Packers notebook

Hodge scores rare rookie touchdown; Hawk faces old teammate; injury update

Abdul Hodge became only the sixth Packers rookie since 1970 to score a defensive touchdown, when he returned a Matt Hasselbeck fumble 29 yards late in the first half of Green Bay's 34-24 loss at Seattle on Monday night. Hodge made his first NFL start in place of injured middle linebacker Nick Barnett.

Cornerback Ahmad Carroll, who had a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown against St. Louis in 2004, was the last Green Bay rookie to reach the end zone.

Safety Marques Anderson had two defensive scores, both against Detroit in separate games, in 2002.

Safety Darren Sharper tops all Green Bay newcomers who made a big splash with three touchdowns during the 1997 season.

Hawk faces old Buckeye teammate
Rookie linebacker A.J. Hawk will rekindle a childhood friendship with New York Jets rookie center Nick Mangold on Sunday at Lambeau Field.

Hawk and Mangold grew up in Centerville, Ohio, and were teammates on a city peewee team before they further bonded in college at Ohio State.

Hawk leads the Packers with 113 tackles.

At home in stretch of the season
The Packers on Sunday reach the part of the schedule that has been advantageous for them in recent years. They close the regular season with five games in December.

Since 2000, Green Bay has won 22 of 29 regular-season games played Dec. 1 and later. Its .759 winning percentage is third best in the league, behind Pittsburgh's .793 (23-6) and New England's .778 (21-6).

One of the few December defeats the Packers absorbed could be credited as the start of their postseason and home-field struggles of late.

They failed to wrest the top seed and have home-field advantage for the NFC playoffs in the 2002 season when they were pummeled 42-17 by the Jets at the Meadowlands on Dec. 29. Less than a week later, 12-4 Green Bay was stunned 27-7 by Atlanta in an NFC wild-card playoff, marking the Packers' first home loss in the postseason.

They also were eliminated in the wild-card round at Lambeau Field in the 2004 season, losing 31-17 to Minnesota, and haven't been back to the playoffs.

Starting with the playoff ouster against Atlanta, the Packers are a dismal 14-18 at home, including 1-4 this season at their supposedly venerable stadium.

"Lambeau Field is a great place to play, as far as the fans and everything," first-year head coach Mike McCarthy said Wednesday. "Frankly, we need to do a better job of performing at home."

Kudos to Bubba
The team this week selected tight end Bubba Franks as its 2006 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year. Franks, a seventh-year player, is a candidate for the league-wide award. Franks received $1,000, which he'll donate to The Salvation Army.

By the numbers
98 -- Receiving yards Donald Driver needs to record his third straight 1,000-yard season. Driver also reached the 1,000-yard benchmark in 2002. James Lofton (1983-85), Sterling Sharpe (1992-94) and Antonio Freeman (1997-99) are the only Packers to attain three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.

Quote to note
"I'm always thinking playoffs. I'm not young anymore. I can't be thinking, 'Go home and get ready for next year.' I worry about the next five games and hoping that we can get in."
WR Donald Driver on the final-month outlook for the team as it sits at 4-7 after two straight losses.

Injury update
Middle linebacker Nick Barnett practiced Wednesday for the first time since sustaining a broken right hand Nov. 19 against New England and could play Sunday against the Jets.

Barnett had a huge club-like cast on the hand, which he'll have to wear for the rest of the season. He said he would have a better feel on whether he can return to action this weekend after he tries tackling ball carriers in a padded practice Thursday. Barnett is listed as questionable on the injury report.

"I tried to forget about (the hand Wednesday). Still a little timid, but I'm throwing it out there, even though I know it's there. I'm trying to throw it out there and play," Barnett said. "So, I guess the real test will be trying to tackle. I know a couple of the running backs are going to be mad at me (Thursday), but I'm going to have to take them down to the ground to get a good idea of how I'm going to do it."

Head coach Mike McCarthy was hopeful Barnett would be ready for Sunday after noting that the linebacker deflected a pass in the flat with the club.

The absence of Barnett in the 34-24 loss at Seattle on Monday night was magnified because the Packers allowed a season-high 235 rushing yards, including 204 by Shaun Alexander. Rookie Abdul Hodge made his first pro start in place of Barnett, and McCarthy alluded to faulty pre-snap alignments as a reason for the defensive breakdowns against the run.

-- While Abdul Hodge might be back in a reserve role Sunday, rookie safety Tyrone Culver could be making his starting debut.

Free safety Nick Collins is doubtful because of a right hamstring injury he suffered in the fourth quarter Monday. Collins didn't practice Wednesday and was replaced by Culver, a sixth-round draft pick who comes in high regard by the coaching staff.

"A very knowledgeable player. He does an excellent job of keeping his head in the game when he's been up," McCarthy said. "He's definitely prepared himself if he does get the opportunity."

McCarthy is confident Culver would be able to handle the critical pre-snap communication calls of playing the position.

"That's his strength," McCarthy said.

-- Right tackle Mark Tauscher has been all but ruled out for the third straight game because of a pulled groin. He didn't practice Wednesday and is doubtful on the injury report.

"It would be a stretch if he makes it this week," McCarthy said.

Rookie Tony Moll would remain the starter. McCarthy, though, said Tauscher is on the right track to returning soon.

"I would definitely say he's going to play earlier than later, based on the way he's attacking his rehab. (The medical personnel) feel very good about the progress he's making," McCarthy said.

-- TE David Martin remains on the mend with a ribs injury. He didn't practice and is questionable for Sunday. Martin has yet to get on the field since sustaining the injury Nov. 19 against New England.

-- QB Brett Favre is on the injury report for the second straight week because of a bruised right elbow. Favre, though, practiced Wednesday and told McCarthy he is fine after making it through the entire game Monday night at Seattle. Favre is probable for Sunday's game.

-- LT Chad Clifton was held out of practice because of a sore hamstring but is probable for Sunday. Junius Coston worked in Clifton's spot at practice.

-- CB Charles Woodson didn't practice because of a lingering shoulder injury and an illness. He, too, is probable to play against the Jets.

-- DT Cullen Jenkins was excused from practice because of an illness. He is probable for the upcoming game.

Game plan
There is a sense of urgency not only to avoid the team's first three-game losing streak but to end a three-game slump running the football. There's a decent chance the latter can be accomplished because the Jets are porous against the run, ranking 27th in the league in giving up an average of 135.2 yards per game.

Houston abandoned the run early in the Jets' last outing -- picking up all of 25 yards in 14 carries. It's something the Packers aren't likely to do unless they're hypnotized by New York's 3-4 front and dig themselves a big hole early.

The Jets, meanwhile, lack breakaway threats vertically, though Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery form one of the more prolific pass-catching tandems. Thus, the Packers should be able to devote more to crowding the box and get back to generating constant pressure on Chad Pennington after they backed off Monday night against Matt Hasselbeck.

Extra points
-- P Jon Ryan was excused Wednesday so he could return to his home in Regina, Saskatchewan, and spend time with his ailing 54-year-old father, Bob Ryan, who was diagnosed in August with terminal cancer. Head coach Mike McCarthy also excused Ryan from team activities during the bye week in mid-October so he could be with his father at home.

Bob Ryan surprised his son by attending the game against Arizona a couple weeks later. McCarthy indicated that Jon Ryan would play Sunday against the Jets. Third-string QB Ingle Martin handled the punting duties in practice Wednesday.

-- CB Tramon Williams was signed Wednesday to fill out the team's practice squad. The 5-foot-11, 182-pound Williams originally signed as an undrafted free agent out Louisiana Tech with Houston, which released him at the end of the preseason.

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