GREEN BAY—If Mike McCarthy’s Monday morning press conference gave a sneak preview of what he’s going to tell his team when it reconvenes on Tuesday, there will be no chance the last-second loss to the Vikings will linger within the halls of Packers headquarters.
“We had every intention of winning the game in Minnesota yesterday. It didn’t work out, and I’m not just fluffing by it, but you have to,” McCarthy said barely 12 hours after the Packers failed to secure a first-round bye and will instead begin the playoffs on Saturday night at home in the wild-card round.
“The door is open for the playoffs to begin. We’re one of six teams that have the opportunity to fight to go to New Orleans, and that’s what we’re focused on. This is a whole different deal. This is the time of year that our players live for, work for. They know what this is all about.”
The fact that the Packers’ playoff road must begin against these same Vikings, who just punched their postseason ticket by beating Green Bay and will face the Packers for the third time in 35 days, is of little import to McCarthy.
Yes, it’s another showdown with running back Adrian Peterson and a third meeting against an all-too-familiar division rival, but don’t expect McCarthy to analyze what’s good and bad about the current scenario.
“I don’t believe in pros and cons,” he said. “Football is football. Like I tell the team, I don’t care who comes out of that tunnel. I don’t care what color they have on. We’ll know their tendencies.”
McCarthy hadn’t finished analyzing Sunday’s game tape when he met with the media, but he pointed to two things as the defense’s downfall in surrendering 37 points – third-and-long and tackling.
In the first quarter alone, Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder converted third downs of seven, 11 and seven yards with pass completions. He added a nine-yard pass on third-and-10 that allowed Peterson to convert on fourth-and-short. Those conversions led to a 13-0 Minnesota lead just two plays into the second quarter.
Then the Vikings also converted on second-and-27 in the third quarter with a 28-yard run by Peterson and on third-and-11 with two minutes left in the game, as Ponder beat the Packers’ eight-man zone with a 25-yard sideline pass to Michael Jenkins that helped set up the game-winning field goal.
“When we watch the tape defensively, those are the things that are going to frustrate us, the long down-and-distances that we had them in and we did not take advantage of that,” McCarthy said. “And I’m sure when we get done grading the tape, the tackling will not be a positive either.”
The tackling struggles contributed, of course, to Peterson’s 34-carry, 199-yard game. Unlike the first meeting, when Peterson gained 153 of his 210 yards on three long runs, this time Peterson didn’t have a run longer than the 28-yarder, but he had seven rushes of between 12 and 28.
Perhaps most disappointing, the Packers were in the midst of their best defense against Peterson in the fourth quarter – holding him to just 14 yards on seven carries – before he broke the 26-yarder against a goal-line defense right before the walk-off field goal.
“His second and third effort, to spin out of tackles and come out of the pack and go into the line and bounce the football, that’s where our gang-tackling and our pursuit … our pursuit and finish at times was not what it needed to be,” McCarthy said.
As for the Packers ground game, McCarthy stopped short of naming DuJuan Harris the starter, but he liked what he saw in a 14-carry, 70-yard effort. Harris also had two receptions for 32 yards. Ryan Grant’s two early carries for two yards were the only times another running back touched the ball Sunday.
“He’s getting better each week,” McCarthy said of Harris. “He was able to get the opportunities. Like I’ve said before, we’re going to run the guy that we feel has the hot hand, and he was that guy yesterday.”
The Packers also got a spark from returner Jeremy Ross, who was filling in for the injured Randall Cobb and had a 32-yard punt return and 44-yard kickoff return amongst his five chances.
McCarthy said he was expecting to have Cobb on the practice field this week, and he’d let this week play out before making a decision in the return game.
In other injury news, defensive end Jerel Worthy was going through testing on his knee, but McCarthy said it “didn’t look good.” Receiver Jarrett Boykin also left the game with an ankle injury.
Injuries that briefly sidelined receiver Jordy Nelson and linebacker Clay Matthews were not a big concern at this point. Both players returned to the game. McCarthy also said he would find out the status of defensive back Charles Woodson later in the day after Woodson’s regular Monday meeting with the doctors.
On a short week, the Packers will begin on-field preparations Tuesday with a late-afternoon practice.
“This is about playoff football,” McCarthy said, continuing to stress fundamentals. “You have to do all the little things, all the time for four quarters, and that’s one of the things we can learn from yesterday.”