GREEN BAY – Mike McCarthy is not about to abandon what’s made the Packers successful in his tenure as head coach.
That was the crux of his message in a very assertive press conference Monday following the Packers’ third straight loss.
“I’m not into shock-and-awe, or a torch-the-landscape type person. I’m a builder, I’m a developer, and I’ve said that since the first day I arrived here,” McCarthy said of how he goes about turning around his 4-5 team. “You build a program, the culture makes it go, and you have to invest in that culture every single day. That’s my big-picture focus.
“At the end of the day it’s about the performance, and the application of what’s going on throughout the week. We have not played well enough, and that’s what we’re focused on. We’re really diving into how it happened and why it happened, and that will stay our focus.”
There’s work to do in all three phases, and miscues in all three phases have contributed to the Packers playing from well behind in their last two games.
The team’s response in the adverse moments has been hit or miss, and that was the case again on Sunday in Tennessee. Coming out of the locker room with a 35-16 deficit, the Packers got a defensive stop and an offensive touchdown to close the gap to two scores.
But McCarthy made reference to “three critical plays” the rest of the second half that thwarted the comeback effort. He didn’t specify which plays, but here are some options: a taunting penalty on Mike Daniels when the Titans would have faced third-and-8 in their own territory, a blown coverage leading to a 33-yard TD pass on third-and-5, a red-zone sack that forced the offense to settle for a field goal, and a questionable roughness penalty on Ha Ha Clinton-Dix on a QB slide.
“That’s the difference in this league,” he said. “There’s a fine line between winning and losing, and we are on the wrong side of that line right now. But we clearly understand how and why we’re here, and that’s what we’re focused on.”
As has always been his approach, McCarthy refuses to use injuries as a crutch. He had no update Monday on linebacker Jake Ryan (ankle), guard T.J. Lang (ankle) or tackle David Bakhtiari (knee), who left Sunday’s game.
He mentioned tight end Jared Cook (ankle) is “definitely closer” to returning. There was no news on Clay Matthews (hamstring), whom the defense has sorely missed, as the unit had its worst game of the season in allowing five first-half touchdowns to the Titans.
“It’s not about one player. It never will be,” McCarthy said. “There’s so much more to our football team than our star players, and I probably should say that in good times.
“Clay is an outstanding football player. He’s injured. It’s part of the game. We had some things go wrong communication-wise yesterday, some things in fundamentals, and we paid for them. The Titans did a good job making us pay in those particular moments.
“As far as who’s healthy, who plays, it doesn’t matter. It never will matter for my approach. It’s 11-on-11.”
McCarthy believes in himself, his fellow coaches, and his players to turn it around, and it won’t be about fiery speeches or fancy slogans.
It’ll be about continuing to work every day, starting with extensive corrections in film study on Monday. McCarthy’s M.O. has helped the Packers make the playoffs seven straight years, even when it had records of 4-4 (in 2009), 3-3 (in 2010), 2-3 (in 2012) and 5-6-1 (in 2013). Those are experiences he and the Packers can draw from, but he’s also fully aware they mean nothing in 2016.
“I’ve never looked at the ride to this point as smooth,” he said. “To me it’s always bumpy. To me, that’s the joy of it, that’s this game, that’s how hard it is in the NFL. It really isn’t what you did last year or 2010, as we know it doesn’t factor. It’s even more so with the parity and the youth of the team.
“To me, you have to stay in tune with the now. Obviously people outside our room don’t feel really good about the now. Personally, I enjoy these type of moments. This is kind of how my life has gone professionally. That’s just a personal thought.
“This is about our team, and I trust and believe in what we do every day.”
He went on to talk about the “twists and turns” in a season, and in a given game, that need to be handled better. Allowing an untouched 75-yard TD run and receivers to run free in the secondary looks bad and doesn’t help the cause, but it doesn’t shake McCarthy’s confidence that his team will grow and improve and get things going the right direction.
“Do I still think we’re gonna win ’em all? Hell, yeah,” he said. “I’ve never entered a contest, ever, that I didn’t feel we were going to beat the other guy, and that won’t change, especially this week.”
This week the Packers will be facing a Washington team as hot as any in the league, with a 5-1-1 record since an 0-2 start. It will be a rematch of last year’s NFC Wild Card playoff at FedEx Field, where Green Bay ended Washington’s season.
“I really like our football team,” McCarthy said. “I love the guys I’m coaching, and we have a lot of football left to play.
“Our focus is on going to Washington. Obviously going back there (after) last year, they’re going to be confident. Sunday Night Football. We’re dialed in and putting all of our focus into the Redskins.”