GREEN BAY – This is when Mike McCarthy often gets his Packers to play some of their best football.
The when in this case refers to what’s commonly called the “mini bye,” when the team is coming off a Thursday night game and has had extra rest, recovery and preparation time before its next contest.
The Packers certainly needed the rest and recovery part due to their lengthy injury list, which impacted significantly the two home games Green Bay had to play in a five-day span against Cincinnati and Chicago.
“It feels great. It’s the one positive of a Thursday night game,” receiver Jordy Nelson said of the brief respite. “You get like a mini rest button for the body and the mind, to get away from it, not come into the building over the weekend. It’s good.”
A bonus day of opponent preparation never hurts, either, after a long weekend off. The Packers took advantage of that on Tuesday, whereas the players’ normal workweek begins on Wednesday.
McCarthy has always put the extra time to good use. During his coaching career, he’s 9-2 in games following a mini bye, and the Packers will look to improve on that Sunday in Dallas, a full 10 days after their previous game.
While 9-2 is a strong mark, it looks even better upon closer examination. One of those two losses was the “Fail Mary” game in Seattle in 2012, which comes with the requisite asterisk.
The other loss was last year in Atlanta in late October, perhaps the only time in McCarthy’s tenure the Packers were so banged up the mini bye didn’t really help them get healthy. The seven inactive players for that Week 8 contest with the Falcons were as follows: RBs Ty Montgomery and James Starks, WR Randall Cobb, and TE Jared Cook on offense, plus LB Clay Matthews and CBs Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins on defense.
Ouch. Yet, in the noisy Georgia Dome, the shorthanded Packers took the Falcons to the wire, losing by one point on an Atlanta touchdown in the final half-minute. It was a great example, even in defeat, of how McCarthy uses the mini bye to get his team playing at a high level.
A couple of recent success stories are impressive, too. Back in 2013, with quarterback Aaron Rodgers injured and the Packers coming off a Thanksgiving drubbing in Detroit, Green Bay rallied for a practically season-saving one-point home win over Atlanta.
Then the following year, after a rough loss in Seattle in the kickoff opener, the Packers stormed back from an early 21-3 deficit to beat the Jets at home by a touchdown, beginning a stretch of five wins over their next six games.
This year, the Packers aren’t coming off a loss, but they’ve weathered numerous injuries to be 3-1 and in a tie for first in the NFC North at the quarter pole.
Amongst Montgomery, tackles David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga, receiver Davante Adams, defensive lineman Mike Daniels and cornerback Davon House, the Packers would love to get at least some if not all of them back for these next three games before their full bye week at the end of the month.
In the health department, they’ll take whatever they can get whenever they can get it, but there’s no question the team is in a better place than a week ago at this time.
“The guys do feel good,” McCarthy said as the week started. “There’s a lot of energy.”
The Packers will need every ounce of that energy in Dallas against a Cowboys team that, even though the players aren’t talking publicly about it, has to be hell-bent on getting back at a playoff nemesis that has bounced it from the postseason two of the last three years.
Interestingly, last week the Cowboys were playing another team coming off a Thursday night/mini bye, and the Rams came back from an early double-digit deficit to chalk up a huge road win.
Chances are the Cowboys learned something from that this week, as well as harped on the importance of protecting their home turf now that they’ve lost two of their last three home games dating back to January.
From the Packers’ perspective, this is an opportunity to get their first road win of 2017 after the loss in Atlanta’s new stadium three weeks ago. If breaking even on the road is how a team stays in the hunt, starting 0-2 on the road would create a bit of a hill to climb.
Coming off the mini bye, the timing couldn’t be better to avoid that.