Mike McCarthy made sure his undefeated team didn’t ease its way back into football following the bye week.
Instead, the Green Bay Packers coach had a nice surprise waiting for his players Monday when they returned from their six days off: An in-pads practice outside in Northeastern Wisconsin’s seasonably cool mid-40s temperatures.
With a challenging slate of games ahead during the second half of the season, McCarthy wanted to make it clear that the NFL’s lone remaining unbeaten team can’t afford to rest on its first-half accomplishments, even if the Packers are viewed by many as the clear-cut best team in the league.
“It’s nice when people say nice things about your football team. It definitely beats the alternative,” McCarthy said after the team’s 90-minute practice. “But as we talked about as a team today, we’re getting ready to hit the halfway point in our season. We like where we are, but we’re really focused on getting better. We have more to offer as a football team.
“We feel strongly, with a lot of confidence, that if we go out week-in and week-out and play our best football that things will take care of itself. We’re just really focused on making sure that when Sunday rolls around, that we go out and give our best performance to get to 8-0.”
Thus, McCarthy chose to use this week as the one week in which he is allowed to put his team in pads for practice twice, in accordance with the new collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and NFL Players Association. During the regular season, coaches are allowed a total of 14 padded practices, and 11 of those sessions must be held in the first 11 weeks of the season.
“It sends a message to your ballclub, letting us know that, ‘Vacation is over now. It’s time to get back to work,’” wide receiver James Jones said of the padded practice.
McCarthy said the practice focused on “fundamentals,” and that he had scheduled the team to be in pads on Monday before the season began. Still, it came as a surprise to his players, who weren’t aware of his plans until Monday morning’s team meeting.
“Everybody thought we were going to be in shells,” tight end Jermichael Finley admitted. “Then we heard that full pads, and it changed everybody’s mind-set. No doubt (McCarthy) is trying to send a message. He didn’t want anybody coming in, being lazy, flat-footed. He put those pads on us ASAP and woke us up at the beginning of the week.
“Teams usually play slow coming off the bye. We don’t want to be in that category. We don’t want to start off slow. We got the extra day (of practice) in today and got the extra work in.”
So far this season, teams coming off the bye week are a combined 3-9. While the Packers are riding a franchise-record 13-game winning streak (dating to last season and including the playoffs) and the Packers are 11-4 in their last 15 post-bye games – including 4-1 under McCarthy – the schedule doesn’t get any easier.
Regardless of the outcome of Monday night’s game between the Chargers (4-2) and Kansas City Chiefs (3-3) at Arrowhead Stadium, San Diego will be the first team the Packers will face that owns a winning record entering the game. New Orleans (0-0), Carolina (0-1), Chicago (1-1), Denver (1-2), Atlanta (2-2), St. Louis (0-4) and Minnesota (1-5) were all .500 or below when they faced the Packers.
If Kansas City beats the Chargers on Monday night, it would mean that only one of the Packers’ remaining eight opponents in the final nine games would currently have a losing record. The Vikings are 2-6, while San Diego, Kansas City, Tampa Bay (4-3), Detroit (6-2), the New York Giants (5-2) Oakland (4-3) and Chicago (4-3) are all at or above .500.
The Packers’ first seven opponents are a combined 20-32, while their remaining nine opponents (the Packers play the Lions twice) are a combined 38-26.
“It’s going to take all of us to go out there and put together a complete game, which we haven’t done all season,” Jones said. “We know we left a lot of plays go out there (in the first seven games). A lot of penalties, a lot of mental mistakes – a lot of things that we know we have to clean up.”