GREEN BAY, Wis. – An extra day off worked wonders for the Green Bay Packers, especially in the week after beating the New England Patriots in a heavyweight fight of a football game.
Break time is over, guys.
Coach Mike McCarthy's crew returned to the practice field Thursday to prepare for Monday night's game against the Atlanta Falcons. Around the locker room after practice, players stuck to a determined "next game" sentiment, though they seemed to be a little more refreshed after the extra breather.
"They better be. They got an extra day off, three days," McCarthy said. "We've still got some more work to do. They're back. They're into it."
Well, not everybody. Starting cornerback Sam Shields sat out practice after getting a concussion in last week's 26-21 win over New England. Defensive lineman Mike Daniels, who combined with Mike Neal for a crucial fourth-quarter sack of Tom Brady, was out with back soreness.
Of the two starters, the status of Shields might be concerning than Daniels, who McCarthy thought was day-to-day. As expected, Shields was still working through the concussion protocol.
This might seem like bad timing with the Falcons expected to bring their full complement of top receivers to Lambeau Field. Veteran Roddy White appears ready to return from an ankle injury to join Julio Jones and Harry Douglas as quarterback Matt Ryan's top targets.
The Packers, though, are relatively deep in the secondary this year. Micah Hyde, who splits time with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at free safety, is often on the field at the same time with Clinton-Dix anyway in five-defensive back sets, while Davon House and Casey Hayward have already proven to be dependable subs at corner.
"We have a lot of depth in our secondary. Just like our whole defense, it's good to get everybody involved," McCarthy said.
It helps to have a relatively short injury list, too, especially for December. The changes in training and conditioning made by McCarthy going into 2014, which include giving players off two days before a game — rather than the traditional day before a game — seem to have paid off.
On Thursday, every offensive player practiced. Having won four straight to rise to the top of the NFC North at 9-3, the Packers seem to be in good shape heading into the season's stretch run.
They also realize that momentum can disappear at any moment. They are not even in the clear in the division — as long as Detroit stays a game back of Green Bay, the Lions can still take the North if they can beat the Packers in the regular season finale at Lambeau.
"We'll hold each other accountable throughout the week," receiver Jordy Nelson said when asked about how to avoid a letdown. "We know what we have in front of us, we have a four-game stretch here. Detroit is right behind us. We can't let up at all and we need to make sure we take care of business."
Notes: Besides Shields and Daniels, LB Nick Perry was limited with a shoulder injury. DT Josh Boyd (knee), and backup LB Jamari Lattimore (ankle) also missed practice. OLs T.J. Lang (ankle) and Josh Sitton (toe) were limited with recurring injuries. ... QB Aaron Rodgers, who turned 31 this week, will make his 100th career start Monday. "I just turned 31, I'm getting kind of old in this league here," he joked. "A hundred starts, that's kind of all it means. I'm not too excited either way about it. Hopefully get another hundred."
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