GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It's a new season but the same old problem for the Green Bay Packers: Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins was ruled out for the season on Monday because of a neck injury, a continuation of the wave of injuries the team dealt with on its run to the Super Bowl.
Collins was carried off the field on a stretcher after sustaining a frightening neck injury in the fourth quarter of Green Bay's victory at Carolina on Sunday. Collins spent the night in the hospital and returned to Green Bay on Monday afternoon to meet with the team's medical staff.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Collins was present for a team meeting Monday, wearing a neck brace but otherwise in good spirits.
"It's tough," McCarthy said. "We've been through the injury stuff before, but it's something you never get used to as a head coach."
The team was not willing to disclose specifics of the injury, and McCarthy said it was not clear if Collins will need surgery. McCarthy couldn't immediately rule out the possibility that the injury could threaten Collins' career, because Collins is still being evaluated.
"You never take it lightly, that's for sure," McCarthy said. "I think it's really too early in the evaluation process to make those kind of statements."
It's another tough injury blow for the Packers, a team that won the Super Bowl title last season despite a rash of injuries to key players.
"It's definitely a punch to the gut," said safety Charlie Peprah, who will be expected to take Collins' place. "We're still trying to wrap our heads around it, because it went from thinking he was going to be OK to out for the season. It's something that everybody's just trying to get used to the news right now, and go from there."
Collins has been named to three straight Pro Bowls.
"Nick is like the quarterback to our defense," said defensive lineman Ryan Pickett, who might miss time in practice this week after he hurt his foot against the Panthers. "He makes all the calls, gets everybody lined up right. That's definitely a big blow. On a personal level, everybody loves Nick. He's a great guy."
Even with Collins calling the shots in the secondary, the Packers' pass defense has been shaky in victories over New Orleans and Carolina.
Green Bay gave up 419 yards passing to Drew Brees in a season-opening victory over New Orleans, then allowed Carolina rookie Cam Newton to throw for 432 yards on Sunday. Standout cornerback Tramon Williams missed Sunday's game with a bruised shoulder but might return to practice this week.
The defense has been tough in the red zone in both games, a critical part of the Packers' 2-0 start.
"The biggest thing is I want to see us eliminate those big plays and make people have to work a little bit harder to work the ball down the field," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "I know we're very capable of doing that. It's a lot easier to make those corrections when you're rising to the occasion and doing some things to keep them out of the end zone like we have been doing. There's no question we don't want to give up over 400 yards throwing every game."
Now they'll be tested without Collins.
"It's going to be a challenge," said safety Morgan Burnett, who missed most of last season with a left knee injury. "With Nick's leadership and his big-play ability, those are big shoes to fill. We've just got to go in there and just push and work hard and do it for Nick."
Collins was hurt as he tried to tackle Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart, who tried to hurdle Collins' tackling attempt. Collins' head collided with Stewart's hip, and his neck bent awkwardly.
Collins waved to the crowd while being wheeled off the field.
"He's on pace to potentially have a Hall of Fame career here," McCarthy said. "Hopefully, this is just a bump in the road. We're going to miss him."
Peprah says he's taking the same approach as he did stepping in for Burnett last year.
"They're expecting me to go in and have no drop-off," Peprah said. "I'm going to go in and do the best I can, and hopefully that will be more than enough to get back to where we were last year."