GREEN BAY — Coach Mike McCarthy’s arithmetic tells him his Green Bay Packers are going to have to run the table again — and this time, do it for at least the next two games without their star quarterback.
Sitting at 5-6 following a 31-28 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night, McCarthy wouldn’t outright say that the Packers have to win out to extend their franchise-best streak of consecutive postseason berths to nine, but having long believed that it takes 10 wins to make the playoffs — with very few exceptions — he didn’t have to.
“Six losses. I mean, it is what it is,” McCarthy said Monday evening when asked about where his team stands after its fifth loss in six games since Aaron Rodgers sustained a broken right collarbone at Minnesota on Oct. 15.
“You can sit there and you can jump around and look at schedules and all that. I’m sure that’s fun for the fans (to look at) all the potential scenarios and all that. But at the end of the day, if you don’t get to 10 wins, to me there’s nothing else to talk about. We’re at five. We’ve got to get to six (this week), and that’s what really it’s all about.”
Entering Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lambeau Field, there are eight teams ahead of the Packers in the NFC standings: The Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, Carolina Panthers, Los Angeles Rams, Atlanta Falcons, Seattle Seahawks and Detroit Lions. Three teams stand at 5-6 with the Packers: The Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins and Arizona Cardinals.
“It will be all about coming in Wednesday and getting back to work,” wide receiver Jordy Nelson said. “We can’t take the foot off the pedal at all with the situation we’re in.”
Last year, the Packers had lost four straight and were 4-6 after 10 games when Rodgers said he believed his team could run the table and make the playoffs. The Packers then did just that, winning their final six regular-season games and two playoff games to reach their second NFC Championship Game in three years.
Making this year even more challenging: The Packers will have to win their next two games — against the Buccaneers this week and at the winless Cleveland Browns on Dec. 10 — without Rodgers, who cannot play in a game until Dec. 17 at Carolina at the earliest.
Placed on injured reserve on Oct. 20, Rodgers is eligible to return to practice on Saturday, assuming the Packers will designate him for return as expected.
Asked whether Rodgers would practice Saturday, McCarthy replied, “We’ll see. There’s a protocol, there’s targets we’re trying to hit each and every week. I think they’re working (on it), and it’s segmented. The A-No. 1 priority is to get him healthy. Practice is not something we’re really focused on right now.”
Rodgers threw a number of passes before Sunday night’s game at Heinz Field but had yet to have an X-ray done on his collarbone to see how much it has healed. Rodgers said last month that for him to return, two things had to happen: His collarbone had to fully heal, and it would have to “make sense” for him to play — meaning the Packers were still in playoff contention.
“Everything that they’re doing is calculated between the training (staff), the strength and conditioning (staff) and Aaron. As you would imagine, he’s going at it 120 miles an hour,” McCarthy said. “And so far, so good.
“There’s a plan laid out for Aaron, just like the other guys on IR. He’s knocking it out of the park, he’s going at it 120 miles an hour. We’ll see what the end of the week brings..”
McCarthy said he wasn’t second-guessing himself for having kicker Mason Crosby attempt a 57-yard field goal with the Packers leading 21-14 in the third quarter.
When Crosby missed what would have been the longest successful field goal in Heinz Field history, the Steelers took over at their own 47 and quickly drove for the tying touchdown.
“I don’t really understand the criticism of it,” McCarthy said. “If I’m guilty of anything, I’ve got great confidence in Mason Crosby. But no, I don’t second guess. We had a chance to go up two scores. The first-, second- and third-down things leading up to the field goal I’m more upset about than anything.”
McCarthy reiterated that he thought he needed to get points after the drive short-circuited following a Steelers turnover, and when it was pointed out that the miss changed the game’s momentum, McCarthy replied, “I’m trying to gain momentum. I don’t think you can think like that. … You have to go for the points there if you have the faith in your kicker based on the kicks he hit in pregame and everything leading up to that.
“Really, if we were at fault, it was the two negative plays on first and third down.”
McCarthy also said that he did not consider going for a 2-point conversion when the Packers scored with 2:02 to play to pull within 28-27. Crosby kicked the extra point to tie the game, and the Packers defense did force a punt on the Steelers’ next possession.
McCarthy said second-year man Jason Spriggs will be the team’s starting right tackle going forward in place of Bryan Bulaga, who is out for the year with a knee injury. Justin McCray, who initially replaced Bulaga, will be the first man off the bench as a backup at all five positions. Spriggs was up and down Sunday night, performing better as a pass-blocker than a run blocker and made “repeat mistakes,” McCarthy said. “We’ve just got to build on the positives and make sure we don’t have any repeat mistakes,” said offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett. … Special teams coordinator Ron Zook, the former head coach at the University of Florida, didn’t have much advice for new Gators coach Dan Mullen. “Shoot, I’ve got my own issues right now,” Zook said with a laugh — but offered one tidbit. “It’ll be fun right now. He’s undefeated. He better enjoy it.”
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