Packers coach Mike McCarthy has parlayed the absence of a traditional owner and the presence of a transcendent quarterback into the kind of job security that few other coaches enjoy. McCarthy’s ability to escape scrutiny may now be coming to an end, and he has only himself to blame for it.
For the third straight loss in a road game the Packers could have won, a member of the organization took the ball out of Aaron Rodgers‘ hands at a key moment. Against the Rams, Ty Montgomery defied orders to take a knee on a kickoff and fumbled away Rodgers’ chance for a game-winning drive. Against the Patriots, Aaron Jones dropped the ball on the first play of the fourth quarter, just as Rodgers was sliding into the proverbial zone. Against the Seahawks, McCarthy chose to punt on fourth and two with 4:20 to go in lieu of leaving the ball in the hands of a franchise quarterback to whom the franchise pays $33.5 million per year.
“Definitely but we had the injuries to Kenny Clark and Mike Daniels,” McCarthy said in defending his decision. “So there was definitely consideration but we had just the one timeout and the ability to stop the clock with two minutes left. We played the numbers. We did consider taking a timeout and going for it on fourth and two.”
First of all, why would a timeout have been needed before the fourth down play? The Packers had only one left. Other coaches would have been prepared for a situation like that, having a decision in mind and a play picked so that there would be no need to surrender the final chance to stop the clock in order to have more time to think about, talk about, and/or fret about the plan for fourth and two.
Second, the injuries to Kenny Clark and Mike Daniels don’t support a decision to punt and play defense; they support a decision to not surrender possession.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, what “numbers” was McCarthy playing? It’s a vague reference to analytics and statistics and it ignores the that the Green Bay offense has a guy like Number 12 and the Green Bay defense doesn’t.
Numbers be damned, the most sensible decision would have been to go for it. Failure would have put the Packers in the same spot, two first downs away from the clock being killed. And if the Packers had managed to hold the Seahawks to a field goal, the Packers would have had one more chance to finagle a touchdown (possibly by a Hail Mary) and win, 31-30.
That didn’t happen because McCarthy didn’t trust Rodgers to convert a fourth-and-two play with the game on the line. And McCarthy didn’t trust his defense to hold Seattle to three. And McCarthy didn’t trust Rodgers, if they’d gotten the ball back while down six points, to make the kind of magic we’ve seen him make in the past.
When, of course, the blunders of a coworker or a coach haven’t kept him from making that magic.
So, yes, in the zero-sum game that sees one bad team for every good team and that consists of coaches who either have been fired or will be fired, McCarthy finally lands where he should have been at least two years ago, when Rodgers openly complained about a lack of energy on the sidelines and a lack of ultimate accountability in the locker room. That accountability will now be applied to McCarthy, and nothing short of a playoff appearance and perhaps at least one playoff win will keep him from an outcome that, based on the standards to which other coaches have been held, can only be described as overdue.