Whenever talk about the Green Bay Packers turns to injuries, the 2010 Packers, who went on to win the Super Bowl, invariably come up.
That team was plagued by injuries more so than probably any other Super Bowl winner. So how did they make it to the playoffs, and then reel off four consecutive wins against the league’s best teams? Let’s indulge in a little nostalgia – you’re going to recognize a lot of names from that 2010 group.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers enjoyed good health, missing just one game on the year.
His primary receivers started out being Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, and James Jones – and they stayed fairly healthy most of the year. When help was needed, however, a third-year backup was up to the task – Jordy Nelson came through with 45 catches for 582 yards during the regular season. All four receivers were healthy for the Super Bowl, but it was Jordy who had the game of his life, with nine catches for 140 yards.
The tight end spot was ably filled by Jermichael Finley – until he had a season-ending knee injury in October. Fortunately, the team was well-stocked with tight ends: Donald Lee, Tom Crabtree, and rookie Andrew Quarless. Quarless emerged as the primary fill-in, and he responded with 21 catches during the rest of the regular season. He remained on the field throughout the playoffs, though primarily in a blocking capacity.
At running back, Ryan Grant went down in the season’s first game, leaving Brandon Jackson to carry the load most of the rest of the way. Jackson only averaged 3.7 yards per carry. Then, three carries into the postseason, he was injured, setting the stage for a rookie sixth-rounder, who had missed his entire senior year in college due to a shoulder injury. Well, James Starks, who had gained only 101 yards on the ground during the regular season, came in and rushed for 315 yards in the four playoff affairs, including 123 yards in the first game, a 21-16 win over the Eagles. Without the third-stringer’s efforts, the Packers don’t advance. Fullbacks John Kuhn and Korey Hall, who were healthy all year, contributed blocking support.
How’s this for an offensive line to start out the year: Scott Wells, Mark Tauscher, Chad Clifton, Josh Sitton, and Daryn Colledge? Four of the five stayed healthy all year. In week 4, however, Tauscher went down with a shoulder injury, and did not return the rest of the season. So, a rookie bench warmer was summoned: Bryan Bulaga, who turned out to be as good as the Packers hoped when they made him their first draft pick that season. Bulaga started the rest of the way, made the NFL All-Rookie team, and became the youngest player (21 years, 322 days) to start in a Super Bowl.
This unit had remarkable talent in the defensive backfield. Nick Collins, Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams, Morgan Burnett, and Sam Shields all on the same team! Burnett tore his ACL in early October and missed the rest of the season. Still, with the remaining four healthy for the Super Bowl, it goes a long way to explaining how the Packers won despite so many injuries at other positions.
The Packers also had a pretty good fifth man — Charlie Peprah, who filled in for Burnett. The Packers got him off waivers in 2006, used him mostly on special teams, let him go after the 2008 season and got him back in 2010. By Super Bowl time, Peprah was being counted on more and more. For the game, he was the leading tackler on both teams, with nine solos and one assist. Peprah got a new contract in 2011, though only for $2.5 million for two years. Unfortunately, his career pretty much ended when he badly injured his knee prior to the 2012 season.
Green Bay started out the season looking strong at linebacker: Nick Barnett, Clay Matthews, Brandon Chillar, and Brad Jones. Barnett only lasted four games due to a wrist injury. Brandon Chillar (game 4) and Brad Jones (game 7) each suffered shoulder injuries and were lost for the rest of the year. The Super Bowl replacements were: A.J. Hawk (two tackles); Desmond Bishop (six tackles) and Frank Zombo (five tackles, two for a loss, and a sack). Zombo was an undrafted rookie who stepped up. He’s also still around, having started 11 games this past year for Kansas City. Just weeks before the Super Bowl, the Packers signed emerging star Bishop to a four-year, $19 million deal, but he was never the same after a hamstring injury in the 2012 preseason.
The linemen remained comparatively healthy throughout the year. Ryan Pickett was fresh off a four-year, $28 million deal signed in February. Pickett came up big in the Super Bowl when he helped force a fumble in the fourth quarter that Desmond Bishop recovered. Nose tackle B.J. Raji’s big play came one game before the Super Bowl, when he had a pick-6 against the Bears.
Defensive end Cullen Jenkins, though he missed five regular season games with a calf injury, also assumed a major role during the Packers’ postseason push. Jenkins, now 36, was on the Redskins’ roster in 2016.
When Jenkins was injured, however, the Packers claimed veteran Howard Green off waivers on October 27. Green filled in nicely, and he made a big play in the Super Bowl, when he hit Ben Roethlisberger’s arm forcing an interception, which was returned for a touchdown by Nick Collins. The Packers were the last of nine NFL teams on which Green played and the Super Bowl was his last meaningful game.
Also seeing action and holding up, in the Super Bowl was a rookie seventh-round defensive end, C.J. Wilson. Wilson is still in the league, playing for the Bears’ in 2016.
The above rundown only hints at how many were seriously injured on this 2010 Green Bay team. Offensive players who either missed at least eight consecutive games by starting the season on the physically unable to perform list were running back James Starks and defensive backs Atari Bigby and Al Harris.
Players who ended the season on the injured reserve list included, on the offense: Finley, Grant, Tauscher, tight end Spencer Havner and tackle Marshall Newhouse. Defensive players placed on IR were: linebackers Barnett, Chillar, Jones and Brady Poppinga; defensive backs Burnett, Derrick Martin, and Anthony Smith; and defensive linemen Justin Harrell and Mike Neal.
Of course, this doesn’t take into account all the other players who missed one or more games during the year.
Despite all the injuries, the Packers team that beat the Steelers 31-25 on February 6, 2011 was a formidable outfit. Those who stepped up and plugged holes in the roster ranged from rookies Quarless, Starks, Bulaga, Zombo, and Wilson, to utility sub Charlie Peprah, to fading veteran, 340-pound Howard Green.
The 2016 team was a game group. However, players on the offense like Don Barclay, Jason Spriggs, Geronimo Allison and Trevor Davis (all got 32 percent or more of the snaps), and defenders like Kenny Clark, Kentrell Brice, Quinten Rollins, Blake Martinez, and Dean Lowry (all got 25 percent or more of the snaps), weren’t as productive as their 2010 counterparts.
That was ultimately the difference between the two teams.
Correction, Kentrell Brice didn’t get significant snaps in the Atlanta game – he was hurt on the opening kickoff, and only played on three defensive snaps. My heart just sunk when the game opened in this way, as Brice was our speediest DB and had shown great energy and tackling ability in recent games. His prospects for 2017 are very bright.
It might be worth noting that AJ Hawk replaced Barnett as mlb. Called the defensive play’s, led the team in tackles with 111, had 3 picks, 10 passes deflected.
Very nice work, Rob! Keep it up!
The hardest thing to believe reading that article was both Justin Harrell and Marshall Newhouse received championship rings.
This year, the Patriots and the Falcons are two of the very least injured teams in a while to reach the SB. The 2010/11 Packers were truly something special. Keeping the majority of your players healthy isn’t everything, but it damn well helps.