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Rested and ready, Packers look for another strong finish

Green Bay must put "mini-bye" to good use again


GREEN BAY – Mike McCarthy often has referred to the short break following a late-season Thursday game as a "mini-bye."

With 10 days between games, he customarily has given his players the weekend off prior to their next contest, and they've made a habit of putting the extra rest, recovery and preparation time to good use. Doing so again would set up the Packers for another playoff run in January.

"It's good," veteran receiver James Jones said of the chance, physically first and foremost, to gear up for the stretch run.

"Anytime you can get a chance to get your bodies back, especially in a long season like this, especially going into December and into the playoffs, any extra days you can get, it's a plus. Much-needed."

Four times in McCarthy's tenure, the Packers have played a late-season Thursday game, either on Thanksgiving and/or the week after, and following each one they've displayed a strong finishing kick.

They've never lost more than one regular-season game after a "mini-bye," going 3-1 in 2007, 4-1 in both '09 and '11, and then 3-1 again in '13.

Two years ago, that included two straight wins without an injured QB Aaron Rodgers, which speaks to the value of a late-season break as much as anything. The Packers hadn't won any of five games without Rodgers prior to that breather.

What's more, McCarthy's teams have always done well in any games at the end of a 10- or 11-day interim, regardless of when they occur in the season. The Packers are 8-1 in such games, the only loss being the "Fail Mary" in Seattle back on a Monday night in September of 2012.

Also in the Packers' favor this Sunday is that the Cowboys are on a short week following a Monday night road game, though Dallas is coming off an 11-day window of their own the previous week after playing on Thanksgiving.

In any event, the biggest factor in a late-season run is a team's health, and it's no accident McCarthy referenced that this week in the same press conference he talked about December being "big-time football."

As Jones noted, any chance for players to take a break is welcome. Young players still more accustomed to a 12-game college schedule can prepare for a final push, while older players can shake off the aches and pains that linger longer with each passing year.

The Packers' offensive line needed the recuperation time the most. It appears the unit will have at least four-fifths of its starters intact for Sunday's game – JC Tretter will still be needed to fill in for Corey Linsley at center – after playing a snap last week in Detroit with only one starter. Long snapper Brett Goode was the next man in.

A potential full-blown crisis was averted, though, and if the team can get and stay healthy, another solid closing month would mitigate the impact of the trying six-game stretch just completed. Hail Mary or not, the last six weeks featured more struggles than the Packers have experienced since Rodgers' first season as a starter, in 2008, which also happens to be Green Bay's last playoff-less season.

"Hopefully, the reason for that is you have a bunch of senior leaders who understand what it takes to win a Super Bowl," linebacker Clay Matthews said of the team's track record of finishing strong. "You need to be playing your best ball and carry that momentum into the playoffs.

"We gave up a few (games), made the road that much more difficult for us moving forward, but we have the opportunity in front of us to get some big wins and at the same time set us up nicely for the postseason. It starts this weekend."

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