Green Bay Packers running back James Starks suffered a knee sprain during the fourth quarter, and coach Mike McCarthy won’t know the extent of the injury until Monday.
Fellow back Ryan Grant, however, was upbeat that the injury isn’t something that will keep the Packers’ top runner out for too long.
“Initially, he was in pain, but I think (from) the initial shock,” Grant said. “What he was told by the doctor put him in good spirits. He said it’s a little sore right now. I guess (Monday) they’ll do the testing, but he was in good spirits.”
Starks finished with 38 yards on 11 attempts, with a 20-yarder bolstering a dismal day for the Packers’ ground attack. He added 53 yards on six receptions – both career highs. Of his 91 total yards, 55 of them came on the fourth-quarter touchdown drive after the Buccaneers had pulled within 28-26.
Starks was injured on the next series, when he was stopped for no gain on the play preceding Aaron Rodgers’ clinching touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson. Rodgers quickly signaled for the trainers to come out, and even McCarthy came on the field to check the condition of his young runner.
“I thought James was having a nice day with his opportunities,” McCarthy said. “I would have like to have given him some more opportunities. We had some things in, run and pass at the line, and they were challenging the box and played us very aggressively on the perimeter. There were some opportunities that he would normally have that he did not have. James is having a good year and I thought he was playing well up to the injury.”
If Starks can’t play against Detroit on Thursday – and that’s a good early guess given the short turnaround to the Thanksgiving game – they’d not only be without their top runner but their third-down back and No. 4 receiver. Starks has rushed for 541 yards and averages 4.5 per carry. Plus, he’s caught 28 passes for 210 yards. He’s on pace for 1,202 total yards. Grant, meantime, has rushed for 267 yards on 73 carries (3.7 average) and never has been an impact player as an outlet receiver.
Meanwhile, the Packers got back defensive end Mike Neal, who saw his first action since last year’s Week 5 game at Washington. Neal, who needed knee surgery after a training camp injury, played 13 snaps (unofficially) – mostly on third-and-long as well as Tampa Bay’s two-minute drill at the end of the first half.
“I knew, I just didn’t say anything,” Neal said when asked when he had learned that he’d be activated for the game. “I don’t feel like being held accountable to anybody and answering anybody’s questions during the week. I knew Thursday, that you practice this week and you practice the full practice, then there’s a great possibility you’re playing. I knew; I just didn’t say anything.”
Neal did not register a sack, tackle or pressure, though he did provide some push when lined up at defensive tackle or on several snaps when standing up almost like an outside linebacker.
“I saw one of the snapshots of the game and the pressure he was bringing from the opposite edge was fantastic,” linebacker Clay Matthews said. “A guy of his caliber and strength and overall ability is only going to help us out getting pressure on the quarterback and collapsing the pocket.”
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