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Day-After Notes: Team's Best Football Awaits

As the Packers prepare for a tough final stretch that includes three of four games on the road, Head Coach Mike McCarthy likes where his team is, and not just because it has won four straight. - More Dec. 8: Mike McCarthy Press Conference Transcript


As the Packers prepare for a tough final stretch that includes three of four games on the road, Head Coach Mike McCarthy likes where his team is, and not just because it has won four straight.

"We're a team that's winning games, but I'm excited because I think our best football is in front of us," McCarthy said on Tuesday, one day after his team improved to 8-4 and stayed near the top in the NFC Wild Card hunt.

That's saying something, considering how the Packers have put together their four straight wins. In beating Dallas, San Francisco, Detroit and Baltimore, the Packers have:

--Outgained their foes by an average of 130 yards per game (384.8 total yards per game to 254.8).

--Recorded 13 takeaways against just five giveaways, boosting the turnover ratio on the season to plus-18.

--Posted 13 sacks while allowing only eight.

--Controlled the ball for an average of 36 minutes, 44 seconds per game, or more than 13 minutes per game longer than their opponent (23:16).

"That's the type of football that we want to play," McCarthy said. "Now, can we do better in certain situations and so forth? Absolutely."

Those situations would include special teams and penalties. The kickoff coverage unit hasn't shaken its penchant for giving up a long return that breathes life into a team that's down, as Baltimore busted another long runback on Monday night, down by 10 points in the fourth quarter.

Kicker Mason Crosby also has been shaky, missing three field goals in the last four contests, and twice during the winning streak the Packers have been in double figures in penalties and triple digits in penalty yardage, most notably the 11 infractions for 175 penalty yards against the Ravens, more than half of that coming from three pass interference calls on cornerback Tramon Williams.

But McCarthy saw improvement from Monday night's win in the way the team overcame some adverse situations, like the penalties, several long down-and-distance situations on offense, and an uncharacteristic three-turnover night from quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Co.

That type of adversity, in the form of sacks, turnovers and special teams breakdowns, weren't handled as well in losses to the Bengals, Vikings and Buccaneers earlier this season, and the Packers were 4-4 at the midway point as a result.

But while the team is overcoming some of that now in chalking up wins, the focus remains on continuing to smooth out those rough spots as the playoff push hits full swing over these final four weeks.

"I think we have an opportunity to get better," McCarthy said. "I think we can play better. I think our defense has hit their stride. I think our offense hasn't hit their stride for four quarters, and I think the same thing for special teams. You do that one game, then you've got to do that two games. That's really how we approach things."

Health watch

McCarthy mentioned two injuries from Monday night's game that could limit players' practice time this week.

Linebacker Nick Barnett has a sprained knee, but McCarthy said he didn't have enough information to speculate on his availability for Sunday's game in Chicago. Also, nose tackle Ryan Pickett has a hamstring strain, and his availability is somewhat in question as well.

Pickett has missed only two of a possible 60 games since coming to Green Bay in 2006. Those were the final two games of the 2007 regular season, when he was nursing a groin injury and resting up for the playoffs.

{sportsad300}"Every player has history with injuries, and he has come back relatively fast in the past so that's what I am hopeful for," McCarthy said of Pickett.

There are also a handful of players "banged up," McCarthy said, who would be evaluated further on Wednesday morning before practice.

Big honor

Rookie outside linebacker Clay Matthews will be named the NFC's Defensive Player of the Week on Wednesday for his performance Monday night against the Ravens.

Matthews had two sacks, tying his career-high, plus a forced fumble among his career-best six tackles, all solo.

Matthews is the second Packers player to win the honor this season. Cornerback Charles Woodson has won it twice, in Weeks 10 and 12 (vs. Dallas, at Detroit).

Earlier this season, Matthews twice won the "Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Week" honors in online voting by fans for his performances in Weeks 6 and 10 (vs. Detroit, vs. Dallas).

Time change in Pittsburgh

The Packers-Steelers game in Pittsburgh on Dec. 20 has been moved to a 3:15 p.m. kickoff. The game will still be televised by FOX, which protected the matchup from being flexed to a prime-time affair on NBC.

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