Unbeaten Pack have time to get healthy
GREEN BAY, Wis. — Having dispatched the upstart Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day, the undefeated Green Bay Packers now can focus on getting healthy during their mini-bye week.
And they're going to need the time.
The Packers lost starting right guard Josh Sitton to a knee injury and both their starting inside linebackers - A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop - to calf injuries during the first half of Thursday's 27-15 victory over the Lions, and running back James Starks wasn't able to finish the game after aggravating his injured right ankle.
The Packers (11-0) next play Dec. 4 against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy said Friday that Sitton "would be hard pressed to play in the New York game," while Hawk and Bishop "both have a chance."
Sitton's knee injury is in addition to the knee injury he has been battling for the past six weeks, which landed him on the injury report and limited him in practice. He went out with about 5 minutes left in the first half and was replaced by backup Evan Dietrich-Smith.
The injuries to Hawk and Bishop pressed rookie sixth-round pick D.J. Smith and Robert Francois into service and also left the Packers perilously thin at linebacker, with Vic So'oto, Frank Zombo and Jamari Lattimore all inactive. When outside linebacker Erik Walden left the game briefly in the second half, the Packers had all four of their remaining active linebackers on the field in Clay Matthews, Smith, Francois and Brad Jones.
Walden returned to the game later, but his availability for the Giants is now in jeopardy after he was arrested early Friday morning on suspicion of felony domestic violence/substantial battery and was spending the weekend in the Brown County Jail because the county courts were closed for the holiday weekend.
After the game, Bishop left the locker room on crutches, while Hawk was able to walk out on his own.
"I feel real good about our (overall) health. I'll feel a lot better when I see them on the practice field (next) Wednesday," McCarthy said. "One of the beauties of playing in the Thursday game as slated, it does give you the opportunity to have a second-type bye week. That was our goal all along, that's what we laid out there to our players: 'Three games in 11 days and you'll be rewarded with this second bye week.' That's part of the reason I gave them as much time off, because I did want them to step away and get rejuvenated."
When the Packers return to work, they will have the Lions in their rearview mirror after listening to them talk a big game in the days leading up to the showdown.
"It was definitely a big win for us," left guard T.J. Lang said through a smile. "We were aware of everything they were saying in the media, about how they felt like they were evenly matched with us and they felt they were going to win the game and all that crap.
"They're still a good football team, they really are. But you know . We're 11-0, and they're 7-4. We still have to play them one more time this year, and after that game, a lot more questions will be able to be answered. We'll see what happens there."
For now, two teams that each started the season with five consecutive victories are headed in opposite directions: The Packers improved to 11-0 for the first time in team history, continuing their quest for the NFC's No. 1 playoff seed and the chance to play at home throughout the postseason, while the Lions lost their eighth straight Thanksgiving game and will have to battle to reach the playoffs.
"With all due respect, around here, we've been used to big games," Packers defensive lineman B.J. Raji said. "This was just another big game for us."
And while the Lions, who are less than three years removed from an 0-16 season, weren't able to handle it, the Packers still have a chance to go 16-0, although Packers coach Mike McCarthy said his team must focus on more immediate goals.
"We're 11-0. Once you get to 11 wins, 12 wins, you can see that (NFC North) division championship is in sight and that's our focus," McCarthy said. "Then once we get that, the next focus will be home-field advantage. And the focus after that is winning the Super Bowl. Those were the goals we laid out Day 1. . We won't shy away from the (undefeated) talk if we get to that, but it's a hypothetical situation. We're focused on winning our division right now.
"Really, not to be cliche, it's about the next game. Because if you don't get No. 12, that talk's over."
Thursday's victory put the Packers four games ahead of the Lions in the NFC North and 3 1/2 games ahead of 7-3 Chicago, which plays Sunday at Oakland. With San Francisco falling to 9-2 with its Thanksgiving night loss at Baltimore, the Packers have a two-game lead in the race for the No. 1 seed in the NFC and home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
"I think we're a long way from that (undefeated talk). . If we're fortunate enough to be still undefeated after 14 or 15 games, maybe we can start talking about (that)," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "I think (home-field advantage) is important. We haven't had a home game in the playoffs since 2007. It's on our mind. We'd love to have a home game."