'Creating regularity' is goal over mini-bye week
T.J. Lang called it a light at the end of the tunnel. Rest was the reward for a grueling, five-day stretch that saw the Green Bay Packers play their two fiercest rivals. This weekend, while players across the league go to work, the Packers will watch from home.
Of course, there was a catch.
The Packers had to win Thursday night. Yes, the 42-10 home stomping of the Minnesota Vikings helped their record. It was a boost in the NFC North standings. Even more, the victory gave players a chance to actually enjoy their time off.
The alternative, Lang said, wouldn't have been pretty.
"It's going to be nice to kind of get away for a little bit. We missed a little bit of a break there at the end of the preseason, going right into a Thursday game," Lang told Press-Gazette Media after Thursday night's win. "It's always nice going into a couple days off when you're coming off a win. I know when we did it in Seattle, it was just a (crappy) feeling having to sit there for three days and think about the loss, and come in on Monday and watch everything we did wrong.
"Now it allows us to kind of go into the weekend relaxed a little bit, get our minds on Miami."
There's that word again, relax. It's a lot easier to do now than 10 days ago, when Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers on his weekly radio show told fans to R-E-L-A-X.
Back then, the Packers were reeling after a listless offensive performance in a road loss to the Detroit Lions. At 1-2, Green Bay faced a critical stretch. It needed to win both of these past two games, to use that grueling, five-day stretch as a course corrector.
The Packers handled business. They beat the Vikings and Chicago Bears by a combined score of 80-27. Now, they can enjoy their success before preparing for a trip to play the Miami Dolphins on Oct. 12.
"It's a lot better when you win," inside linebacker A.J. Hawk said. "It's obviously a little unique playing on a Thursday night, and now having this weekend off basically. So, yeah, man it makes everything a lot better when you go into that winning."
Physically, the timing of this mini-bye week is appropriate. The Packers just played their three NFC North opponents during a 12-day span. That's three games in less than two weeks.
And this isn't nicknamed the black and blue division for nothing.
Defensive end Datone Jones left Thursday's game early with an ankle injury. Trainers were looking at Jones' right ankle on the sideline. Last season, he labored through a left ankle injury.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy said he's hopeful Jones will practice Wednesday. Same for defensive tackle Josh Boyd (knee), while McCarthy is unsure whether receiver Jarrett Boykin will practice next week. Boyd and Boykin were sidelined against the Vikings.
"It'll be good to get some guys to rest up," Hawk said. "We had a lot of plays on defense, I know, too. Over these last three or four games, we've been out there a lot because we haven't done a great job getting off the field. So, yeah, any day helps. That's for sure."
For the players, this weekend will feature two true off days.
In his younger years, McCarthy said he might be tempted to sneak an extra practice onto the schedule. Green Bay is playing its best football of the season, and keeping momentum is always tricky.
Instead, players won't report to Lambeau Field until Monday. The Packers won't return to the practice field until Wednesday. McCarthy said he wants to maintain a consistent schedule.
"The biggest thing, at least in my opinion, in training a football team going through the course of the season is creating regularity," McCarthy said. "That's something that we've paid close attention to. I think in my younger years, earlier years as a head coach, you always look for an extra practice. Really, the benefits really aren't there.
"I think you have to be really smart getting your team into the regularity of a pattern of what they do, because these weeks just start flying by."
It's a reasonable goal. For Green Bay, there's been little consistency with its schedule through the season's first five weeks. The Packers are one of only nine NFL teams to play on Thursdays so far. They're the only team to do it twice.
Now, the schedule starts to even out. Green Bay will play 10 of its 11 remaining games on Sundays. The lone exception is a home Monday Night Football game against the Atlanta Falcons on Dec. 8.
McCarthy said he doesn't mind the Thursday night games. While Packers players shared their dissatisfaction with the grind of a short week, McCarthy appreciates the light at the end of the tunnel.
"I've always enjoyed the Thanksgiving game," McCarthy said. "I always felt it served as kind of a mini-bye week for your football team. So just really after what we've been through, five weeks – in particular the last three weeks to have these three division games – this is a perfect time for a mini-bye. So this came at the right time."