GREEN BAY — If the Green Bay Packers are looking for someone to blame for their first playoff-less season in nearly a decade, Lance Kendricks is willing to take one for the team.
“I suppose,” the veteran tight end said, shaking his head and smiling sheepishly. “I guess I did bring the bad luck with me.”
The former University of Wisconsin standout spent his first six NFL seasons with the St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams before signing a two-year deal with his home-state Packers in March. In those six seasons with the Rams, he worked in two cities — but never went to the playoffs. In fact, he hasn’t played for a winning team.
He came to Green Bay excited to play with Aaron Rodgers, his workout buddy in southern California in the offseason, and looking forward to his first trip to the postseason. Thanks to Rodgers’ fractured right collarbone, which he sustained Oct. 15 at Minnesota and forced him to miss the next 7½ games, the Packers have been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention entering tonight’s home finale against the Vikings at Lambeau Field. They’ll finish playing out the string Dec. 31 in Detroit.
“I’ve been through it before,” Kendricks said. “I guess I am kind of an expert.”
Most of his teammates, however, are not. Of the 39 home-grown players on the Packers’ 53-man roster and injured reserve with more than a year’s NFL experience, only three — Rodgers, kicker Mason Crosby and wide receiver Jordy Nelson — have been on a Packers team that missed the playoffs.
While Rodgers (2005, 2006, 2008), Crosby (2008) and Nelson (2008) may have vague recollections of what it feels like to play in a so-called “meaningless” game, some of the team’s other most tenured veterans — linebacker Clay Matthews (ninth season), safety Morgan Burnett (eighth) and wide receiver Randall Cobb (seventh) — have never done it.
“It’s very disappointing,” Cobb said. “You never want to be in this situation. But we are.”
And the question is how those players will handle playing for pride. While other teams with less successful histories might want to play “spoiler” against a playoff-bound team, Packers coach Mike McCarthy has emphasized the game isn’t about damaging the Vikings’ postseason chances, as they’ve already clinched the NFC North title and are looking to earn one of the NFC’s top two playoff seeds — and the first-round bye that comes with them.
“This is going to be the judge of men’s character. And your pride,” left tackle David Bakhtiari said. “This is our job. We get paid to play football, and we need to go out there and play our best football. I don’t care what the situation is. Look at the Cleveland Browns. They haven’t won a game this year. They go out there and play football. That is what you do. So I don’t expect anybody to roll on their back or give up. And if that does happen, then honestly, that’ll (tick) me off.”
Added Nelson, who was a rookie in 2008 when the Packers most recently missed the playoffs (6-10 in Rodgers’ first year as a starter): “Obviously this isn’t a situation we’re used to. But I think once we get out there, it’s just going to be football. There’s been a lot of talk throughout the week about dealing with it, but I think once you get out there and you start playing football, you’re going to get competitive — no different than if it was in your back yard. Everyone has that competitive drive and that’s why we’re at the level we’re at.”
How their season spiraled on them will be a matter of evaluation. McCarthy said this week he would use the final two weeks as a head start on making the decisions he’d normally make after a playoff loss. The Packers’ defense was once again a disappointment, and the Rodgers-less offense was largely unproductive, save for a few late rallies led by backup Brett Hundley.
“There’s no way that you want to be in this, be a part of this organization and not be in the playoffs,” cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said. “And part of not being in the playoffs is, we didn’t get it done defensively. But to be honest with you, I don’t think any position on the team got it done. We didn’t play good complementary football.
“It’s just a shame that we didn’t get it done. And there’s no excuses. We’re paid to get it done.”
During his time with the Rams — a team that, ironically, entered the week at 10-4 and on the verge of the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2004 — Kendricks saw a few of his teammates put forth less than maximum effort — but he said most played hard despite having no playoff berth to motivate them.
Kendricks expects the Packers to show the same pride.
“You always want to finish as strong as you can — individually and collectively. I think it’s important that you finish the season out strong because a lot of the time, the way you finish the season can dictate how you start the next season,” Kendricks said. “It’s tough that it didn’t play out the way we wanted it to.
“Sometimes guys, they kind of just drift away a little bit. ‘Hmmm, I wonder what I’m going to do this offseason.’ You don’t want that to happen. You want to finish off strong. You’re still playing for your name and still playing for yourself.”
Gilbert replaces Goodson
The Packers promoted linebacker Reggie Gilbert from the practice squad to take the roster spot of cornerback Demetri Goodson, who was placed on injured reserve.
Goodson never played after coming off the physically unable to perform list on Dec. 6. He underwent reconstructive surgery on his knee after a gruesome injury last November and appeared on his way back.
But Goodson injured his hamstring, which kept him inactive for the two games he was eligible to play.
Gilbert originally signed with Green Bay as an undrafted free agent in May 2016. He spent the entire 2016 season and the first 15 weeks of this season on the Packers’ practice squad.