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Day-After Notes: Consistency Still Elusive

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Head Coach Mike McCarthy has spoken often this season about the peaks and valleys the 2009 Packers seem to go through on a regular basis, and that inconsistency during the course of an individual game haunted them again on Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.

Offensively, the ups and downs were obvious. The Packers went from gaining just 47 yards and three first downs with a gift field goal in the first half to putting up 304 yards, 17 first downs and 23 points in the second.

Defensively the roller coaster was evident as well. The defense was put in bad spots in terms of field position throughout the game, and that didn't help. But at one point the defense was rising up to stop the Vikings on fourth-and-1 near the goal line, and two possessions later they're allowing the Vikings to go 70 yards in two plays for a touchdown, the first a third-and-17 conversion.

"There are so many more positives to our football team in my view than the negatives, but the thing I don't like is the valley between our positives and our negatives is too big right now," McCarthy said. "The way we play at an extremely high level...our bad plays need to be closer to our good plays is the point I am making.

"Our good plays need to overshadow our bad plays, but we've just got a little too big of a valley right now."

Certainly the second-half comeback against the Vikings was impressive. Down 24-3 with 13 minutes left in the third quarter, the Packers trailed just 31-26 with 10½ minutes left in the game.

It was a sustained run of solid play, with the offense scoring four straight times (three TDs, one FG), and three of the drives were longer than 60 yards. The special teams got a key turnover on a fumbled kickoff return. And the defense got a big three-and-out when two deflected passes were nearly intercepted. Another defensive stop in the fourth quarter, after the Vikings had picked up just one first down, gave the offense the ball back down only one score.

But the Packers couldn't keep the momentum the rest of the way, nor afterward could they help but wonder how differently the game might have unfolded had they not dug themselves such a huge hole in the first half.

"I think it's the thing that's dogged our team through the first seven games, is being consistent for 60 minutes," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "As cliché as that is, we've had great stretches where we've played very well, but stretches where we've started slow either the first half or the second half, or had lulls within the game."

Those lulls didn't cost the Packers against the lesser opponents on their schedule, namely the Rams, Lions and Browns, who all have one win apiece this season. But this team has paid the price in the two critical defeats to division rival Minnesota, particularly the one at home on Sunday.

"I felt that in the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth quarter, that's the way the game was supposed to be played, and we only did it for a quarter and a half," McCarthy said. "The pressure was starting to get to their quarterback, and things were starting to happen where we were having opportunities to potentially get our hands on the ball. You want to play that way for four quarters. We didn't get that done."

Chillar out for now

Linebacker Brandon Chillar, who broke his hand in the second quarter of Sunday's game, is having surgery on Monday and is expected to miss at least a couple of weeks. McCarthy said after that it's possible he could return to action with a club-cast on his hand.

"I like Brandon, Brandon's a smart football player that gives us good flexibility," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "We'll miss Brandon. Hopefully we get him back and he's not out too long."

Against the Vikings, Desmond Bishop replaced Chillar as an inside linebacker in the nickel defense and recorded three tackles (all solo) and a pass defensed, but he also got caught too far inside on the 44-yard screen pass to running back Adrian Peterson in the fourth quarter that set up Minnesota's clinching touchdown.

McCarthy said he also will look at A.J. Hawk, who starts at inside linebacker in the base defense, to possibly take Chillar's spot in the nickel as well.

"I think A.J. is playing well," McCarthy said. "We'll look at A.J. and Desmond there. I'm very comfortable with A.J. I think the way he is playing; I think he has been very consistent. Desmond has made some big plays but I like the consistency of A.J."

Hawk was an every-down linebacker during his first two seasons but started to cede some snaps on passing downs to Chillar in 2008 before the injury to Nick Barnett forced Hawk to take over at middle linebacker the remainder of the season.

This season, Hawk has played only in the base defense, which in some games has meant very few snaps because of the predominant use of the nickel package.

Whether the coaching staff goes with Hawk or Bishop, more than likely the 'Big Okie' package (which featured Chillar as a fifth linebacker in place of a second safety to add some extra muscle against the run) will be out of commission for now.

"I would say right now 'Big Okie' is probably on the shelf for a little while," Capers said. "We'll look to other means to get what we got out of 'Big Okie.'"

Other injuries

Rodgers added a sprained toe to his sprained (other) foot in Sunday's game and could see very limited practice time this week, but he's not expected to miss the next game at Tampa.

McCarthy said Rodgers probably wouldn't do much work in either Wednesday's or Thursday's practice, with a goal of getting back on the field Friday.

"I think he'll be fine to play in Tampa," McCarthy said. "I don't think it's going to change the way he plays. Just visiting with Dr. McKenzie, I think they're injuries that just need to settle down a little bit."

None of the other injuries from the game - receiver Donald Driver (shoulder stinger), safeties Nick Collins (ankle) and Derrick Martin (concussion) and fullback John Kuhn (knee bruise) - appear to be serious concerns.

Tight end Jermichael Finley (knee) did not work out prior to Sunday's game because he was too sore following his rehab testing on Saturday. McCarthy expected him to be questionable to doubtful this week.

Receiver Jordy Nelson (knee) is at least another week away from returning.

Work in progress

With offensive tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher potentially available this week, McCarthy said he's going to look at the game plan and take the week to decide the starting five on the offensive line.

Clifton has missed four full games and parts of two others because of an ankle injury, while Tauscher hasn't played yet since signing with the team three weeks ago, and hasn't appeared in a game since injuring his knee in Week 14 of last season.

McCarthy said he wants to pay particular attention to how Clifton and Tauscher progress through the week. Rookie T.J. Lang has started in Clifton's place at left tackle the past two games, while Allen Barbre has started every game this season at right tackle - Tauscher's old spot.

Much like last week, McCarthy doesn't expect to have any final decisions on the starting unit until probably the end of the week.

Conversations forthcoming

McCarthy said he plans to talk with both Johnny Jolly, whose personal-foul penalty in the first quarter gave the Vikings a first-and-goal that led to a touchdown, and Cullen Jenkins, who expressed frustration at the defensive scheme and play calls after the game.

{sportsad300}Capers also plans to talk with Jolly, whom he credited with being a productive player on defense but one who needs to be more under control.

"I think you've got to keep your poise to where you don't let the emotions take over and you make a decision that hurts the football team," Capers said. "To me that's all about, you've got to keep your poise. That's part of being a mature competitor."

Capers said he had already spoken with Jenkins, and he chalked up the post-game comments to emotional frustration after a tough loss, and part of the process players go through in transitioning from a 4-3 to a 3-4 scheme during the season.

That said, Capers and McCarthy both emphasized that the coaching staff isn't putting together defensive game plans to highlight certain players.

"Everybody has a role in this defense," Capers said. "I've talked to the players about every decision we make is going to be based on one thing and that's what we feel gives us the best chance of winning. It's not going to be based off of individuals. It's going to be based off of collectively what gives us the best chance of winning."

Those words echoed McCarthy's.

"I'm not interested in having Pro Bowl players and having a 27th-ranked defense," McCarthy said. "Our interest and our focus is on being a top-three defense in the league. It's utilizing all of our players. Sometimes players are asked to do things, to sacrifice so someone else can benefit from it, and that's part of the deal. That's the way we operate. We have a lot of good players on defense."

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