GREEN BAY—Mike McCarthy has always looked forward to the “mini-bye” that comes with playing a Thursday game, usually to allow a banged-up roster to heal and recuperate.
This time, the rest and recovery that comes with a weekend off is welcome for a different reason – the NFC North gauntlet the Packers just completed in the last 12 days, playing each of their division foes, two on the road.
“After what we’ve been through these five weeks, especially these last three weeks, with three division games, this is a perfect time for a mini-bye,” McCarthy said on Friday, a day after a 42-10 victory over the Vikings improved the Packers to 3-2 overall and 2-1 in the division.
There are some injuries to deal with, particularly on the defensive line. McCarthy is hopeful Josh Boyd, who missed Thursday’s game with a knee injury, will be able to practice when the players return to on-field work on Wednesday. The status is uncertain for Datone Jones, who left Thursday’s game with an ankle injury, and for wide receiver Jarrett Boykin, who has missed the last two games with a groin injury.
But otherwise, the Packers are relatively healthy as they head into a three-game stretch against Miami, Carolina and New Orleans that will take them to their actual bye on the first weekend in November.
“We need to get better,” McCarthy said. “We’re 3-2. That’s the reality of who we are as a team. I’m excited about what’s happened the last five days.”
Progress in the past week has come on both sides of the ball. The defense shut out Chicago in the second half last Sunday and then held Minnesota with a third-string QB to just 10 fourth-quarter points.
The work of punter Tim Masthay shouldn’t go unnoticed in that defensive effort, as Masthay placed five of six punts inside the Minnesota 20-yard line and finished with an impressive net average of 45.8 yards. Along the way, Masthay set a new franchise record for punts inside the 20 (a statistic kept since 1976) with 108 for his career, surpassing Craig Hentrich’s 104.
“Tim was excellent,” McCarthy said. “That was one of his best performances in his time here. He controlled field position. Their return game was something we had respect for going into the game. Tim had a huge night.”
The Packers also bottled up the Vikings’ running game and relentlessly pressured Vikings QB Christian Ponder with strong play from the defensive front seven. Julius Peppers ran away from everyone on an impressive pick-six – “He might be working with the offense this week,” McCarthy joked – while inside linebacker Jamari Lattimore appears to have locked down a starting spot.
Lattimore, who recorded his first career interception, started a fourth straight game even though Brad Jones returned from a quad injury.
“I like the way Jamari has played,” McCarthy said. “It’s good to have Brad back. We’re going to need more than 11.”
The Packers are still looking for more on offense, too. They entered halftime with a 28-0 lead but had gone three-and-out five times, including once on a drive that started near midfield.
That’s what prompted quarterback Aaron Rodgers to call for improvement after Thursday’s game, a message McCarthy believes will carry through when the players return from the much-needed weekend of rest.
“Absolutely,” McCarthy said. “He speaks for the locker room. He’s won championships, he’s been the MVP in the league. He knows what it takes. He knows what it looks like, he knows what it feels like. He also knows where we are, and we’re all excited about what we can be.”