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Packers ready to heal up during bye

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After the Green Bay Packers squeaked by the San Diego Chargers, a relieved coach Mike McCarthy came away with one firm fact and two plausible conclusions about his club.

“I have a 6-0 football team that needs to get healthy, and we have a chance to get a lot better,” McCarthy said.

Green Bay remained one of five unbeaten teams in the league by outlasting the feisty Chargers 27-20 at Lambeau Field on Sunday.

The Packers needed a pass breakup by rookie cornerback Damarious Randall on a goal-line throw from record-setting quarterback Philip Rivers to running back Danny Woodhead in the final 20 seconds to seal the victory.

By averting their first loss since the stunning road defeat in overtime at the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC title game nine months ago, the Packers are assured of staying perfect for at least two more weeks.

McCarthy excused the team Monday for the entire week. Green Bay has the bye on the schedule and won’t play again until Nov. 1 at the Denver Broncos, who also will be coming off their bye and also will be 6-0 for that matchup.

“(We need to) use this time to press the reset button, refocus, relax and come back and start all over again,” Packers halfback Eddie Lacy said.

Lacy is one of several Green Bay players who have been hurt in the first month and a half of the season, so the bye comes at an ideal time just before the midway point.

The Packers have been playing short-handed at wide receiver since the start of the season after losing top playmaker Jordy Nelson to a torn ACL in the preseason. Young starter Davante Adams has missed the last three games with an ankle injury, and rookie Ty Montgomery, who had moved up to No. 3 on the depth chart in Adams’ absence, left Sunday’s game in the first half with a sprained ankle.

“We’re beat up,” McCarthy said. “Winning in the NFL is tough, and just really the physical part and staying healthy is, frankly, the biggest challenge. The bye week is well-needed.”

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers agreed, as he rattled off the names of a handful of the team’s injured guys after Sunday’s narrow escape on the scoreboard.

“Getting those guys back to 100 percent will be important because we come off the bye and play two road games against teams that are undefeated right now,” said Rodgers, also referencing the Carolina Panthers (5-0), who host the Packers on Nov. 8.

REPORT CARD VS. CHARGERS

–PASSING OFFENSE: B-minus. Aaron Rodgers has started anew with not throwing an interception at Lambeau Field after his NFL-record streak of going pick-less in home games that dated back to December 2012 ended the previous week against the St. Louis Rams. Still, Green Bay’s pass-first offense continued to sputter at various junctures Sunday. With the Packers limited to having the football all of 22 minutes, Rodgers threw only 29 passes and completed just 16 of them for 255 yards. His two touchdown throws were of the short-yardage variety – five yards to halfback James Starks to get the scoring started and an eight-yard strike to James Jones (his co-league-leading sixth scoring catch) that snapped a 17-17 tie late in the third quarter. Jones and Randall Cobb each had a big drop and combined for only four receptions for 68 yards, led by Cobb’s 38 yards in his two catches. After losing rookie Ty Montgomery to an early ankle injury, Green Bay received a lift from Jeff Janis. Rarely utilized on offense before Sunday, the second-year pro tapped into his sheer athleticism and speed for big-play contributions of 46 and 33 yards in his lone two receptions. Justin Perillo, a second-year tight end called up from the practice squad last week, came through with a downfield catch of 21 yards. Rodgers took three sacks, two by budding outside linebacker Jerry Attaochu.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: B. Curiously, lead back Eddie Lacy didn’t make the start Sunday. Nor did he have much of a role throughout the game. Though Lacy asserted afterward that he is fine physically, many were left wondering whether an ankle injury he sustained in the Week 2 win over the Seattle Seahawks continues to bother him. Coach Mike McCarthy acknowledged Monday that Lacy is “beat up.” Lacy touched the football only six times against the Chargers, four of those coming on runs that resulted in a mere three yards and also a fumble the Packers recovered. Fortunately for Green Bay, it has a reliable top understudy in James Starks. As the starter, Starks didn’t waste any time settling in, ripping off a 25-yard run on the Packers’ first play of the game. Later in the opening quarter, Starks channeled Lacy in an incredible display of self-determination. Starks ran into the back of lead blocker John Kuhn on a run to the left, spun to the outside out of trouble, changed direction to a vacated right side and darted along the sideline for a 65-yard touchdown. Starks posted Green Bay’s first 100-yard rushing game of the season, finishing with 112 in only 10 carries. The Packers’ output of 133 rushing yards included a 15-yard scramble by Rodgers.

