GREEN BAY, Wis. — As coach Mike McCarthy excused his players late Monday afternoon for the start of their bye week, sentiments about having the break so soon on their schedule were mixed.
The passing game appears to be on better footing after a big first half by Aaron Rodgers and his receivers in the 34-27 win over the Detroit Lions on Sunday. So disrupting that momentum after two shaky outings to start the season wasn’t desired.
But Green Bay’s pass defense might need some work, so the long layoff after only three games could be in the Packers’ favor.
Especially when injuries to several key players left the defense short-handed against the Lions.
“Initially, nobody really cares for an early bye,” defensive tackle Mike Daniels said. “But with all of the injuries that we have, it’s definitely good to have right now.”
McCarthy agreed the team’s earliest bye week since 2013 — not long ago, of course — when the Packers also took a week off after just three games, comes at a good time
“It’s early, it’s different, but I think it’s obvious we need it,” McCarthy said Monday.
Players quickly entered and exited the locker room after McCarthy wrapped up a team meeting. He said the team won’t be back together until next Monday, when Green Bay starts to prepare for a Sunday night matchup Oct. 9 against the New York Giants at Lambeau Field.
“They just need to travel safe and spend the time with their loved ones and take care of themselves and be smart, be safe,” McCarthy said.
And when the players return for what will be a long haul of playing 13 straight weeks until New Year’s Day to end the regular season, McCarthy is hopeful his team will be close to full strength again.
The defense played without four injured starters Sunday.
Linebacker Clay Matthews (ankle/hamstring) and safety Morgan Burnett (groin) were injured in the Week 2 loss at unbeaten NFC North leader Minnesota. Veteran nose tackle Letroy Guion went out with a knee injury early in that game and is sidelined indefinitely.
Cornerback Sam Shields has been out since suffering a concussion in the season-opening win at Jacksonville.
Versatile defensive end/linebacker Datone Jones also was out Sunday with a knee injury, though he felt he could have played.
“I just think, overall, it helps our team just get back healthy,” Jones said about the bye week.
The extensive injury list forced the Packers to play eight rookies on defense against the Lions, who stormed back from a 31-3 deficit to get within seven points in the final minutes.
Kenny Clark, the team’s first-round draft pick, started his first game as Guion’s replacement, and helped Green Bay maintain its No. 1 ranking in the NFL for run defense.
The Packers held Detroit, which played without injured running back Ameer Abdullah, to 50 rushing yards. Green Bay has allowed an average of 42.7 yards on the ground after three games, far ahead of No. 2-ranked Philadelphia’s average of 71 yards.
That’s an encouraging start for a run defense that Daniels, the fifth-year anchor of the line, remembers as being “horrible” and “embarrassing” the last few seasons.
“We’re playing tough, and guys are flying around to the ball, and we’re just getting physical with the other team,” Daniels said. “It’s just that freaking simple.”
The shaky play of the Packers’ pass defense is cause for concern going into the bye, however. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford exploited Green Bay’s depleted secondary for 385 passing yards, including a career-high 205 yards and two touchdowns by receiver Marvin Jones Jr.
The Packers have allowed an average of 307.3 yards through the air, fifth worst in the league.
“The back end, they’ll get it together,” Daniels said. “Those guys have a lot of pride, and I’m looking forward to watching those young guys grow, too, because we have a lot of young guys out there.”