After five games, Mike McCarthy is tired of the topic, so he did his best to put an end to it on Wednesday.
Asked during his regular press conference how he thought veteran receiver Donald Driver was handling a reduced snap load, McCarthy didn’t hold back.
He had answered similar questions earlier this season. In the opener against the Saints, receiver James Jones wasn’t on the field much. Then, following a three-touchdown day in Chicago, tight end Jermichael Finley was double-covered and didn’t make many plays against Denver.
The latest question about the potential happiness, or lack thereof, with a member of the receiving corps was not happily received.
“We have one football,” McCarthy said, with a stern tone and slightly raised voice. “There are 11 guys that play on each play, five perimeter guys at a time. I’m not going to apologize for having too many guys to throw the ball to.”
He wasn’t done.
“We have a lot of people and we’re using them all, and that’s the reality of it,” McCarthy said, speaking truthfully after a game in which quarterback Aaron Rodgers completed passes to 12 different players in Atlanta, tying a franchise record. “Every week it’s somebody else we’re going to pick at because he didn’t have the numbers he had the week before. Frankly, I think that’s a bunch of garbage.”
The timing of the question and McCarthy’s response was almost serendipitous, coming one day after he said in his weekly Packers.com column that stress as a head coach comes more from dealing with potential distractions than from anything on the football field, even with the team undefeated. At one point on Wednesday, he asked rhetorically, “What are we doing here?” as though he needed a “5-0” sign on the front of the podium he could point to when needed.
Interestingly, Rodgers had pleaded with the media once earlier this season not to routinely ask about the one receiver who didn’t have much impact statistically in the previous game. On Wednesday, Rodgers wasn’t asked about McCarthy’s remarks in the weekly briefing at his locker, which took place after McCarthy spoke.
Obviously McCarthy is hoping the same goes for him from now on. He praised Rodgers for the way he has consistently found the open man all season, and he noted that he doesn’t want to see his talented receivers’ competitiveness wane. He just doesn’t want the story of the week to be the guy at the bottom of the stat sheet.
“Do they want the ball? Yeah, they want the ball,” McCarthy said. “They all want the ball, and if they don’t want the ball, then I have a real issue with them, but that’s part of playing in this league.”
Last week’s game in Atlanta was a classic example of a receiver amongst this deep group needing to be ready when his number is called. Jones had just nine catches for 88 yards through four games but posted five receptions for a career-high 140 yards, including a 70-yard TD against the Falcons.
“The way this offense is built, it’s anybody’s day on any given Sunday,” Jones said.
Meanwhile, Finley, one week after Denver concentrated so hard on taking him away that Rodgers connected with three other receivers for at least 75 yards each, dropped two potential big-gainers over the middle in Atlanta, one that would have been a touchdown at the end of the first half.
Rodgers isn’t going to lose confidence in any of his targets, nor force the ball to someone unnecessarily. He never has. That’s not how he’s trained to run McCarthy’s offense and that’s not his style.
His receivers, who get along well, wouldn’t want it any other way.
“If you start worrying about how many balls you get, then that’s when it gets to a point where you start losing games,” Driver said. “Then you put the pressure on Aaron to try to make sure that everyone stays happy.
“I’m fine with it,” Driver continued, speaking specifically about his lesser role as a 13-year veteran. Driver has just nine catches for 76 yards through five games. “If I think I’m fine with it, then I think everybody else has to be fine with it.”
Driver was referring to the media, but he could have been speaking about his teammates, as well. He didn’t say everyone is going to feel the same way he does, but he knows the example he sets as the elder statesman of the group.
He emphasized that he’s going to carry the same attitude now that he did as a rookie in 1999, whether others adopt it or not.
“It’s going to go up and down. You just have to get to the point where you’re comfortable with it and you’re still winning games,” Driver said. “I don’t want to get to a point where I’m catching 10 balls and we’re still losing. That’s not fun at all.”
Driver was there once, catching 86 passes for 1,221 yards in 2005 – both career highs at the time – for a team that lost 12 games.
“The good thing is your individual stats are sitting on top, but the hard thing is you’re still sitting there with a 4-12 record,” Driver said. “It sucks. I’d rather win than have 100 balls.”
In the end, McCarthy can take solace in the fact that inside the locker room that message seems to be carrying the day. The 5-0 record no doubt has a lot to do with it.
That’s a head coach’s best answer, whether in front of the media or his team.
“As a receiver you want the ball, but at the end of the day the biggest thing is winning,” Jones said. “If I would have had 140 and we would have lost, I’d be feeling like a bum right now.
“We know what we’ve got in this room, so we know some nights might be your night, some nights might not be. You just have to make the most of your chances, but most of all we have to keep winning.” Additional coverage - Oct. 12