–PASS DEFENSE: D. A week after fellow rookie cornerback Quinten Rollins starred with two interceptions, Damarious Randall was the toast of the Green Bay locker room after another finish that was too close for comfort. Randall held his ground manning the left boundary, not drifting inside to follow tight end Antonio Gates into the end zone and having the wherewithal to break to the outside and lunge in front of running back Danny Woodhead to break up Philip Rivers’ pass at the front pylon on fourth-and-goal from the Packers’ 3-yard line in the closing seconds to cement the victory. Before that fateful play, Randall and others in coverage had few successes in a record-setting performance by Rivers. Utilizing his quick release and short passing routes to thwart Green Bay’s pass rush, Rivers completed 43 of a whopping 65 passes for two touchdowns and 503 yards – tied for the second-highest passing total by one player against Green Bay. The corner combo of primarily Sam Shields and Rollins were exploited repeatedly by Keenan Allen, who caught passes on all but one of his 15 targets for 157 yards. The only person who could stop Allen was himself, having to exit the game late in the second half with a hip injury. As expected, Gates also was a matchup problem for the Packers defense. His 95 yards on nine receptions matched the yardage total by wideout Malcom Floyd (long of 50 yards). Woodhead was a checkdown monster in the flat with five catches for 63 yards (long of 25). Green Bay’s three sacks of Rivers didn’t come until the final 19 1/2 minutes of play.

–RUSH DEFENSE: A-minus. With Rivers’ throwing the football all over the place and with great frequency, the Chargers just about abandoned running it. When they did, the results were mostly pedestrian and with little harm. In his Wisconsin homecoming, rookie back Melvin Gordon permanently landed on the sideline before halftime after two fumbles, one of which went for the game’s only turnover. Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix jarred the football out on a run up the middle by Gordon, and linebacker Clay Matthews made the recovery. The big hit by Clinton-Dix came right after he was called for unnecessary roughness for tackling Gordon going out of bounds on a negative run. Gordon’s abbreviated stint yielded just 29 yards in seven carries, though he broke away for a 25-yard run early in the game. Green Bay’s defense provided plenty of resistance up front in holding the Chargers to 60 yards on the ground (average of 2.9 yards per rush). The biggest of a handful of stops for losses came on San Diego’s second-to-last play of the game. Defensive end Datone Jones, occupying a spot inside, split blocking right guard D.J. Fluker and center Chris Watt to drop Woodhead for a one-yard loss on third-and-goal from the 2.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: B. Two early penalties by Chris Banjo and Joe Thomas on Green Bay’s kick-return units, the latter of which wiped out a good kickoff runback by Montgomery, were long forgotten as the Packers had a mostly stellar day in this third phase. The coverage units were exceptional. Thanks in great part to solid hang times and placement by punter Tim Masthay, whose net average (42.3 yards) was greater than the gross average (40.5) in four kicks, Green Bay held backpedaling returner Jacoby Jones to minus-seven yards in his two returns. Mason Crosby’s well-placed deep kickoffs limited Jones to a subpar average of 18.3 yards in three runbacks. Micah Hyde had a 16-yard punt return in the third quarter, setting up the Packers offense for the go-ahead, 69-yard touchdown drive. After Montgomery departed with the ankle injury, Jared Abbrederis filled in on kickoffs and contributed a 30-yard return.

–COACHING: C. The Packers are fortunate to be going into the bye week still unbeaten at 6-0. Allowing the Chargers to pass the football up and down the field and dominate time of possession with 38 minutes in their control isn’t a remedy for getting Green Bay’s erratic offense of the last three games back on track. While Rodgers had to adjust yet again seeing another receiver (Montgomery) go out with an injury, Packers play caller Tom Clements strangely went away from what was a potent run game early on even with the back seat taken by Lacy to Starks. Meanwhile, Dom Capers’ much-improved defense had a rare letdown. The pressure generated by mostly a four-man rush was ineffective for most of the game, allowing Rivers the extra second or two to find the open receiver moving across the field. It’s the third time in Capers’ seven seasons as defensive coordinator the Packers have allowed an opposing quarterback to throw for 500 yards. Save for the penalties, Ron Zook’s special-teams performers had a good day.


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