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Packers licking wounds, get needed bye week break

The SportsXchange

GREEN BAY, Wisc. -- The Green Bay Packers are not only off to a 1-2 start for the second consecutive season, but they are licking plenty of wounds.

Unlike last year, when they had a quick turnaround to put a controversial Week 3 Monday night loss at Seattle behind them, the Packers will have two full weeks to rue what has them two games behind unbeaten NFC North front-runner Chicago.

Green Bay and the Carolina Panthers are the first two teams to hit their bye weeks. The Packers players came in Monday for meetings and treatments and, in turn, are free from football obligations through this weekend.

For a good number of players, however, they'll be sticking around for extra care from the medical staff as the team's rash of early-season injuries mounted in the 34-30 loss at Cincinnati on Sunday.

"You're talking about core guys - guys who we look to to make plays for us," cornerback Tramon Williams said. "And, for guys like that to go down, it's hard to replace it."

The Packers went into Sunday's game without rookie halfback Eddie Lacy (concussion) and fullback John Kuhn (hamstring) after they sustained injuries the previous week, along with top safety Morgan Burnett and nickel back Casey Hayward, who have yet to play this season because of nagging hamstring injuries.

They lost three more key players during the game: tight end Jermichael Finley to a concussion in the first quarter and then outside linebacker Clay Matthews to a hamstring injury and halfback James Starks to a knee injury, both in the second quarter.

Per his tight-lipped nature, head coach Mike McCarthy didn't touch on any of the injuries Monday.

When asked about the prospect of having Matthews available next week when the team returns from the bye and gets ready to play host to division rival Detroit on Oct. 6, McCarthy said, "I hope so. ... I'll see where Clay is when we get back on Monday."

Matthews, who said he tweaked a hamstring that has been problematic in previous seasons on his second forced fumble for a turnover in the second quarter Sunday, sounded optimistic after the game about his prognosis.

"I'll be good," he said. "I think (holding him out the second half of the game) was more of a preventive measure than anything. I felt like I could go out there, but we have to be smart with this, especially going into the bye week. I don't see myself missing any time."

Defensive coordinator Dom Capers was hoping for the best Monday with his top playmaker.

"Clay has had that (hamstring) issue before, and we lost him for a month last year," Capers said. "If he said it's tweaked a little bit, you don't want him back in there (Sunday) because we're going into the bye week. So, hopefully, that gives him time to recover and we don't miss a beat."

Capers isn't sure whether Burnett and Hayward will finally be available next week. Burnett has practiced on a limited basis the last couple weeks.

"I hope so, but I don't know," Capers said.

Rookie Johnathan Franklin, who stepped in for an injured Starks at the end of the first half Sunday as the only remaining running back in uniform, briefly left the Packers' final series with a foot injury.

Receiver Jeremy Ross, who was released Monday after a costly fumble on a kickoff return early in the game, lined up in the backfield for a couple plays until Franklin returned to the game.

Franklin had a big performance after Starks left with 13 carries for 103 yards and a touchdown. However, his efforts as a first-time ballcarrier this season were upstaged by his fumble on a fourth-and-1 run in Bengals territory that cornerback Terence Newman returned 58 yards for a touchdown to decide the outcome with less than four minutes left in the game.

--Jeremy Ross was supposed to be the capable, if not explosive, reason why head coach Mike McCarthy and others with the team were in favor of not having vital receiver Randall Cobb return kicks anymore.

Three games into the season, however, Ross no longer is a Packer.

Green Bay cut the first-year receiver Monday, about 24 hours after he had a costly fumble on a kickoff return in the Packers' 34-30 loss at Cincinnati.

"What happened to him yesterday was unfortunate, and we've got to be better than that," special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said Monday.

Ross mishandled the football as he ran up to try to field a kickoff inside the Packers' 10-yard line after the Bengals scored a touchdown in the first possession of the game. Cincinnati recovered the ball at the 2-yard line and promptly went ahead 14-0 on a touchdown run by BenJarvus Green-Ellis.

The team stayed with Ross on kickoffs the rest of the game.

However, he was plagued by miscues on kickoffs in two of Green Bay's first three games this season and also had a critical muff on a punt return in the Packers' loss at San Francisco in the playoffs last season.

"We had a big play yesterday, and that's two (fumbles) in the last four games (by Ross)," Slocum said. "Ball security's the number one thing we do in the return game, and we've got to play better than that."

Perhaps strangely after the release of Ross was announced before the start of his day-after-game press conference Monday afternoon, McCarthy said, "We haven't given up on Jeremy."

Asked to clarify, McCarthy responded, "He's obviously not with us right now, but I'd have no problem working with him again."

Slocum wouldn't say whether Cobb, who excelled on returns the previous two seasons, would go back to having the full-time duties again. Cobb had been splitting punt returns with Ross through the first three games.

"We haven't discussed that," Slocum said. "Our game plan will dictate that.

"We'll put someone out there that can function and do the job the right way," Slocum added.

McCarthy asserted a message wasn't being sent to the rest of the players with regard to accountability by the early-season decision made with Ross.

"I think (general manager) Ted Thompson and I have been consistent in our approach to try to win football games," McCarthy said. "We don't make rash personnel moves to try to send a message to the locker room - that wasn't the intent. This is clearly a personnel, roster decision."
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