With starter Ryan Grant sidelined for the entire second half due to a thumb injury, backup Brandon Jackson provided a spark for the Packers' rushing attack with his best performance of the season on Sunday afternoon against Carolina.
Jackson finished the game with season bests of 80 yards and 11 carries. It was the second-highest yardage output of his career behind only his 113-yard performance in the 2007 regular-season finale vs. Detroit.
"When Ryan came out, it was like this is my time to go out there and play," Jackson said. "Like I always say, it's all about taking advantage of your opportunities (and) being prepared and being ready. 'RG' did a great job of helping coach tell me what to look for, and just me going through progressions and the offensive line blocking good."
Grant left the game with under five minutes left in the second quarter after spraining his right thumb and did not return. Although he said he could have come back and played, Grant added that he was concerned about being able to protect the ball.
"We thought I probably could have been able to go back in, but just both sides kind of felt like the amount of pain and how swollen it was, and I had a little bit more limited movement," Grant said. "Just maybe ball security-wise, it was a little better not to go back in."
Jackson provided an immediate boost to the offense on his very first carry, bouncing a run out down the left sideline for a 24-yard gain down to the Carolina 4. Three plays later quarterback Aaron Rodgers connected with wide receiver Donald Driver for a touchdown pass to narrow the Panthers' lead to 14-10.
With the Packers trailing 21-10 at halftime, Jackson once again ignited the offense with another big run, this time a season-long 32-yard gain on the first play of the second half down to the Carolina 26 that set up a 44-yard Mason Crosby field goal.
Jackson said even at that point he still didn't know if Grant would be returning to the game.
"I really didn't know if he was out or not," Jackson said. "There were times where I thought he was coming in but he was just coming to talk to me. I was just being ready and focused."
With the score tied at 28 and less than four minutes remaining, the Packers had the ball at the Carolina 7 after an unnecessary roughness call on defensive end Julius Peppers for his hit out of bounds on Rodgers. Jackson picked up six yards down to the Carolina 1, but was stopped short on the next play for no gain.
"We always talk about protecting the ball," Jackson said. "I didn't want to reach the ball out into the end zone and cause a fumble or anything, so I just tried to grind it out with my feet."
Fullback John Kuhn was stopped for no gain on 3rd-and-1, which forced the Packers to settle for the field goal and a 31-28 lead.
Grant said after the game that he was confident that he will be OK and the injury won't stop him from playing next Sunday against Houston.
To this point, Jackson's chances to run the ball this season have primarily come when Grant has been injured. In Week 2 at Detroit, Jackson posted 61 yards on the ground on seven carries, including a 19-yard touchdown run, when Grant was still slowed by a hamstring injury that he suffered early in the preseason.
Two weeks ago against Chicago, Jackson gained 50 yards on 10 carries, including five straight runs in the second quarter for 30 yards when Grant left briefly after having the wind knocked out of him. Seeing time primarily as a third-down back, Jackson leads the running backs with 27 catches for 178 yards this season.
"He did a great job," Tauscher said. "We feel Ryan is obviously a good running back, and when Brandon steps in there we feel like we can still do some good things.
"This league is about your opportunity. You get one and you have to take advantage of it. And I think Brandon has done a very good job with the opportunities he's gotten, whether it be last year against Detroit or whenever. This year when he's been called upon, I think he's stepped up and done a nice job."