GREEN BAY, Wis. — When three cornerbacks went down with injuries, the Green Bay Packers’ safeties had to make a quick change.
Forced to play out of position in coverage late in the game against the Detroit Lions, safeties Morgan Burnett and Micah Hyde, for the most part, did the job.
The Packers finished atop the NFC North and in the playoffs after their defense withstood another tough game in the secondary.
“It’s a microcosm of the season. Guys are going down and the next one jumps in and you keep going,” coach Mike McCarthy said Monday about the 31-24 victory over the Lions.
“With that comes a lot of confidence with the fact that you just do whatever you have to do to win the game,” McCarthy added. “That’s kind of the way we’re wired this year and that’s what we’ll take into this contest Sunday.”
A depleted secondary is the last thing that the Packers need ahead of the playoff date at Lambeau Field against the Giants and star receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
Green Bay (10-6) lost cornerbacks Quinten Rollins, Damarious Randall and Makinton Dorleant during the Lions game.
Rollins, who was carted off the field with a neck injury after hitting his head on the turf on a scary play along the sideline, has returned to Lambeau Field. He walked through the locker room briefly on Monday.
Rollins still needs to undergo more tests, but “everything is progressing in a positive manner,” McCarthy said.
Randall, who was already on the injury report with a shoulder injury, also hurt his knee against the Lions. Dorleant, a backup, had to be carted off with a knee injury.
Pass coverage at cornerback was already an issue the past couple of games before injuries again hit the position.
One of the Packers’ top linebackers in coverage, Joe Thomas, also left the Lions game after a back injury flared up.
All the injuries forced McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers to scramble. Burnett and Hyde, who already have key roles on defense for their versatility, assumed different responsibilities.
Hyde, who plays safety and slot cornerback, moved to an outside cornerback position opposite the Packers’ last remaining healthy cornerback, Ladarius Gunter.
A fourth-year veteran, Hyde intercepted a pass at the goal line intended for Golden Tate with 1:35 left in the game.
“It’s real out there. It definitely is. It’s real. That’s why (cornerbacks) don’t get enough credit,” Hyde said about playing the position on the outside.
In his seventh year in the league, Burnett’s role has also evolved. With the Packers deep at safety, Burnett at times has played a hybrid-inside linebacker role that gives the team a little more athleticism in coverage while not sacrificing run defense, which is one of Burnett’s strengths.
And while Burnett will cover a tight end or running back at times, covering slot receivers isn’t his specialty.
While players switch roles in practice to get the experience, using Burnett in that position is a last resort.
“At this point, it’s just all hands on deck, and doing whatever’s needed to help the team win,” Burnett said.
McCarthy needed more time on Monday to sort out the injury situation at cornerback.
It seems unlikely, at the least, that Rollins will play given the nature of his injury.
But the Packers have been through this before, with Rollins and Randall both missing some time at midseason with groin injuries.
The results weren’t too good. Randall was sidelined during Green Bay’s four-game losing streak, then returned for the six-game winning streak that lifted the Packers back atop the NFC North.
But the Packers can get a shot of confidence with how the versatile Hyde and Burnett helped patch up a secondary down the stretch against Detroit.
“It’s a challenge but it’s nothing that we can’t handle,” Burnett said. “It’s something that we’ve been practicing, something that we’re prepared for, so we’ve got to go out and get the job done.”