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Packers will put playoff bye to good use

Players will get healthy and practice later this week

Head Coach Matt LaFleur
Head Coach Matt LaFleur

GREEN BAY – The reason behind the flat start to Sunday's game remains a mystery to Matt LaFleur.

Commenting Monday about the Packers "sleepwalking through that first half" in Detroit, the head coach said he can't explain what took his team so long to get going against the last-place Lions, especially given all the discussion throughout the week about the importance of the game.

"If I knew the answer it wouldn't have happened," LaFleur said. "It's something we knew. You stress it and you stress it and you stress it all week how important it is to get off to a fast start. I don't know. You can talk about it all the time, but sometimes it still happens."

Fortunately, it didn't cost the Packers a crucial win and first-round playoff bye, which they have this week. LaFleur said the coaches will use the time to self-scout as well as do preliminary preparation for the three opponents Green Bay could face in the divisional round (New Orleans, Philadelphia or Seattle).

The players will return to the practice field for a pair of "short and sweet" workouts on Thursday and Friday. Then they'll practice again Monday once they know their opponent and move through a normal week of prep from there through the Sunday, Jan. 12, home playoff game.

The hope is the time off will give some key players an opportunity to heal, as receiver Allen Lazard (ankle), center Corey Linsley (back) and right tackle Bryan Bulaga (concussion) all exited Sunday's game in Detroit.

LaFleur praised the work of backup offensive linemen Lucas Patrick and Jared Veldheer, who filled in at center and right tackle, respectively, but there was more to that situation than meets the eye.

Unprompted, LaFleur also made a point to give a shout-out to right guard Billy Turner for gutting out the game on a tender ankle. The Packers only had seven offensive linemen active for the game, so if Turner hadn't kept playing, an out-of-position substitute would have been required.

"For him to stay in there and be available when he wasn't 100 percent, I thought that was big-time," LaFleur said.

As steady as the linemen were, though, inconsistency remains the offense's biggest issue. Finding a rhythm that lasts for longer than one possession remains elusive.

Even in rallying from a 14-point deficit to beat the Lions, 23-20, the Packers still only scored on consecutive possessions once in the game. Five of 12 drives moved the sticks just one time or not at all.

"There's flashes we look really good and flashes where it's a grind to get a first down," LaFleur said, pointing to third downs as the offense's primary downfall. The Packers finished the regular season ranked a disappointing 23rd in the league in third-down conversion percentage (36.0).

LaFleur added there's plenty of blame to go around for the struggles, from dropped passes to route mixups to inaccurate throws from QB Aaron Rodgers.

"We've just been off on a lot of plays, whether it's a guy dropping a ball or maybe the ball is just a tad off," he said. "But (Rodgers) can't do it himself. The play around him has to be better. Guys who have opportunities have to make plays."

The best unit the Packers are taking into the playoffs right now is their defense, which for the fifth game in a row held an opponent to 20 points or less, the longest streak for a Green Bay defense since a six-game stretch in 2010.

It was an even more difficult feat on Sunday following an ugly 17-point first half that featured a handful of explosive gains. But the Lions managed just 54 yards of offense and four first downs after intermission, kicking one long field goal.

The lapse in the big-play category was concerning to LaFleur, but it was a rare letdown over the five-game winning streak to close the regular season. The Packers finished ranked ninth in the league in points allowed at 19.6 per game, also the first time Green Bay has held opponents under 20 points per game for an entire season since the Super Bowl-winning campaign of 2010.

"Our communication has been much better on the field, and we haven't had as many mental mistakes," LaFleur said. "Hopefully we can keep that trend going the right way moving forward."

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