GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers can read a schedule as well as anyone else.
Get through Sunday's game against the Arizona Cardinals, and the Packers have a bye. A week to park themselves on the couch and prop up their bum ankles, aching feet and sore hamstrings — of which there are plenty. Seven days to recuperate and recharge for the final stretch of the regular season.
Just don't let coach Mike McCarthy catch them peeking at the calendar.
"I'll tell you, the players have a clear understanding (about) the importance of this game. I think we've made the mistake of maybe looking forward to the bye week in the past. We're not going to make that mistake this week," McCarthy said Wednesday. "Our focus is on the Arizona Cardinals. We made a big point as a staff and as a football team to make sure the urgency is heightened.
"We have a game to play," he added. "Who wants to talk about things that have nothing to do with Sunday? I want to talk about Sunday."
Three straight victories have put the Packers (5-3) back in contention in the NFC North, but they're in sorry shape these days. There were 13 players on the injury report Wednesday including Aaron Rodgers, his top two receivers, Charles Woodson and B.J. Raji.
And don't forget about workhorse running back Cedric Benson, who is on the injured reserve, eligible to return list.
Injuries are part of the game, and the Packers have managed to make do. But it's going to be tough to get to the playoffs, to say nothing of making a deep run, if they have to continue holding their lineups together with Band-Aids and surgical tape. All but two of the Packers' games in the second half are against division rivals, and another is against the NFC East-leading New York Giants.
The Packers need a break, and they need it badly.
"It'll help," Raji acknowledged. "Just being able to rest, not necessarily always banging or running on it and doing things that I have to do in practice or lifting and everything like that. Anytime you can get rest on an ankle — or any type of injury to your body — it can only help."
The Packers have a history of being able to maintain their focus under McCarthy. They are 4-2 in the week before the bye, and they rebounded from the loss-that-wasn't in Seattle with a victory. But after last week's lackluster effort against the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars, McCarthy isn't taking any chances. He has let his players know that any extra time off next week has to be earned with a victory over the Cardinals.
"He definitely has us focused on the Cardinals because he threw us a little bone if we win," James Jones said. "We know a lot of guys are hungry and ready to get the win so we can get a couple more days off."
Arizona's record (4-4) might not look all that impressive, and their offense is ranked near the bottom of the NFL. But the Cardinals are not the West Coast version of the Jaguars. It wasn't all that long ago that they were on a four-game winning streak, which included a victory at New England. With the exception of Monday night's 24-3 rout by San Francisco, their losses have been by 14 points or less.
"I'm not saying this is a championship game for us," said Cardinals guard Daryn Colledge, who is in his second year in Arizona after spending his first five seasons in Green Bay. "But with this being the last game before our bye week, these guys are going to be all in for this week.
"If we can go on a nice little run here at the end like we did last year, we got a chance to get ourselves to the playoffs," Colledge said. "But we need to make that decision right now, or we can be the team that just lets it slip away and make excuses for ourselves and call it a season."
The circumstances might not be nearly as dire for the Packers. But they are well aware of what is ahead of them, whether McCarthy wants them thinking about it or not.
"This is a big game," Bryan Bulaga said. "Just to finish halfway through the season at 6-3 is going to be huge. And after the bye week, we have a lot of division games. So it's going to be big for us to finish strong here and get in the bye week, get healthy and then get ready for these big division games we've got coming up."
Notes: WR Jordy Nelson (hamstring) didn't practice Wednesday, and McCarthy said he hopes to know more about his status Friday. ... WR Greg Jennings' surgery to repair a torn abdominal muscle was delayed because of Superstorm Sandy. The procedure was supposed to be done Tuesday in Philadelphia. ... DE Jerel Worthy, who suffered a concussion in Sunday's game, was better Wednesday, McCarthy said. "He's still going through the process, the protocol for concussions," McCarthy said. ... The Packers have to make decisions by Nov. 7 on TE Andrew Quarless and LB Frank Zombo, who have returned to practice from the physically unable to perform list. "We're going to start working them into some of the game-plan stuff and see where they are," McCarthy said.
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