Professional athletes are trained to have tunnel vision. When there’s a task at hand, it’s all they focus on.
So the big-picture implications of Thursday night’s showdown with archrival Chicago – namely, that the Packers would fall two games behind in the standings with a loss, and would be facing an uphill climb already to repeat as division champions – aren’t the team’s concern this week.
The fact that NFC North play is getting underway definitely is, however, and the Bears just so happen to be the Packers’ only division opponent until Week 11. In other words, there may not be a bigger game on the schedule between now and mid-November, and that would be true if the two teams’ Week 1 results were reversed, too.
“It’s important for us to not look behind us or (at) what’s next,” Mike McCarthy said on Tuesday. “What’s right in front of us is a division game, and they’re most important.”
McCarthy drove that point home in the team meeting Tuesday by going through a study with the players that showed the success that often follows division wins. McCarthy has always emphasized division games since becoming head coach in 2006, and his 27-9 division record (which is second-best in the league since then, behind only New England at 28-8) speaks to that.
So do quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ numbers against division foes. Not counting the 2010 Detroit game when he left in the second quarter with a concussion, Rodgers is 11-1 in his last 12 division games, and his career passer rating of 111.3 against division opponents is the top mark in NFL history since the league went to a divisional format in 1967, according to STATS LLC.
As it turns out, facing a division rival on a short week is probably as good a way as any to forget about a frustrating Week 1 loss.
“You have to move forward, and right now we’re getting ready for the Bears,” veteran receiver Donald Driver said. “It’s a big rivalry between both teams. I’ve been here 14 seasons so I’ve seen it, and it’s always been a battle. We’re going to be ready when Thursday comes.
“A lot of guys know exactly what to expect. We have a bunch of young guys in this locker room, but I think a lot of the veteran guys told them this is the game. This is the game that counts.”
Driver may end up being counted upon in this one. Greg Jennings missed Tuesday’s practice with a groin injury, and even though McCarthy reported his rehab session went well, his status for Thursday remains up in the air.
Driver didn’t play in last Sunday’s game until Jennings went out on the final series. He confessed it’s tough not to play, but he said he’ll deal with whatever role he’s asked to undertake and be ready for the call. It could come Thursday night.
“We will see,” he said. “No one knows. We’re hoping that Greg heals and he can play. He’s probably one of the toughest guys in this locker room, so if he can play, he will play, and we’ll see what happens after that.”
Regardless of which receivers are at his disposal, Rodgers expects the Bears to defend the Packers like they always have, with two safeties deep to try to prevent the big play.
A respectable ground game is the best way to pull one safety closer to the line of scrimmage, but the Packers weren’t able to pull the 49ers out of their game plan when they gained only 18 yards on nine rushes by Cedric Benson.
“If you’re not able to run the ball effectively enough, they’re going to sit back in that cover two, kind of rally up to the ball and try to keep everything in front of them,” Rodgers said.
“It was not a good day running the ball (Sunday). We have to do a better job. When teams are giving us a six-man box against our sub personnel, we’d better be able to run the football.”
Even though there were times he had nowhere to run, Benson isn’t ducking responsibility for the running game’s struggles, and he’s confident it will get going.
“Yeah, I am, because I saw some things,” Benson said. “Even if it’s not blocked perfect, there’s some area to make some plays.
“I feel a lot of (responsibility). I feel a large sum of it. I’m a running back and I pride myself on running the football. We weren’t very productive in the few attempts we did have, so I’m very poised to turn that around.”
Injury update: Defensive end C.J. Wilson (groin) practiced on a limited basis Tuesday, as did linebacker Jamari Lattimore (ankle) and cornerback Davon House (shoulder).
“I was very encouraged watching him work bump-and-run, sticking his arm and hand in there,” McCarthy said of House. “That’s always the first thing you look for when a corner is coming back from a shoulder injury.”
Running back James Starks (toe) and linebacker Terrell Manning (concussion) missed practice. Additional coverage - Sept. 11