When Chad Clifton fell to the turf during last nights game and proceeded to lie on the Georgia Dome carpet while trainers tended to him, the prospects for another Super Bowl run for the Green Bay Packers suddenly felt like they had come to a screeching halt.
Already playing their top backup at the tackle position, Marshall Newhouse, at right tackle for the injured Bryan Bulaga, the Packers were forced to turn to first round pick Derek Sherrod.
With Sherrod manning the right tackle position and Newhouse sliding over to protect quarterback Aaron Rodgers' blind side, it seemed as though head coach Mike McCarthy would have to considerably dial back on what he could call from his playsheet.
Not only were those fears misplaced, the Packers' two young tackles were more than up to the challenge of protecting Rodgers and letting the offense continue in its natural flow. McCarthy certainly gave his young guys help in the form of tight ends and running backs chipping the defensive ends, but nothing more than usual.
Which brings us to the subject of preparedness and Packers offensive line coach James Campen. Jeff Blumb, former head of PR for the Packers, stated it perfectly on Twitter last night after the game:
Hopefully James Campen gets some credit this week since he's everyone's favorite punching bag when things go bad.
I point this out as one of the guilty. The line's display last year in Detroit was enough for me to succumb to my base "Fire the coach!" instincts, something I like to think I have been very good at avoiding. (Unless, of course, we're talking about Bob Sanders...)
But Jeff is absolutely right. To have a second year guy and a rookie step in and not only play, but play well enough to allow Rodgers to operate the offense at such a high level is a testament to Campen and how prepared both of them were when called upon. Sherrod especially deserves praise for stepping into a hostile environment after a week of taking, what can safely be assumed, limited or even no reps with the starters, and playing as well as he did.
Was it a flawless performance? Not by any means. And the Falcons certainly attacked Sherrod in particular with an array of stunts and blitzes designed to confuse the rookie. But Campen's charge was more than up to the challenge.
When McCarthy updates the press on Clifton's status later today, it doesn't figure to be great news. But however long the veteran tackle is out for, the Packers can at least know they will have something more than human turnstiles to fill in during his absence.