GREEN BAY, Wis. — The Packers keep winning games and losing players. They did both again Thursday, when they beat the Arizona Cardinals yet lost tight end Robert Tonyan and running back/kick returner Kylin Hill.
Tonyan’s agent, Jack Bechta, tweeted Friday that his client suffered a clean tear of the ACL in his left knee, while sources told ESPN that Hill also suffered a season-ending knee injury.
Tonyan injured the knee at the end of a 33-yard reception late in the third quarter. It was one of the key plays on the drive that gave the Packers a 24-14 lead on the way to their 24-21 victory. He finished the game with three catches for 49 yards.
A former undrafted free agent, Tonyan ranks third on the Packers in receptions (18) and receiving yards (204) this season. Although he had only two touchdown catches through eight games, his 13 touchdowns since the start of the 2020 season rank second among all NFL tight ends in that span.
“It’s the part of the game that sucks, quite frankly,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said Friday. “I feel awful for both those guys. They put a lot into this thing. They’re tough guys to replace. I know Kylin wasn’t as involved with our offense up to this point, but certainly what he’s done on special teams is going to be tough to replace. And then, just watching a guy like Bobby, like I mentioned last night, the growth and development of him and what he means to this football team and just knowing the amount of hours and everything he puts into this game, it’s sickening for me as a coach.”
The Packers have four other tight ends on their roster: Marcedes Lewis, Josiah Deguara, Dominique Dafney and Tyler Davis. Dafney was activated off injured reserve Thursday and played against the Cardinals after missing five games because of a hip injury.
It’s two more in a long line of injuries that have hit the Packers, although they have won seven straight games since losing their season opener. The Packers (7-1) are just the third team in the Super Bowl era to win seven straight games in a season immediately following a loss by 30 or more points. The 1994 49ers and 1976 Raiders both won 10 straight after such a loss and went on to win the Super Bowl.
The Packers played without seven preferred starters — four of them Pro Bowlers or All-Pros — on Thursday. Among the players sitting out were left tackle David Bakhtiari, center Josh Myers, and their top three wide receivers, Davante Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Allen Lazard, on offense, and outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith plus cornerbacks Jaire Alexander and Kevin King on defense.
It is unclear whether Alexander or Smith will be able to play again this season. Alexander opted to put off shoulder surgery in the hope that he could return before season’s end, and while that’s still the hope, it’s not a sure thing. Smith underwent back surgery after playing only 18 snaps in the season opener and looked like a longshot to return. However, he tweeted Friday that he was headed back to Green Bay after presumably rehabbing elsewhere and indicated he planned to play soon.
Just landed back in GreenBay‼️ I Can’t wait to get back on the field with my bros💪🏾💪🏾💪🏾 #GoPackGo
— Za’Darius Smith (@zadariussmith) October 29, 2021
“We’re certainly hopeful,” LaFleur said about Smith’s status. “As far as the updates on him in terms of when he will be available, I really don’t have anything to comment on, on that right now. We’ve got to get him back in the building and see where he’s at.”
There’s also a chance that Bakhtiari could be cleared for the Nov. 7 game against the Kansas City Chiefs. He returned to practice last week for the first time since he tore his ACL in a Dec. 31 practice and could come off the physically unable to perform list at any point.
Valdes-Scantling was close to a return Thursday, but the Packers chose to give him another week after he missed the past five games with a hamstring injury. King (shoulder) was questionable for the Cardinals game, and Myers (knee) has at least two more games on injured reserve before he could return.
Adams and Lazard will need to clear COVID-19 protocols before they can play.
“[We’ve] fought through a lot of adversity in terms of the injury bug this year, unlike the previous two seasons,” LaFleur said. “Provided that some of these guys, we get them back, it does help develop some of our younger players and get them experience, and we’ve found different ways to win, which is always good. But certainly, we’re looking forward to getting some of these guys back.”