GREEN BAY, Wis. -- If it was up to coach Mike McCarthy to make the schedule, he would put the bye week after six or seven games. Waiting until after the ninth game this year -- the latest in the NFL, along with the Oakland Raiders, New Orleans Saints and San Diego Chargers -- was a bit longer than he'd have liked.
But with the Packers at 6-3 and tied atop the NFC North despite a rash of injuries, McCarthy wasn't complaining Monday as players returned to practice following a full week off.
"This year has definitely been a different challenge for us. We needed this bye," said McCarthy, whose teams are 3-1 in games after the bye week. "We do want to pick up where we left off as far as winning. That's the most important thing, don't get me wrong. I'm stating the obvious here. But more importantly, we need to improve.
"To have a pretty healthy football team to me has always been the focus coming out of the bye. You've got to play your best football in November and December. That's always been our plan."
McCarthy acknowledged that a Week 6 or Week 7 bye would mean playing nine or 10 consecutive regular-season games leading into the playoffs, which would be challenging. Instead, the Packers have seven regular-season games remaining, including four road games (at the Vikings on Sunday, at Atlanta on Nov. 28, at Detroit on Dec. 12 and at New England on Dec. 19) during the next five weeks. They end their season with home games against the Giants (Dec. 26) and Bears (Jan. 2).
"There's nothing like November and December football. I think this is what it's all about," McCarthy said. "We have to win our division games. The ones on the road are always the toughest, and that will be the case in Minnesota on Sunday."
"They're in a situation where they have to win. So we expect their best," safety Atari Bigby said. "We've got to be on our game this week."
It should help that the Packers are healthier than they've been all season. While veteran right tackle Mark Tauscher (shoulder) became the sixth starter to land on season-ending injured reserve during the bye week, they could have their full 53-man roster to choose from when making game-day decisions Sunday.
"I'm feeling pretty good but I'm not sure if I'm going to go yet," Pickett said. "I have to feel like I can make it through a full game."
Beyond getting healthy, McCarthy and his staff made harshly critiquing themselves and the team's play their top priority during the bye. Now, they'll see if they can improve.
"I read our profile to the team today, what we look like to the rest of the league as far as where we rank statistically, but more importantly, how we can improve," McCarthy said. "We have a profile of our offense, of our defense, of our special teams.
"I feel a lot better than I did here last week."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press