The Green Bay Packers’ chances of making the playoffs suffered a big blow with Thursday night’s loss to the Seattle Seahawks. And with them, Mike McCarthy’s grasp on the head-coaching job he’s held for 13 seasons feels like it’s slipping away.
McCarthy’s overall record of 125-75-2 gives him a winning percentage of .624, third among active head coaches (with at least 50 games) behind only Bill Belichick and Mike Tomlin. McCarthy’s Super Bowl victory counts for something.
But after a game in which the Packers led from late in the first quarter until late in the fourth quarter and received stunning contributions from Robert Tonyan (a 54-yard TD catch) and Kyler Fackrell (three sacks plus a fourth negated by penalty), McCarthy is running out of excuses — and time.
The Packers are now 4-5-1 and would need to win their remaining games to reach double-digit victories. In a stacked NFC (and NFC North), that might be required to make the postseason.
And is getting back to the playoffs enough to save his job? Maybe but maybe not. After all, Randall Cobb had some loaded words last week prior to the loss at Seattle: "We've lost games before, but this just feels different."
It’s hard not to feel that way.
The Packers’ power structure has changed over the past year or so, with general manager Brian Gutekunst taking over. It’s still assumed that team president Mark Murphy will be the one making the final call on McCarthy’s status, but neither one of them can feel too jazzed about the vibe around the team.
It’s not just Cobb’s comments. Don’t forget what Aaron Rodgers has said this season about the team’s play calling, carefully choosing his words in doing so but not making it hard to interpret what he was disseminating.
Let’s get this part out of the way first: Rodgers has not been great this season. Good, yes, but not Rodgers-level great. The snapshot was there Thursday, as he made some special throws early against the Seahawks before looking awful on his final two third-down throws.
But part of that might be on McCarthy, too, and if that relationship has gone stale, it doesn’t reflect well on the coach’s chances of (a) pulling out a miracle run down the stretch or (b) saving his own hide.
Neither will two controversial decisions McCarthy made in the loss. The first was failing to challenge a 34-yard catch with less than seven minutes to go by the Seahawks’ Tyler Lockett. The second was McCarthy opting to punt with 4:20 remaining on fourth-and-2 from the Green Bay 33-yard line.
McCarthy said he "definitely" considered going for it there but that "we played the numbers" in punting it away. The problem was that the Packers had burned their first timeout of the second half when personnel came in late on a third-down play, and the second timeout went poof after Rodgers hit Davante Adams on a 57-yard thrown with 11 minutes left in the game as the play clock ran down.
So those wasteful decisions likely caused McCarthy to pause on failing to challenge the Lockett catch, even though it appeared the ball clearly hit the ground as he was trying to haul it in. Punting it away was also affected by the timeout usage, as it might have been slightly more defensible had the Packers had three timeouts and the two-minute warning remaining. The Seahawks, of course, ran out the clock and ended the game.
The Packers’ model now looks broken. If you build the whole operation around Rodgers and give him a record-breaking contract this offseason, he has to play well for this thing to work. Place whatever portion of the blame on Rodgers that you wish, but he’s not going anywhere. Next on the pecking order would be McCarthy, whose job in essence is to maximize Rodgers’ effectiveness.
That’s just not happening right now. That’s why change feels more likely than not right now.
McCarthy has one year left on his deal. If he somehow kept his job, the Packers likely would have to tack on a year to his contract to avoid him being cloaked by the lame-duck status, and is Green Bay’s power structure prepared to do that? That’s a lot of posturing for a head coach whose time feels like it’s slipping away.
And the bigger concern, of course, is the tick-tocking of Rodgers, who turns 35 in two weeks. The Packers have the assets, with two first-round picks next year plus extra choices in Rounds 4 and 6, to help stock the cupboard. They also have shown a willingness under Gutekunst to be more aggressive in free agency.
Who wouldn’t want to come play with Rodgers? But we also have to ask, would free agents want to come play for McCarthy if he’s retained and his contract status is murky. Herein lies the conundrum.
Maybe Josh McDaniels is an option. Perhaps stealing John DeFilippo from the Vikings is in play. There could be other offensive-minded coaches who are deemed the right fit with Rodgers in his twilight years. It’s a job that, if it opens, would be considered maybe the most attractive of all the gigs this coming offseason.
That also makes a change highly possible: that Green Bay could lure the cream of the coaching crop, over such possible openings as the ones that could happen in Denver, Tampa Bay, Arizona, Baltimore, Dallas, New York (Jets) or even Cleveland.
The Browns are the closest of those teams to having an assumed franchise QB, with Baker Mayfield impressing as a rookie. But none are Rodgers, and a new coach could enter a winning situation from Jump Street if they’re able to jump-start Rodgers. Even with Packers fans’ sometimes unreal expectations, there’s not a lot to dislike about coaching in Green Bay.
McCarthy’s fate has not been sealed yet, but Thursday’s loss felt like a huge wound that might not be healed by January. The Packers now have won only eight of the past 18 games started by Rodgers, including playoffs, even though he’s thrown for 5,035 yards, 38 touchdowns and only eight interceptions over that span.
Play out the season and see what happens. Maybe McCarthy and the Packers have some late magic squirreled away somewhere.
"What am I supposed to say? Of course there's hope," Rodgers said after the loss. "Of course we believe in each other. It's going to take one galvanizing moment. Whether that's a speech or at practice or something happens in the game, something's got to get this thing going. I thought we had moments tonight where that was the way we were going."
Rodgers is right — and is he giving his coach one more chance to seize control here? But short of that, they must be prepared to move on if needed. The Packers will have some terrific options if they decide to make a change, and that process should begin now just in case.