GREEN BAY – How appropriate it was that Mike McCarthy got up bright and early on a day called “Black Friday.” Only the Green Bay Packers coach wasn’t headed out to battle the crowds in search of after-Thanksgiving bargains. Instead, he was watching film of his team’s 40-10 thrashing at the hands of the Detroit Lions.
The first question he was asked at his 7:30 a.m. press conference by the handful of early-rising reporters who were in Wisconsin – most of the team’s media corps was still in Detroit – was whether or not he’d watched the film from Thursday’s game.
“I have watched the special teams,” McCarthy replied. “I have not watched the offense or defense yet.”
Whenever the coach got around to that viewing – he said he would watch it “later this afternoon” – it was most certainly ugly.
On offense, he would watch his fourth starting quarterback of the year, Matt Flynn, complete only 10 of 20 passes for 139 yards with no touchdowns, an interception and a fumbled snap; he’d watch his offensive line, thrown into disarray by center Evan Dietrich-Smith’s knee injury and sixth man Marshall Newhouse’s fourth straight week of ineffective play, give up seven sacks and fail to clear any running room for bruising running back Eddie Lacy (10 carries, 16 yards); and he’d see an overall performance that managed just three points and 126 net yards, the fewest by a McCarthy-run offense since 2006, when the first-year coach’s guys managed only 120 yards in a 35-0 whitewashing by the New England Patriots. In that game, Brett Favre left with an elbow injury and Aaron Rodgers, a second-year backup, played the second half on a broken foot that ended his season.
“We got our ass beat. Plain and simple,” left guard Josh Sitton said. “I’ve been playing this game a long time. This is one of the worst beats I’ve ever been a part of. Yeah, it’s embarrassing.”
On defense, meanwhile, the unit forced an astonishing four turnovers – the Packers only had 10 takeaways all year coming in – and even scored on defense, when safety Morgan Burnett scooped up a Matthew Stafford fumble created by Nick Perry and returned it for a touchdown. But there ended the highlights. The run defense, once a brick wall, has crumbled, ceding a season-worst 241 yards to the Lions Thursday, the third time in four games that an opponent had eclipsed the 200-yard barrier, as Philadelphia (204 yards) and Minnesota (232 yards) had done it earlier in the month.
For perspective, in the first six games of the year, only one opponent had broken 100 yards rushing against the Packers (Washington, which managed 108 yards in defeat).
All told, the Packers gave up 563 total yards to the Lions, a number that didn’t seem quite as earth-shattering as it should have because the defense had given up 579 yards to the San Francisco 49ers in last January’s season-ending loss in the NFC Divisional Playoffs.
Perhaps most devastating, the Packers lined up with all 11 of their preferred starters – thanks to cornerback Sam Shields (hamstring), run-stuffing defensive end Johnny Jolly (groin) and outside linebacker Nick Perry (foot/ankle) returning from injury – and were embarrassed. McCarthy guesstimated that the defense committed “20-plus” missed tackles, although he later said he would wait until he’d gone through the film with his staff to arrive at a final number. (According to analysis by Pro Football Focus, the Packers had eight missed tackles on defense).
“It's a mixture of everything, really. If we had the answers, we wouldn't be in this situation,” outside linebacker Clay Matthews said. “But ultimately, you see missed tackles, you see people not in their right gaps, their (missed) assignments, their (poor) technique.
“It's a mixture of everything, but ultimately there really is no excuse. We're pros, and we should be able to read and react enough to shut down the run or shut down the pass or whatever they ask us to do.”
Now, they’ll be asked to win their final four games: Against the Atlanta Falcons at Lambeau Field on Dec. 8, at the Dallas Cowboys Dec. 15; at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Dec. 22; and at the Chicago Bears on Dec. 29. At 5-6-1, by McCarthy’s calculations, the Packers must win all four games to have a chance to make the NFC playoffs. As they stand entering Sunday’s games, they trail the Lions (7-5) and Bears (6-5) in the NFC North and are behind non-division leading wild-card contenders Chicago, San Francisco (7-4), Carolina (8-3), Arizona (7-4) and Philadelphia (6-5).
“Oh, we're in a hole. We felt like we were in a hole going into the Detroit game,” McCarthy said. “We've got two division losses and a tie. That's not where you want to be. This league is exciting each and every week. And that's the way you have to approach it.
“We have a big opportunity (against Atlanta) – it's an NFC game, it’s at home – to get back to .500 and we'll see what happens. Us having a tie on our record may be something very positive or it may be something very negative. We will see what happens."
Asked if he feels like his team has to win out, "I would think so, yes."
Whether they can or not – and whether they have Rodgers back from his broken left collarbone to lead them – remains to be seen. But while it would appear that the Packers have been exposed as a middling team with an elite quarterback while Rodgers has been sidelined, McCarthy suggested that recent events won’t make him reevaluate things any more than he normally does every week.
“I’m not doing my job if I’m not examining all of the time,” McCarthy said. “I know that when I’m not down in the trenches, on the first floor, as the head coach – based on the way we’re structured here – I’m spending too much time examining things that I shouldn’t have to worry about. And that’s been evident here the last couple weeks. So we need to stay focused on football, the little parts, the little aspects … the fundamentals.
“If a change needs to be made, we’ll make it. If there’s something that needs to be adjusted, we’ll adjust it. And obviously we’ve got a lot of things that we need to emphasize.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.