Packers fell short of championship goals
The Reuters Sports Xchange
Winning three straight division titles for only the third time since the 1970 league merger and advancing to the playoffs for the fifth consecutive January wasn’t enough.
Not by Green Bay’s current standards for excellence, no matter the incredibly trying circumstances this season.
“We have one goal here, a couple goals — one is to win the division, and the other is to win the Super Bowl,” veteran receiver Jordy Nelson said. “So (for this season) to be a success, no. I think we can take positives from it. A lot of young guys can build off of it. But, I wouldn’t say it’s a successful season.”
The Packers’ 23-20 loss to visiting San Francisco in the wild-card round of the playoffs on Jan. 5 was symbolic of the woulda, coulda and shoulda that defined their unusual season.
What could have been possibly a go-ahead touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter instead resulted in Green Bay settling for a score-tying field goal after it failed to get the football in the end zone on goal-to-go from the 49ers’ 9-yard line.
What would have been, if not should have been, an interception by nickel back Micah Hyde in San Francisco territory moments later instead kept alive the 49ers’ fateful drive that ended the game with a field goal after Hyde dropped the football.
“It’s a play that, out of our (position) room, we expect our guys to make,” cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said. “It’s unfortunate that we didn’t make it. ... That could have been one of those signature plays that could have finished the game for us, and especially a playoff game against a very good football team.”
Of course, that the Packers were even in the playoffs and on the doorstep of knocking off one of the NFC’s top teams came unexpectedly in what Mike McCarthy classified as “clearly the most challenging season” in his eight seasons as head coach.
As Green Bay transitioned to an earlier-than-usual start to the offseason this week facing an uncertain future since 17 of its players are due to become unrestricted free agents in March, the wounds from having 15 players end the season on injured reserve still were fresh. The injury casualties were far greater, none bigger than franchise quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
He suffered a broken collarbone in the opening series of what turned out to be a Monday night home loss to the rival Chicago Bears on Nov. 4. That became the start of a five-game winless streak (0-4-1) for the Packers, who suddenly transformed from a 5-2 team that looked to be hitting on all cylinders and a viable contender for the best record in the NFC to foundering to 5-6-1 and being an afterthought in its division.
“I think it could have been,” McCarthy said during his season-ending news conference Wednesday, when asked if Green Bay had the makings of becoming one of his best teams pre-Rodgers injury.
“I hate doing this, especially because I call the plays, (but) I felt that this was going to be the best offense that we’ve ever had here,” he added. “I thought we were going to go past (the) 2011 (team)” for scoring and yardage records.
Thanks in part to the emergence of second-round draft pick Eddie Lacy giving the Packers a vigorous running dimension they lacked the previous three seasons, including their Super Bowl-winning 2010 season, Green Bay had the complete package on offense. That is, until it was seemingly done in by Rodgers’ bone fracture on his non-throwing left side.
The Packers rolled through four starting quarterbacks but caught fire just in time with Matt Flynn behind center. In his second stint with the team, Flynn guided Green Bay to a comeback victory over Atlanta on Dec. 8 that ended the winless slide, then came back the next week to engineer an improbable comeback from a 23-point halftime deficit for a 37-36 win at Dallas.
When Rodgers finally received medical clearance to play again for the Dec. 29 regular-season finale at Chicago, the Packers needed to only win to leapfrog the Bears for first place in the NFC North.
True to how the script played out for the team the final month, Rodgers authored the biggest comeback of them all this season, throwing a 48-yard touchdown pass to previously injured receiver Randall Cobb on fourth-and-8 with less than a minute left for a 33-28 victory.
“We feel like we fought our asses off to get to this game, to get in the playoffs, and we felt like it was our time,” veteran left guard Josh Sitton said after the bitter loss to the 49ers on Sunday. “We’ve got Aaron back, and we’ve been confident. It’s frustrating. We thought we could make a run here.”
After conducting exit interviews with the players Monday and Tuesday — “A lot of things said ... were very informative, emotional,” McCarthy admitted — the head coach turned his attention to his staff. They were to pore over the video of the last game, and then McCarthy planned to take a couple weeks to evaluate the coaches.
McCarthy gave the impression at his news conference Wednesday that he won’t be making any drastic changes with the staff, particularly with Dom Capers. The longtime defensive coordinator came under fire again this season as the Packers ranked 25th in total defense and rush defense and 24th in pass defense and points allowed.
“Dom Capers is an outstanding football coach. No one will be evaluated today,” McCarthy said. “We’ll go through (the evaluations) just like we did last year. I’m not looking to make big changes.
“I think Dom Capers is an outstanding football coach, and I’m glad he’s on our staff.”
And, as he awaits his fate, the 63-year-old Capers isn’t interested in walking away.
“I have no plans of not coaching, I’ll say that,” Capers said Wednesday.
Just don’t ask McCarthy to give an evaluation of his own job performance after keeping the decimated Packers alive to the end of the season and taking them back to the playoffs, finishing with an 8-8-1 record.
“That’s probably a question for (general manager) Ted (Thompson),” McCarthy said. “What did I do? I didn’t win the last game, so I didn’t do a good enough job.”