GREEN BAY – The NFC title game loss in Seattle will live forever in the Packers’ history books, but Mike McCarthy vowed on Wednesday that it won’t be carried forward by his team, psychologically or otherwise, into next season.
“It will be its own opportunity,” McCarthy said of 2015, speaking in his season-ending press conference in the Lambeau Field auditorium.
“You have to be able to learn from victories and defeats. That’s the mindset of a champion, and that will never change. But the 2015 football team will not bear the burden of what happened in 2014 or before that.”
The opportunity was there for the taking less than two weeks ago in Seattle, and McCarthy addressed a number of the key failures.
On the Seahawks’ fake field goal, which got them on the board late in the third quarter with the score 16-0, McCarthy suggested the defensive call to pressure the kick on Seattle’s left side was a mistake.
“Sixteen-to-three there would have been fine,” he said. “Creating the opportunity for them to make a big play is where we erred. They had a better play called than we had called.”
As for the decisions on offense to kick field goals early in the game on a pair of fourth-and-goals, there were multiple factors.
On the first one, the Packers had been stopped on second- and third-and-goal from the 1-yard line, and McCarthy didn’t like the penetration he saw from Seattle on the back side of those running plays, so he kicked the field goal.
On the second, he considered it closer to two full yards to get the touchdown based on where the ball was spotted, even though statistically it was fourth-and-1.
In both instances, feeling good about Green Bay’s defensive prospects going into the game played into wanting to give that defense a lead, and not pass up points.
“I was confident about the defense going in,” McCarthy said. “The way they started, 11 series into the game our defense kept the opponent to zero points. That’s where my confidence was.”
The defense’s final stop came when safety Morgan Burnett intercepted Seattle QB Russell Wilson at the Green Bay 43-yard line with 5:04 left, Wilson’s fourth interception of the game. Veteran defensive captain Julius Peppers signaled for Burnett to slide down when he had room to return the ball in front of him.
After the offense went three-and-out, the defense fell apart, allowing three touchdowns on the final two drives of the fourth quarter and the opening possession of overtime. The two fourth-quarter drives occurred without Clay Matthews, whose knee had been checked out on the sideline, McCarthy said, though he wasn’t aware it was anything to be concerned about.
In any event, no one saw such a dramatic change coming in the defense’s play, which is why McCarthy didn’t dwell on the approach taken by Peppers and Burnett on the final turnover.
“Decisions are made in the heat of battle,” McCarthy said of the fateful slide. “I clearly expected us to move the ball and at least change field position.
“We gave them the ball back on the (Seattle 31-yard line). That’s not Morgan’s fault. Why he did it, I understand. The way we were playing at that point, defensively we were in command of the game.”
Reflecting on the season as a whole, McCarthy felt the schedule change of having the week’s final practice on Saturday rather than Friday was beneficial to the team’s health, and the players confirmed that in their exit interviews last week.
He also called the free-agent acquisitions of Peppers and Letroy Guion “impactful” on defense, while complimenting Peppers’ leadership, saying he “knocked it out of the park” similar to Charles Woodson from years past.
The process of evaluating the coaching staff will now begin for McCarthy, with most outside eyes focused on special teams. The Packers had seven kicks blocked this past season (three FGs, two punts, two PATs) before allowing the fake field goal for a TD and failing to recover an onside kick with a Super Bowl berth at stake.
Personally, McCarthy said it’s “good to be back to work” after the “gut-wrenching” week his family has been through, laying to rest McCarthy’s younger brother, Joe, following his sudden and unexpected death.
The tragedy has obviously lent perspective to the aftermath of the season-ending disappointment.
“Definitely. Life’s precious,” McCarthy said. “I don’t have the words or emotional discipline to take you through it. It’s very difficult and we’re pressing on with the family.”
The Packers will press on, too.
“We’re going to create the best opportunity we can in 2015,” McCarthy said, “and we’re going to go for it.”