround. “When I came in, there was never any panic,” Smith said. “It was just all about eliminating one or two plays, which was the difference in all the games they had lost. Since I’ve been here, they’ve been cleaning that up and not giving up big plays. Everything’s kind of clicking together now.”
Nelson, Jones have big gloves to fill for Packers: WRs James Jones and Jordy Nelson will be asked to fill the role of Donald Driver who won’t play Sunday night. As strange as it may seem without that familiar No. 80 jersey on the field Sunday night, it’s the job of James Jones and Jordy Nelson to make people forget Donald Driver is injured. It’s a harsh truth in the NFL. When a player goes down, somebody else has to step up. When the Packers go to three-receiver sets against the Cowboys, it will be Greg Jennings, Jones and Nelson. Are Jones, who has been up and down this year, and Nelson, who has come on after a slow start, ready for prime time? Jones said, “So everybody has to step up. It’s not just one guy who has to step up and make plays. Everybody is going to get more opportunities. Guys have to step up and meet that challenge.” “Obviously, we know we’re going to get more plays,” Nelson said. “We experienced that last week. (Driver) played some but was out early. I think we’ll be comfortable out there. We’ve just got to go play our game.” Jones, 6 feet, 1 inch and 208 pounds, has been plagued by inconsistency. “I think James Jones is no different than some of the other players,” McCarthy said. “They have had some really good games and they have had some games that they wish they could have done a little better job in from a fundamental standpoint.”
With Colledge ailing, Spitz next in line: Daryn Colledge has never missed a game in his four-plus NFL seasons, but the Green Bay Packers veteran left guard’s back problems are bad enough that he has coach Mike McCarthy worried about his availability for Sunday night’s game against Dallas. Colledge, who has played 72 career regular-season games, had his back lock up on him during practice on Wednesday, and he missed Thursday’s practice in its entirety. If Colledge can’t go Sunday night, McCarthy could start veteran Jason Spitz, who has started 47 career games but has only seen spot duty this season, including a few snaps against the New York Jets last Sunday when Colledge lost his shoe and needed to have his ankle re-taped. McCarthy said T.J. Lang has also taken snaps at left guard in practice. “Absolutely, if I’m called upon to play, I’m definitely going to play. I look forward to the opportunity. It’s been a long time,” Spitz said. “Last week, when Daryn’s shoe came off, I’m sitting there watching the JumboTron, the last play, see what happened, and (the next thing I know), he’s in my face yelling. I mean, as the backup, you’ve got to be prepared at all times.”
Masthay gets the drop on the Jets–Packers punter’s unconventional technique helped keep ball out of the end zone: When he lined up from his own 36-yard line with 3 minutes, 57 seconds left, Green Bay Packers punter Tim Masthay might as well have been positioned for a 50-yard field goal with one second left. Masthay capped a stunning eight-punt performance with a high, end-over-end punt that landed 41 yards away and bounced out of bounds at the York Jets 23-yard line. Facing 77 yards ahead of them for a go-ahead touchdown, the Jets netted minus-1 on the ensuing drive and Crosby put the final stake in their heart with a field goal. No one could have predicted that a guy who came into the game ranked 21st in gross average and 30th in net would have what coach McCarthy said was one of the best punting performances he had ever seen. Masthay averaged 44 yards gross and 41.5 net on his eight punts, landing five inside the 20. “He’s got a big leg,” special teams coach Shawn Slocum said. “That’s why he’s here.”