Mike McCarthy wants to find out this week whether veteran left tackle Chad Clifton is going to be able to help the Packers in the upcoming playoffs.
“I want Chad Clifton to play in this game,” McCarthy said Monday, referring to the regular-season finale against the Lions. “He knows that and that’s the goal.
“Once again, with his injury situation and what he’s gone through the last nine, 10 weeks, we’ll take it day by day. But the goal is for him to play against Detroit.”
Clifton hasn’t played since Week 5, when he went down with a torn hamstring in Atlanta. During the rehab process, he also injured his back, which delayed his return longer than anticipated.
Marshall Newhouse has filled in for him the bulk of the season, but the Packers have depth issues at the position. They lost one backup tackle last week when rookie Derek Sherrod went on injured reserve. Second-year man Bryan Bulaga is also dealing with a knee injury now, but McCarthy said Bulaga would be “close” this week and doesn’t seem to be in danger of missing the playoffs.
Clifton put together perhaps the best stretch of play in his career during the Packers’ run to the Super Bowl title a year ago. Through the six-game winning streak that won it all, he was matched up against the Giants’ Osi Umenyiora, the Bears’ Julius Peppers (twice), the Eagles’ Trent Cole, the Falcons’ John Abraham and the Steelers’ James Harrison – a veritable murderer’s row of pass-rushers – and handled every assignment with aplomb.
Newhouse, a fifth-round draft pick in 2010, has performed admirably but has had the expected ups and downs of a young player receiving his first extended playing time. Getting Clifton back for the postseason could provide at best a stabilizing force for the offense and at least some reliable depth up front the rest of the way.
Clifton returned to practice for the first time last week, doing mostly individual drills as well as taking some 11-on-11 scout-team snaps at tackle on Friday, McCarthy said.
The next step is for Clifton to get some live contact, and McCarthy said the team would practice in pads on Thursday this week.
“I want to see him play. I want to see him play in the game,” said McCarthy, who was then asked if that was for his own comfort level as a head coach.
“And for him to be comfortable. Chad has played a lot of football for us. Chad’s an All-Pro left tackle. The call he needs to answer is his own. The feedback has been very good throughout the rehab, and I just want to see him take the next step. More importantly, he needs to get out there in live action.”
The Packers’ offensive line has been banged up in one fashion or another almost all season, but Sunday night’s unit that had T.J. Lang in Bulaga’s place at right tackle and Evan Dietrich-Smith in Lang’s spot at left guard didn’t allow the Bears to sack Aaron Rodgers even once.
That was the first zero-sack game for Rodgers this season and his first since Week 7 of last season. McCarthy said the offensive linemen would receive game balls for their efforts.
“That tells you how we felt about their performance as a whole,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy also praised the work of the special-teams units, which began with punter Tim Masthay and kicker Mason Crosby limiting Devin Hester’s opportunities in the return game, as well as his team’s overall discipline.
For the first time in McCarthy’s tenure, the Packers weren’t charged with a penalty. They were called for one infraction – an offsides on Jarrett Bush as Chicago kicker Robbie Gould made a 35-yard field goal late in the second quarter – but the Bears declined it.
The Packers previously had three contests with one penalty under McCarthy (this year vs. Minnesota, last year at Minnesota, and in 2007 at Chicago), but never a zero-penalty game. Green Bay’s last game with no penalties was 21 years ago (vs. Tampa Bay, Nov. 25, 1990).
“No penalties and not turning the ball over,” McCarthy said. “That’s a good formula for winning.”
More on injuries: Defensive lineman Ryan Pickett has missed the last two games following a concussion in Week 14 against Oakland, and McCarthy said he’s “real close,” though he hasn’t officially been cleared for Wednesday’s practice yet.
Running back James Starks, who has had problems with both ankles throughout the season, injured his right ankle on Sunday night and will be “challenged” to practice on Wednesday, McCarthy said. Additional coverage - Dec. 26