Packers Rewarded with Some Vacation

The Packers earned three days off before they begin their playoff preparations with practices on Friday and Saturday. No player on the team needs the time off more than injured quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

The Green Bay Packers locker room was noticeably quiet Monday, other than the ruckus caused by a couple dozen players scrambling in following a meeting, then scooting out the door for a few days off.

It's just the way they wanted to start the postseason, a day after a rousing victory over the Detroit Lions secured a fourth straight NFC North title and first-round bye. Practice resumes Friday.

"This is a time, obviously, to step away from it, just enjoy what you accomplished ... You'll know we have the holiday here," coach Mike McCarthy said.

"So hydration testing on Friday morning will be the first thing we do," he added with a sly smile.

Holiday cheer, indeed.

Some players may be taking it a little easier, notably limping quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The two-touchdown performance in the 30-20 victory over Detroit is still drawing raves from teammates and coaches after Rodgers fought through a lingering left calf injury.

McCarthy spoke to Rodgers on Monday morning. His quarterback had some tests but feels good, he said. A rehab plan is in place for this week, though it's apparently not arduous enough that it would force Rodgers to stay in town during the time off.

"We've got a good plan for him," McCarthy said. "Frankly, I'm not sure if he is staying."

The Packers (12-4) earned the time off after piecing together perhaps two of their most complete games of the season to finish with two straight wins following a loss at Buffalo.

Sure, Green Bay's passing game might be shifted down a gear with Rodgers' calf injury. It has limited his mobility the last two weeks.

But an injured Rodgers might be better than most healthy quarterbacks. From the press box, offensive coordinator Tom Clements said he didn't even know that Rodgers was thinking about coming back into the Lions game in the middle of the third quarter after being carted into the locker room late in the second.

The defense got just as much of a lift from Rodgers' return as the offense.

"If you can't find anything to play for, play for No. 12, play for the offense," defensive end Datone Jones said. He was pressuring Matthew Stafford when the quarterback was whistled for intentional grounding while in the end zone, which gave the Packers a safety late in the game.

"They've backed us up so much, there are times when we've got to back them up," Jones said.

Actually, the defense had been playing well even before Rodgers got hurt. Coordinator Dom Capers' crew has tightened up against the run since the middle of the season, in part because the Packers are using Clay Matthews and Sam Barrington more at inside linebacker to add athleticism.

Receiver Calvin Johnson scored two touchdowns, though Capers' proudly noted Monday that the Packers were able to limit Johnson and fellow playmaking receiver Golden Tate to a combined seven catches for 84 yards.

Rookie HaHa Clinton-Dix and second-year player Micah Hyde are a big improvement at free safety over last season, while strong safety Morgan Burnett is having one of his best seasons, especially against the run. The steady Burnett is so respected that he was chosen a playoff captain, along with linebacker-end Julius Peppers.

"Just keep an even-keeled mindset," Burnett said when asked about the defensive performance the last three weeks. "You can't dwell on the past. ... Just keep pushing forward and find ways to get better."

The last three games, in particular, the Packers have held opponents to 21 points or less. If the defense can keep it up when Green Bay plays its first postseason game on Jan. 11, it will be more than enough cushion for the potent offense — assuming Rodgers doesn't have a major setback.

Find Genaro C. Armas on Twitter at twitter.com/GArmasAP.


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