Packers can’t afford to stay flat vs. Cardinals

GREEN BAY, Wis. — It can be difficult for NFL players to not look ahead to an upcoming bye week. With only a home game Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals standing in the way of the Packers and a full week off, coach Mike McCarthy has a plan to keep his team incentivized.

“(McCarthy) definitely has us focused on the Cardinals because he threw us a little bone if we win: We kind of get a little bit of extra time off,” wide receiver James Jones said. “We know a lot of guys are hungry and ready to get the win so we can get a couple more days off.”

In weeks like this, McCarthy has seen a laid-back approach from players before in his seven years as the Packers’ coach. Though his record is 4-2 in games prior to byes, he’s noticed preparation from players can sometimes wane.

“I think we’ve made the mistake of maybe looking forward to the bye week in the past,” McCarthy said. “We’re not going to make that mistake this week. Our focus is on the Arizona Cardinals. We made a big point as a staff and as a football team to make sure the urgency is heightened.

“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.”

That emphasis is especially important because of the way Green Bay played in its 24-15 home victory last weekend against the now-1-6 Jacksonville Jaguars. It looked at times as if the Packers (5-3) were already sleepwalking their way into the bye week. The energy level on the field was low, with several players commenting after the game that the entire stadium felt a bit flat.

Just as Packers fans feel that attending a Jaguars game is not at the top of their ticket-request list, players’ attention spans can be equally dismissive in a non-marquee game.

“We’ve lost games looking past opponents and things like that and we’ve learned from those mistakes,” Jones said. “I think that’s what McCarthy is preaching — because when we lose games to the Colts or we lose games to the Seahawks worrying about what other teams are doing or looking past to another opponent, he doesn’t want that to happen.”

With the end of Daylight Saving Time turning Green Bay’s upcoming noon game into what will feel like a 1 p.m. game, it’s an extra hour for the Packers to get amped up and not have another performance like the one they showed Sunday.

“We can’t be worried about what the hell the music is being played in pregame,” McCarthy said. “We need to get out there and be ready to play a game. And that’s what we’re focused on. But lack of energy was not a reflection of our whole football team.”

Whether it was bad pre-game music, an inferior opponent or just a bad day on the field, the Packers are determined to not let it happen again.

“I expect the guys to be professional,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “This is a game. We get paid to play, paid to perform. We have to perform better this week, and the reward is some time off. Hopefully the guys prepare like that.”

The Cardinals’ 4-4 record looks a lot better than Jacksonville’s, but Arizona is on a four-game losing streak. Coming off a 24-3 beatdown at home on Monday night by the San Francisco 49ers, the Cardinals are also just one game away from their bye week and won’t want to spend the time off having dropped five in a row.

“They’re a team with a lot of veteran leadership, a lot of pride,” Rodgers said of Arizona. “We know what it feels like to be beaten down and have people kind of telling you that you’re struggling and how annoying that can be at times, and how you just want to get back on the field and prove them wrong.”

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