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Dougherty: Losing Elgton Jenkins would be difficult for Packers to overcome


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MINNEAPOLIS - This hardly qualifies as a bad loss for the Green Bay Packers.

The Minnesota Vikings have formidable talent on offense with Justin Jefferson, Dalvin Cook and Adam Thielen, and a quarterback capable of getting hot any given week.

So to drop a game to them, 34-31 on the road on a final-play field goal, well, no real harm in that. That’s life in the NFL.

But the prospect of losing Elgton Jenkins, one of the Packers’ best players, while fellow offensive lineman David Bakhtiari’s return from ACL surgery remains in limbo? Now that hurts coach Matt LaFleur and his team.

The NFL Network reported that the Packers fear the injury is a torn ACL, though they’re awaiting MRI confirmation. Sure, the Packers made do and won three games without Jenkins (ankle injury) earlier this season. But getting by short term is different than finishing the season, and playoffs, without him.

As the Packers found out when they lost Bakhtiari late last year, they can get by just fine against plenty of teams. But somewhere down the road, against the best defenses, they will feel the loss, this time of their best run blocker and all-around excellent lineman who is a one-man depth chart.

When Aaron Rodgers was asked after the game about the possibility of finishing the season without Jenkins, his initial groan said it all.

“Oooof,” Rodgers said. “He’s been so versatile for us. He can play every position on the line, I think he’s played at least four of them, so definitely hate to see that happen. Not sure what his official status is coming out of the game, but with Dave (Bakhtiari’s) status unknown we’re going to have to rely on probably Yosh (Nijman), he’s played some good football for us.”

The Packers surely were excited about Bakhtiari’s imminent return from ACL surgery, which would return to their lineup an All-Pro player at a premium position and allow Jenkins to move back inside to left guard. That’s a win-win.

Now, there’s a real chance Jenkins’ season is finished. On top of that, Bakhtiari’s comeback has hit a hitch in its home stretch – he didn’t practice last week – and it’s unclear just when he’ll get back on the field.

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So the Packers could be playing a while without their two best offensive linemen. They’ve already proven their line’s depth by beating San Francisco, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati without Jenkins and Bakhtiari early this season. They can feel good that Yosh Nijman held up OK at the difficult left tackle position in those games.

They just have to hope Bakhtiari’s setback is temporary and doesn’t threaten his season. And even if and when Bakhtiari returns, their run game won’t get the boost that Jenkins would have provided with his move back inside.

Even with the loss the Packers are good shape for winning the NFC North, where at 8-3 they still hold a 2½-game lead over the second-place Vikings (5-5). But the Packers’ aim is a lot higher than winning the division, and dropping this game does put more on their matchup with the Los Angeles Rams (7-3) next week at Lambeau Field.

Playoff seeding is at stake, and the Packers are a game behind Arizona (9-2) for best record in the NFC with six games left for both. The Rams (7-3), Dallas (7-3) and Tampa Bay (6-3, plays Monday night against the New York Giants) are very much in the mix as well.

The Packers also have to harbor concerns over Rodgers’ toe injury, which was hurting enough that he went into halftime a little early for treatment even though there was a chance they’d get the ball back in 30 seconds or so of the half. He practiced only one day last week, and that, on Friday, was on a limited basis. He said he’s looking at a similar practice schedule this week.

This sounds like more than just a short-term injury, though he did appear to move around without any noticeable problems Sunday.

“It’s very, very painful,” Rodgers said. “Got stepped on in the first half and that kind of activated all the symptoms I was having. It’s going to be another painful week next week, and then hopefully start to feel a little better at the bye.”

Rodgers lack of time on the practice field the past couple weeks showed up in the Packers’ slow start Sunday. They put up only a field goal for the first 25 minutes before finally hitting stride, and then the second half it was mostly a vintage Rodgers (148.4 rating) with three touchdowns on three possessions.

But the slow start cost them on a day when they needed to outscore the Vikings’ talented offense.

“We had an opportunity to score 40 points today,” Rodgers said, “and when you’re playing an offense that’s hot, that has a hot quarterback and stud receivers and a stud back, you’ve got to keep scoring.”

The chance to rest up and regroup can’t come soon enough for the banged-up Packers, but before their bye they still have to take on the Rams.

Their loss to the Vikings on Sunday will likely be a blip on the screen of the 17-game marathon that is the NFL’s regular season. Whether they’ll be able to say the same about losing Jenkins is another matter.

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