Players Rested, Ready For Stretch Run

As challenging as it was to travel to Detroit for Thanksgiving and play a game just four days after the previous one, the benefit for the Green Bay Packers was getting a second bye week of sorts prior to this coming Monday's showdown with Baltimore.

The players took advantage of the break - having been given Friday through Monday off before returning to the practice field on Tuesday - and couldn't have asked for better timing with the five-game push for an NFC playoff spot now in front of them.

"It's been the best time ever to get a break," nose tackle Ryan Pickett said. "Going into the last quarter of our season, that was the best break. To play that Thursday and get this rest, a lot of players are rested. We got to get away from football for a little while and get re-focused. We're ready to go."

Players said they felt refreshed and rejuvenated for Tuesday's practice, which was in full pads and functioned as an extra workout prior to the regular three-day practice week heading into the next game (Thursday through Saturday). Head Coach Mike McCarthy said following the win over Detroit, the team's No. 1 priority during the time off was to get healthy, and it appears for the most part that has been accomplished.

Left tackle Chad Clifton (hamstring) was able to take part in the opening jog-through portion of practice but was not in pads and otherwise sat out. Running back Ahman Green (groin) and tackle Allen Barbre (ankle), who had each missed the last two games, returned to practice, while receiver Jordy Nelson (shoulder) and cornerback Brandon Underwood (hamstring) - who had been injured in Detroit - also practiced.

Running back Ryan Grant and cornerback Charles Woodson sat out Tuesday's workout but the reasons weren't addressed. Woodson has been on the injury report in recent weeks with a hip problem, while Grant was at practice but only observing.

"It's always nice when you're able to just heal little nicks and nags, things like that," said defensive end Cullen Jenkins, who deals at times with an ankle problem but has yet to miss any games. "Stuff that won't always make the injury report, but little things that bother you."

McCarthy also said he wanted to spend the extra practice focusing on corrections from the Detroit game, getting a jump-start on preparations for Baltimore, and revisiting some fundamentals.

Doing some of that grunt work now helps, because as the season wears on it's easy to let the fundamentals slide with all the focus on the next opponent. Going back to some training camp-like drills doesn't seem so tedious after a short respite.

"Yeah, I felt like it definitely was a bye," linebacker Nick Barnett said. "Anytime you can get removed from the sport, not that you want to be totally removed, but you get a little break and you come back with a fresh eye and a fresh everything.

"It was hard playing two games in however many days that was. But we've had some good rest time and now we're going back to work, grinding it out, going hard."

Grinding it out is a good way to describe how the Packers will approach these final five games. At 7-4, they're among the leaders for an NFC Wild Card playoff spot, but beginning with Monday's game against Baltimore, they play three other teams in the final month with serious playoff aspirations of their own.

{sportsad300}The Ravens are 6-5 and coming off a tense overtime victory over AFC North rival Pittsburgh. In two weeks the Packers travel to play the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers, who are also 6-5 and battling for an AFC Wild Card berth. And two weeks after that is a trip to Arizona, where the Cardinals are leading the NFC West at 7-4.

Mixed in there is a road trip to arch-rival Chicago, where the Packers haven't won since 2006, and a home game with a familiar foe in Seattle. The Seahawks have struggled to a 4-7 mark but play three sub-.500 teams between now and coming to Lambeau Field, so it's not out of the question they could keep themselves on the fringe of the playoff picture as well.

"The best feeling right now is we're not talking about how we're not going to the playoffs like last year," Barnett said. "It's great to be talking about how we can control our playoff destiny, but we're not thinking too far ahead. We've got Baltimore coming in here off a great game, and that's all our focus is right now."

That, and keeping the current three-game winning streak going. After sitting at 4-4 at the midway point of the season, the Packers needed to make a run just to get into the playoff hunt. Now they need another one to stay there.

"It's real football time right now," Pickett said. "This is when teams are going to play their best and teams are going to separate from each other right now. That's what we want to do. We want to get on a roll."

ANOTHER HONOR FOR WOODSON

For the second time in three games, cornerback Charles Woodson has been named the NFC's Defensive Player of the Week.

In Detroit last Thursday, Woodson had two interceptions - returning one for a score - plus a sack and fumble recovery. According to Elias Sports Bureau, this marks the first time in NFL history (since sacks became an official statistic in 1982) that a single defensive player tallied all that in one game. Woodson also had a forced fumble in the contest, too.

Woodson also won NFC Defensive Player of the Week in mid-November following the Dallas contest, when he had an interception, two forced fumbles and a sack.

Already awarded NFC Defensive Player of the Month for September, Woodson would appear to be a strong candidate again for the November honor, having been named player of the week twice in the month.

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