Coach Mike McCarthy says he's not going to make the same pre-bye mistakes of previous years, and his players say they won't make the same low-energy mistake they made with the Jacksonville Jaguars last week. If both hold true to their vows, then the Green Bay Packers should dispatch of the struggling Arizona Cardinals, enjoy a long week off and be ready for the seven-game post-bye stretch run.
Coming off a lackluster victory over a 1-6 Jaguars outfit and sporting a 4-2 pre-bye week record under the head coach, the Packers want to make sure that they don't let the Cardinals – a 10-point underdog after following up their 4-0 start with a four-game losing streak, including a not-even-close 24-3 home loss to San Francisco on Monday night –spring the upset at Lambeau Field Sunday.
To that end, the players are focused on playing with more energy – something they admitted they lacked against the Jaguars – and the coach has made it clear to his players what's at stake in terms of bye week rest and relaxation.
According to several players, McCarthy spelled out to them what will happen with their vacation time based on Sunday's game: If they win, their bye week begins right away on Monday. If they lose, it won't start until Wednesday.
"He definitely has us focused on the Cardinals because he threw us a little bone if we win," wide receiver James Jones said. "We kind of get a little bit of extra time off. We know a lot of guys are hungry and ready to get the win."
McCarthy lamented having made "mistakes" with his pre-bye preparation in the past, and promised that would not be an issue this time around. Not only is the upside in the standings obvious – the Packers, after a 2-3 start, can enter the bye on a four-game winning streak at 6-3 with a victory – but the stakes now have been spelled out for them in terms of time off, too.
"I think we've made the mistake of maybe looking forward to the bye week in the past. We're not going to make that mistake this week. Our focus is on the Arizona Cardinals," a somewhat grumpy-sounding McCarthy said after practice Wednesday. "We made a big point as a staff and as a football team to make sure the urgency is heightened. You're talking about a (Cardinals) team that started off 4-0, is fighting through some adversity, is coming off a Monday night loss, we're getting ready to do whatever we need to do to win this game, and we're pouring everything that we've got into this game."
Asked what mistakes he'd made in the past, given his teams have won four of six pre-bye games, McCarthy replied: "I'm just talking about the preparation process. I don't want to talk about the bye week. I'll just say it. I really don't want to hear about, ‘How much time are we having off? What are we going to do?' because that's losing your focus. We're focused on the Cardinals."
In the immediate aftermath of last Sunday's victory over the Jaguars, multiple players commented on the team's lack of energy. Linebacker Clay Matthews postulated that the early start (it was the first noon home game of the season) coupled with an inferior opponent and a lack of fan enthusiasm resulted in a flat performance, and his teammates didn't disagree.
"I don't quite understand it. I don't really want to make a lot of assumptions or excuses. I just think for whatever reason – a noon game and the opponent – made guys not as dialed in as they usually are," Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said Tuesday on his weekly radio show on 540 ESPN and ESPNWisconsin.com. "(That game) was a good learning experience for us. It will be interesting to see, they schedule is favoring us right now as (the Cardinals) are coming off a short week (after) playing a tough opponent (in the 49ers).
"They have to travel out here, the weather is probably going to be cold, we will see how that effects them, especially starting at noon. Last week, we learned that we have to be self-starters and get the crowd involved with our big plays and making plays. We can't wait for a team to lay down.
"You can't just show up, put your helmet on and expect a team like Jacksonville to roll over and let you do whatever you want to them. We didn't have the same kind of energy, if you compare it to a game like Houston, which is an AFC South opponent. We didn't have the same type of energy or focus and quick start like we did in that game, and there's a reason that it was a struggle to the end."
The Cardinals authored one of the NFL's most surprising upsets earlier this year when they won at New England. While defensive tackle B.J. Raji said the Cardinals have "obviously fallen on some hard times" lately, McCarthy wants to make sure his guys don't sleepwalk through another important game.
"It's an experience that you need to draw from. Every time we line up, whether it's on the practice field, on the game field, it's an away stadium, it's a home stadium, things aren't always just going to (go) the way they did the week before. That's a fact of this game," McCarthy said. "You're not going to feel the same way as the night you had the best night of your life, so it's always different. Every game's different. Every team's different. Every contest is different.
"We can't be worried about what the hell the music is being played in pregame … We need to get out there and be ready to play a game. And that's what we're focused on. Our guys are hearing it, too. They understand what the messages are."
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on "Green & Gold Today" on 540 ESPN and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.