Packers climb into first place; Fans’ prayers are with J-Mike

Green Bay climbs atop NFC North with convincing victory over Browns, 31-13
The lasting image isn’t Jarrett Boykin reaching out for his first NFL touchdown, Eddie Lacy slamming his way into the end zone from 1 yard out or Brandon Weeden tossing wayward passes.
The lasting image from Green Bay’s 31-13 victory over the Cleveland Browns Sunday is Packers’ tight end Jermichael Finley being carted off Lambeau Field on a stretcher.
Finley caught five passes for 72 yards and a touchdown in five targets. The fifth, fateful pass reception ended with Cleveland’s Tashaun Gipson delivering a blow that drew a 15-yard penalty and KO’d Finley. As of Monday evening Finley remained at a Green Bay hospital in ICU. Mark Chmura, the ex-Packers tight end, told ESPN Milwaukee that he sustained a bruised spine and that it was an 8-12 week injury.
Finley had use of his extremities, and thoughts and prayers were with him from teammates and friends. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers spoke in a serious tone when asked about his friend and teammate.
“There’s not a whole lot to be said,” Rodgers said. “Actually, Evan (Diedrich-Smith) spoke up after that and said a few words. But it’s a reminder how tough this game is. We put our bodies on the line, our future health on the line and obviously with Jermichael he was playing really well. He’s a great friend, great teammate. He’s had a very good year for us. Injuries are a part of the game. But those are tough to see. Not being able to walk off the field I know, in the back of our minds, is kind of our worst nightmare.”
Finley’s injury comes at a time when he was playing terrific football and the Packers’ already beat-up offense was heavily relying on their immensely talented tight end. Finley’s 10-yard catch and touchdown run was among the NFL’s best highlights of the 2013 season. He looked strong, fast and confident. His mistakes were down, and his production was up. He has 25 catches for 300 yards, a 12 yards-per-catch average, with three touchdowns. Randall Cobb is out for eight weeks, and James Jones may be able to return this week at Minnesota, but the Packers’ weaponry is seriously depleted with Finley’s injury.
Now, it will be up to Brandon Bostick to fill the pass-catching void at tight end, and Andrew Quarless to step up as a run-blocking tight end. The position unit is critical to the Packers’ offense especially in that it works in concert with the running game and powerful back Eddie Lacy. Whereas Lacy’s threat of the run would have provided tremendous play-action opportunities with Finley, the Packers are forced to proceed with Bostick, Quarless and the rest.
Look for Packers coach Mike McCarthy to utilize more double-tight end formations for several reasons. First, it is difficult to deploy four-receiver sets with Cobb and Jones out. Second, two tight ends will balance up the defense, meaning the Packers will be able to identify and presumably attack via the run or pass based on personnel and formation.
Much like Jarrett Boykin stepped up with eight receptions for 103 yards and a touchdown, including a long catch of 39 yards, the Packers’ tight ends need to soften the blow of Finley’s absence. With NFC North rival Minnesota looming, the Packers need to rely on Rodgers’ right arm, Lacy’s legs and the thought that players such as Boykin will step up and deliver. Meantime, the Packers, 4-2, moved into first place in the NFC North thanks to their victory and losses by Chicago (45-41 to Washington) and Detroit (30-27) to Cincinnati.
Now, the Packers’ philosophy will be tested. “Next Man Up” isn’t a motto so much as a matter of routine at 1265. McCarthy’s no-drama approach is one reason to believe the Packers will survive this latest injury setback. Another reason to believe is that the Packers have been down this road before.
In 2010 it was an injury disaster at every turn. Circumstances forced McCarthy to run the football, and James Starks delivered. He also cut loose the defense and it responded by forcing a ton of turnovers. With Sam Shields’ sustained excellence, House’s emergence and Casey Hayward’s impending return, the Packers’ defense doesn’t lack playmakers. And it’s going to get Clay Matthews, Brad Jones and Nick Perry back at some point.
Meantime, the Packers will persevere with McCarthy’s calming effect, Rodgers’ talent and a defense that’s only surrendered an average of 13 points per game in the past three contests.
Sadly, they must persevere without Jermichael Finley, at least in the foreseeable future. Here’s wishing Finley a complete recovery, and predicting the Packers will find a way to win. It’s just going to be much more difficult without No. 88 making big plays.

Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio ( Havel also hosts Event USA’ MVP Parties the evening before home games.