GREEN BAY – As all NFL clubs do, the Packers have a lot to process this week, and players are working through it in their own ways while appreciating the togetherness fostered within the team, locker room and league.
Seeing Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin go into cardiac arrest on the field in Cincinnati during Monday Night Football has been on everyone's mind. So when the players returned to work Wednesday after their usual Tuesday off, Head Coach Matt LaFleur held an extended morning meeting to allow players to discuss what happened if they desired, but not much was said.
"It was very, very quiet in there," LaFleur said. "I think it's tough for these guys to compartmentalize and understand that you're thinking about that and you're trying to get ready for a game."
The Packers have a high-stakes contest Sunday night at Lambeau Field against the Lions, needing a win to get into the playoffs. But it's going to take some time this week for the focus to reach the level it normally would with Hamlin still in critical condition as of Wednesday evening.
The players – who all expressed their thoughts and prayers for Hamlin, his family and the Bills – feel they'll get there eventually, but it's an added challenge to the week nobody saw coming.
"You can't. You can't compartmentalize it," veteran receiver Randall Cobb said. "That was really tough to watch. It was really difficult to see. It's been tough to sleep the last couple of nights."
Cobb mentioned he's had some emotional discussions with his wife, recalling his own serious on-field injuries, including a broken leg in Baltimore in 2013 and a punctured lung in Arizona in the 2015 playoffs that required an ambulance trip to the hospital.
The physicality and violence involved in the game are the norm, and those risks are understood. But seeing life and death as another category of risk on display in Cincinnati took everyone aback.
"I can't even express the emotions. It's been a rollercoaster," Cobb said. "I've had tears. I've been mad. I've been angry. I've been asking why, how.
"It's real. We're real people. I know that we put a helmet on and we take the field and we're like present-day gladiators, but we go home to a family. I've got two kids at home who are expecting me to walk back in that door. I've got a wife. I've got a dad that's here. My mom's coming up this weekend. I have family and I have people that care about me, as all of us, all of our players, all of my teammates, all my NFL brothers, we all have this feeling."
Players have had some discussions on their own in the locker room. The team meeting included a comprehensive review of all the medical personnel available at a moment's notice at every game, to reassure the players the best possible care is on hand at all times, which was crucial Monday night in giving Hamlin a chance to come through this and recover.
The players were reminded mental health services, internally and externally, are available for them as well. An open session with Dr. Chris Carr, the team's director of performance psychology, was scheduled after Wednesday's practice.
The initial emotions and reactions remained prominent when players spoke to the media late Wednesday, from the youngest to the oldest in the locker room.
Rookie receiver Christian Watson said there are "really no words" to see that happen to a fellow football player and it's "still shocking," while 18-year veteran QB Aaron Rodgers admitted he's "still a little shook up by it."
Rodgers said it's helped him to be continuing a text conversation with Bills QB Josh Allen, but everyone's still waiting and hoping for a breakthrough of positive news. Watson felt the team meeting, even with the players mostly listening, was a helpful first step.
"In times like that is where you really need a family, a brotherhood to be able to talk to, get everything out," he said.
Preparations for the Lions will continue Thursday and Friday, with the hope of hearing positive updates on Hamlin. Wednesday was just the start of the football week, with more to work through than anyone thought following the Packers' big home win over the Vikings on Sunday.
"It was definitely a tough meeting," defensive lineman Kenny Clark said of what was anything but a normal start to a game week. "As a player you just have to find a way to separate the two and still be able to go out and play a game, but definitely have him in our head and our hearts, and just understand this is the game that we play and that's the risk that we take."
If only it were that simple.
"It's not easy," LaFleur said. "Every team is dealing with this right now. I mean, we all are. It speaks to the brotherhood of this league and how important these guys are to one another and the compassion that we have for one another."