Nelson a playmaking rock for banged-up Packers

    2013-11-21 17:31

(Eds: Adds details, quotes. Will stand. With AP Photos.)
AP Sports Writer

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) - On a team ravaged by injuries, Jordy Nelson has been a rock for the Packers.

Not that the receiver known for his tip-toe catches and sideline tight-roping acts is ever standing still. Nelson is doing his part to keep an offense going without injured starters Aaron Rodgers, Randall Cobb and Jermichael Finley.

''I'm going to play the game the same with or without those guys,'' Nelson said. ''I'm going to run my route to the best of my ability and try to get open. It doesn't matter who's throwing it or who else is out there.''

With so many injuries, the Packers (5-5) operate with a constant ''next man up'' philosophy. Scott Tolzien has been the named the starter for Sunday's critical game against the Minnesota Vikings with Rodgers (left collarbone) still hurt.

The earliest Cobb (leg) could return from injured reserve for a game is in mid-December. Tight end Finley is done for the year with a neck injury. Besides Cobb, fellow receiver James Jones also missed two games with a knee injury.

That leaves Nelson as the most the productive player out of Green Bay's vaunted quartet of receiving targets for Rodgers. He's seventh in the league in receiving yards (889), with seven touchdowns on 57 catches.

And he's remained productive with Tolzien, a former practice squad player, running the offense. On Sunday, Nelson caught eight passes for 117 yards in the 27-13 loss to the Giants.

It's the result of Nelson's preparation, and how he has put in extra time with all the quarterbacks, receivers coach Edgar Bennett said Thursday.

''What I admire about Jordy Nelson's growth here of late, the last year or so, is his leadership,'' coach Mike McCarthy said this week. ''He's exerted himself more. He's a great representative of what a professional football player is. ... He does it on the field, off the field.''

Remarkably, defenses have been putting more emphasis of late on stopping rookie running back Eddie Lacy, whose 645 yards over the last seven games leads the NFL in that span. Rodgers would make opponents pay dearly if they stuffed the box.

Tolzien has had success with the deep ball, but has thrown five interceptions over the last two weeks, putting the Packers through midseason growing pains at a time they need to get moving in the playoff chase. A three-game skid has dropped them to third in the NFC North, a game behind Chicago and Detroit.

Nelson would like nothing better than to make a defensive back pay in single coverage while teams try to stop the run.

''But I think we can still do it, and I think if they do that, the play-action game will be there for us like it was last week,'' Nelson said. ''We just need to continue to make more plays and eliminate some more mistakes.''

Jarrett Boykin, who replaced Cobb, has remained productive, too, the last couple weeks, with 14 catches for 203 yards. He has 29 catches for 453 yards on the season.

''Jarrett's a playmaker, man. He's showed it on the practice field a lot of times that you guys don't get to see,'' Jones said. ''But lately, he's had opportunities in the games. I mean he's a playmaker.''

And learning from one of the best in the league in Nelson.

NOTES: LB Clay Matthews, working with smaller cast to protect his injured right thumb, said having his four other fingers free now is helping, and that he was ''definitely getting better.'' Matthews was credited with a sack last week, his first since getting hurt Oct. 6 against the Lions. ... Rodgers did not participate in Thursday's practice. ... CB Sam Shields (hamstring) missed another practice, and McCarthy thought Shields might have a ''50-50'' chance of playing Sunday. ... CB Micah Hyde (groin) was a new addition to the injury report. ... RT Don Barclay (knee) and LB Nick Perry (foot/ankle) also missed practice. Both players missed last week's game against the Giants.

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