Perhaps it will be OLB Diyral Briggs’ turn to be a hero against the Eagles in the final first-round playoff game this coming Sunday afternoon. Or maybe DEs Jarius Wynn and Howard Green will battle it out for game MVP honors. If form holds for the Packers, it would not be a shock if yet another unsung underling overachieves to an extreme to help lead the team to a victory in what now has become a one-and-done proposition with the “Second Season” taking center stage.
In the Packers’ tense playoff-clinching 10-3 victory over the arch-rival Bears, OLB Erik Walden, a free-agent addition on the same day starter Brad Jones was placed on injured reserve (Oct. 27), was the unsung hero, following in the footsteps of previous fill-ins this season that couldn’t have done a better job of filling the bill.
Walden was a one-man wrecking crew against the Bears, tying fellow LB A.J. Hawk for the team lead with 11 tackles, registering a pair of sacks and limiting Bears TE Greg Olsen to 29 harmless yards receiving. Walden was joined on the “surprise contributor” list by rookie RB James Starks, who gained 12 yards the first time he touched the ball on a play-action pass from Aaron Rodgers. In his first game action in three weeks after supposedly falling into head coach Mike McCarthy’s doghouse for poor practice habits, Starks had five carries for 20 yards and two catches for 15 yards.
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The term “all for one and one for all” certainly applies to the 2010 Packers, who have gotten to where they are at the moment by getting practically all of their players more than a little involved in the action at different points this season. It’s worth wondering whether or not Walden will remain in the starting lineup after his tremendous effort against the Bears in place of the injured Frank Zombo, who is battling a gimpy knee. Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said Monday that Zombo, DE Cullen Jenkins (calf) and FB-special-teams ace Korey Hall (knee) are all making progress and have a shot at playing against Philly. Zombo, it should be noted, helped set the tone for huge efforts from relative Packer no-names with the rock-solid job he had done replacing Jones at right outside linebacker before getting hurt.
Starks shapes up as a very intriguing X-factor in the postseason for the Packers. On a day in which the Green Bay running attack gave its numerous critics license to complain — Packers backs combined for a mere 39 yards on 16 carries against a tough Bears defense — Starks displayed enough flashes to make you think his best football of the season could be ahead of him.
While admirable performances from the team’s replacement parts continues to be a strong selling point in its potential for going a long way in the playoffs, there are a few concerns worth pointing out. In addition to the lack of production on the ground against the Bears, the Packers' receivers had way too many dropped passes — a disturbing trend that brought a scowl to McCarthy’s face at his Monday press conference.
And let’s not forget the suddenly shaky play of first-round ORT Bryan Bulaga, who picked up where he left off the past few weeks with another mistake-filled game, getting called for four penalties, two of which were to blame for helping shut down promising drives late in the game.
You can be sure McCarthy hasn’t forgotten about the five sacks that the Packers allowed in their one and only playoff game last year — a 51-45 wild-card loss to the Cardinals in overtime. You can be sure he will be imploring Bulaga to get his act together as soon as possible this week in what figure to be pretty intense practice seasions.