GREEN BAY — Aaron Rodgers admitted this week he’s experiencing déjà vu six games into the Green Bay Packers’ 2021 campaign.
“This season is beginning to remind me a little bit of a season over a decade ago where we’ve had a number of injuries and in the course of the season added certain pieces to the mix that ended up playing a big role down the line,” Rodgers said. “I think you guys can imagine what season I’m talking about.”
It wasn’t hard to figure out that the veteran quarterback was referring to the 2010 season, which ended with the Packers winning Super Bowl XLV.
It’s not a perfect comparison by any means, starting with the fact that team was 3-3 at this point of the season. These Packers, riding a five-game winning streak, have a chance to improve to 6-1 on Sunday when they host the Washington Football Team at Lambeau Field.
Those Packers needed a late rally just to grab a playoff berth as a wild card. There’s a long way to go this season, but these Packers have a two-game cushion in the NFC North and shouldn’t need a sprint to the finish line to get into the postseason.
Unless, of course, the injury bug continues to bite them. And that was the main point of Rodgers’ flashback.
One of the more remarkable things about that 2010 team was how it overcame a depleted roster to win its final six games of the season, including four in the postseason as a No. 6 seed. The Packers had 16 players on injured reserve and were relying on midseason pickups such as Howard Green and Erik Walden to play key roles on defense by the end of that marathon season.
The injuries are adding up for the 2021 version as well and, just as his mentor Ted Thompson did 11 years ago, Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst is leaving no stone unturned as he tries both to improve the roster and make sure there aren’t gaping holes at key positions.
Such was the case Thursday when the team made it official that it had signed outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus, a 10-year veteran waived by the Houston Texans earlier in the week.
Gutekunst understands the Packers are a Super Bowl contender in this all-in season that could be the final go-round in Green Bay for Rodgers, star wide receiver Davante Adams and perhaps some other veterans. Mercilus is past his prime but, as was the case with wide receiver Randall Cobb, it’s rarely a bad idea to add a veteran at a key spot.
“It means a lot because obviously it means they’re focused on trying to replace some of those guys that we’ve lost,” Adams said. “That’s basically how this thing goes. When guys go down, it’s time to get new bodies to fill in and make up for what’s lost, or if not, hopefully the plan is to come in and add even more production than was there before. It means they’re obviously focused on us winning some games and we’ve been having pretty good production out of the guys who have joined, so hopefully we continue that.”
Gutekunst kicked the tires on veteran cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who was sent from New England to Carolina in a trade earlier this month. Fans were upset because Gilmore would have crossed off another glaring need, but it was the Packers’ salary cap situation — not Gutekunst dragging his feet — that led to Gilmore being a Panther and not a Packer.
Mercilus, even at 31, checks a lot of boxes. His positive personality will be a good fit in a locker room that, by all accounts, is full of good vibes. He’s also hungry for an elusive championship and feels like he can hit the reset button after going from a 1-5 team to one that is 5-1.
“The guys already have competitive spirit and all that, so I just feel like I add to that,” Mercilus said Thursday before spelling out what he gives the Packers in even more detail. “A dog mentality that wants to win every single down.”
Most of all, he gives the Packers some insurance at outside linebacker, where Za’Darius Smith is out indefinitely with a back injury and Preston Smith’s status is in doubt due to an oblique injury.
“He just is a guy that you have to account for and he’s been doing it for a long time at a high level,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. “You usually don’t find those types of players in this juncture of the season.”
Could more be on the way? Perhaps. It’s unlikely the Packers will be a player as the NFL trade deadline nears because of their cap situation, but Gutekunst and his staff no doubt will be keeping their eyes on the waiver wire and searching for help.
Back in 2010, the hits kept on coming and the Packers were able to roll with the punches. It’s up to Gutekunst to make sure the body blows don’t become knockouts.