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Rich Addicks, File, Associated Press
FILE - In this Oct. 9, 2011, file photo, Green Bay Packers tackle Chad Clifton (76) is helped off the field after falling to the turf during the first half of an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta. Clifton played the first quarter on Sunday, Jan. 1, 2012, in the regular-season finale against the Detroit Lions, the first time he'd been on the field since October because of injuries. Clifton has some rust to shake off, but Packers coach Mike McCarthy says he will start in the playoffs.

MILWAUKEE — Given Chad Clifton's long and distinguished track record, Mike McCarthy apparently didn't need to see much from the veteran left tackle to give him his job back.

After a long injury layoff, Clifton returned to the field in the regular-season finale against Detroit. His play wasn't perfect, but it was good enough for McCarthy to tell reporters in Green Bay on Monday that Clifton will start at left tackle in the playoffs.

As far as McCarthy was concerned, the logic behind the decision was pretty simple.

"Experience, and he's a good player," McCarthy said. "Chad Clifton is a damn good player."

Clifton is in his 12th NFL season, all with the Packers, and has been the team's primary left tackle since he was a rookie.

McCarthy also could have gone with backup Marshall Newhouse, who has played relatively well in Clifton's absence, or observed both players in practice before deciding on a starter. Instead, he gave the nod to Clifton right away.

"Marshall's done an excellent job," McCarthy said. "We've won a lot of games with Marshall Newhouse. But Chad Clifton is the starter. There's won't be any gray area for that."

Clifton played the first quarter of Sunday's 45-41 victory over Detroit, the first time he'd been back on the field since hurting his hamstring in the Packers' Oct. 9 victory at Atlanta. Clifton then hurt his back during rehabilitation, keeping him out longer than expected.

Taking him out early was McCarthy's plan going into the game.

"Our goal was to play Chad Clifton 25 plays," McCarthy said. "It just sorted out that way after the third series. That was exactly what we wanted to do."

McCarthy said there were signs that Clifton had been out for a while.

"He's going to be happy with the film," McCarthy said. "There's some things he needs to work on, just some specifics as far as footwork and the injury, the effects of what he still has to work on. Having two full weeks of preparation, I'm confident he'll get where he needs to be."

The Packers have clinched the No. 1 seed in the NFC and have a first-round bye. The defending Super Bowl champions will practice Wednesday and Thursday this week, then go back to a typical schedule next week.

"Chad still has a little more work to do," McCarthy said. "And we've got time to get it done. I'm encouraged by the progress he's made and as long as he can stay healthy through these next couple weeks."

Clifton said after Sunday's game that he was "a little rusty" at first but his play improved as the game went on. Clifton was optimistic at the time that he'd get his job back for the playoffs, although he didn't seem sure it would happen right away.

"I certainly hope so," he said. "I'm sure we'll look at this film and they'll make some decisions. Yeah, I felt it went decently."

Clifton said he felt some soreness in his leg but his back wasn't bothering him.

"As far as my back goes, it's not terribly sore, so that's a good thing, I guess," Clifton said.

Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin expects Clifton's timing to improve with practice.

"The biggest thing we all know Chad is very gifted out of his stance and can set up well in pass protection," Philbin said. "That's been a great strength of his over the years. We kind of teach the punch (technique) as a jab and there's a lot of rhythm and timing that's involved in that punch. Maybe that, in the pass protection phase, was the most evident there."

And if Clifton can get back to his old self, he can simplify an offensive game plan.

"Chad's played a lot of good football for us here, over the years," Philbin said. "We're accustomed to kind of not even worrying about who's lining up over him, especially in pass protection. That's a great comfort when you're putting together a game plan. He did some good things (Sunday). I don't think any of us were totally surprised, and probably he wasn't either. There was a little bit of rust that needs to be polished up. We've got a little bit of time, some practices to get ready for our next opponent. Hopefully we can keep progressing."