GREEN BAY—The Packers can clinch the NFC North one of two ways – they can beat Chicago on Sunday, or they can win their last two games.
Mike McCarthy doesn’t want to mess around.
“You do it as soon as you can, that’s the big thing,” McCarthy said on Monday, less than 24 hours after a 27-20 victory over the Lions improved the Packers to 9-4 and put them alone in first place in the division, one game ahead of the Bears with three to play.
“Yes, we’d love to wrap up the division and hopefully we’ll be playing for more the following two weeks.”
The “more” is the possibility of a first-round bye. As it stands, the Packers are one-half game behind the 9-3-1 49ers for the No. 2 seed in the NFC, but first thing’s first.
The word of the day was “hopeful” as far as the team’s injury report getting better for the showdown in Chicago. McCarthy had no new information on linebacker Clay Matthews (hamstring), defensive back Charles Woodson (collarbone), receiver Jordy Nelson (hamstring) or offensive lineman T.J. Lang (ankle), but he’s hoping they can all return to action this week. No promises, though.
Defensive end C.J. Wilson (knee) may not be quite ready, but McCarthy did everything but knock on his wooden podium when he talked about having to actually struggle with the gameday inactive list because he might actually have more than 46 healthy players come Sunday.
“Sometimes things happen in a cycle, and I’m here to tell you our cycle has ended,” joked McCarthy, who didn’t have to explain that he would love such a proclamation to come true. “Our inactive list has pretty much taken care of itself for the last month, and, hopefully, we’ll be making those hard decisions this week.”
One decision he appears already to have made is to get running back DuJuan Harris more involved in the offense. McCarthy liked the variety of running styles his trio of backs (Alex Green, Ryan Grant and Harris) displayed on Sunday in combining for 113 rushing yards, and Harris, a 5-8, 203-pound speedster, appears to be the type of change-of-pace back McCarthy’s offense has never really possessed.
McCarthy called a pitch to Harris on the first offensive snap of the game to see what he could do, because the previous week Harris got “lost” in a personnel shuffle as the game plan adjusted. Harris promptly gained 11 yards and ran over a defender at the first-down marker.
“When he went roaring around the corner the first play of the game, it was different,” McCarthy said. “We haven’t had a guy run like that in my time here.
“Tough kid, talented. He’s as fast vertically as he is horizontally.”
Harris capped his impressive debut with the go-ahead TD on a 14-yard run in the fourth quarter that broke a 17-all tie. While the Lambeau Field crowd may have been stunned to see a relative unknown suddenly in the end zone, it seems no one on the Packers sideline was surprised at all.
“When your teammates high-five you and get excited about things you do at practice, that’s usually a pretty good sign that a young man just needs an opportunity,” McCarthy said.
“I’d like to get him in the game more. I’d like to do more with him.”
McCarthy has no plans to change his approach with kicker Mason Crosby, though. Crosby made field goals from 49 and 41 yards against the Lions but missed from 51, making him just 1-of-8 on the season from 50 yards and beyond.
Seeing how well Crosby struck the 51-yarder that barely missed means more to McCarthy than his overall 50-plus numbers.
Similarly, though McCarthy didn’t specifically say so, he’s more focused on his team’s position – being a victory in Chicago away from clinching a second straight division title – than its middling rankings, 17th in both total offense and total defense.
“I don’t get caught up in statistics,” he said. “If I was worried about statistics, I’d be (ticked) off every day in here. We’ve got nine wins. That’s the only statistic I’m worried about.” Additional coverage - Dec. 10