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Well-rested Packers prepare for wild-card race

MILWAUKEE -- Coming off their Thanksgiving Day victory at Detroit, the Green Bay Packers are well rested and in the thick of the NFC wild-card race.

Tested by a stretch of three games in 12 days that included season-ending injuries to two key defensive players, the Packers not only survived but won all three to turn around their season after back-to-back losses in early November.

"We knew this three-game stretch was going to be very challenging physically," Packers coach Mike McCarthy told reporters in Green Bay on Monday. "Now with the time off, we feel like we have a chance to regroup and take a run at these last final games. We really like where we are as a football team."

But things are tough from here on out.

When players return from a weekend break Tuesday morning, they'll begin preparing for next Monday night's home game against Baltimore (6-5), which is coming off an overtime victory over Pittsburgh.

Then the Packers (7-4) play three of their last four games on the road.

Coming off the shock of season-ending injuries to cornerback Al Harris and outside linebacker Aaron Kampman last week, McCarthy said the rest of the team is relatively healthy.

McCarthy said left tackle Chad Clifton was at Lambeau Field for treatment Monday and could miss time in practice this week after hurting his hamstring against Detroit.

McCarthy said the availability of wide receiver Jordy Nelson (shoulder), offensive lineman Allen Barbre (ankle), running back Ahman Green (groin) and cornerback Brandon Underwood (hamstring) will be re-evaluated Tuesday morning.

Beyond that, some of the biggest concerns on McCarthy's mind coming out of the break are on special teams.

Kicker Mason Crosby missed a 43-yard field goal attempt in the first quarter against the Lions and is 20 of 26 for the season -- although four of his misses are from 50-plus yards.

McCarthy passed on a chance to let Crosby attempt a field goal of about 48 yards in the third quarter at Detroit, instead going for it on fourth down and failing to convert. But McCarthy said his decision to go for it in that situation wasn't a reflection of diminished confidence in Crosby.

"We were moving the ball up and down," McCarthy said. "I just didn't feel we were producing enough points, and I wanted to keep it going. That had nothing to do with Mason's kick earlier in the game."

Overall, McCarthy said the Packers' special teams need to improve. After their coverage units allowed long returns at critical points in games over the past month, Nelson fumbled the opening kickoff in Detroit.

"I thought as a whole in the game against Detroit, our special teams needs to play with a little more confidence," McCarthy said. "We had the opening kickoff that we fumbled, and I felt from that point on we were playing a little cautious. We just need to clean up some fundamentals and play with the confidence we were playing with against Dallas and San Francisco."

Specific concerns aside, McCarthy said the Packers are confident but realistic, realizing their recent success won't mean anything unless they can build on it.

"Our margin of error is going to need to be a lot less than it has been in the first 11 games because it's December football now," McCarthy said. "This is the most important football that we'll play all season."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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