Playmakers' Disappearing Act

Mike McCarthy is 5-16 in games decided by four points or less, but pointing fingers at the coach for that record is missing the larger point. Coaches coach; players play. To be a championship team, the players need to seize control of these games.

For those of you keeping score, it's now five up and 16 down for Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy in games decided by four points or less.

Including Sunday night's 31-27 loss at New England, McCarthy's crew is 2-6 this season in those four-points-or-less games. Considering the Packers are 8-6, almost certainly out of the NFC North championship chase and currently on the outside looking in on the wild-card race, those close-but-no-cigar outcomes have left the Packers' season perilously close to going up in smoke.

Fortunately for the Packers, two other playoff hopefuls – the Giants and Buccaneers – lost, but that's small consolation for Charles Woodson.

"That sounds good," Woodson said of the Packers controlling their playoff fates, "but we've got to win a close game. And we haven't done that – we haven't shown that we can do that yet."

McCarthy's close-game record is a horror show but it's ridiculously short-sighted to put all the blame on the coach. At Detroit last week, did McCarthy steal Andrew Quarless' No. 81 jersey and fumble the ball to kill a promising first drive? Did he steal Greg Jennings' No. 85 jersey and drop an easy touchdown pass? The end-of-game sequence would have been irrelevant had the Packers taken the 10-0 lead that never came to fruition.

At New England on Sunday night, McCarthy did a masterful job. No, he wasn't perfect. (Those back-to-back runs by John Kuhn at the goal line were as predictable as the sunrise.) What coach is perfect? But the onside kickoff to start the game sent a clear message, just in case some of his players felt they were the equivalent of some poor soul who had just been introduced to a lion at the Roman Coliseum.

Given three practices to get Matt Flynn ready to face the NFL's best coach and renowned defensive wizard, Bill Belichick, McCarthy put together a game plan that put 27 points on the scoreboard and played keepaway for almost 41 minutes. It was a winning formula, except that the Patriots did what the Patriots do: make plays. And the Packers did what the Packers do: not make enough plays.

Coaches coach and players play. Coaches don't win games; the best they can do is put their players in position to win games. McCarthy did that at Detroit. Say what you want about going all-in on fourth down at the end of that game, but McCarthy called a game-winning play. It just wasn't executed.

It was the same deal against the Patriots. Thanks to the onside kick, the Packers led 3-0. On second-and-17, Woodson – arguably this generation's greatest playmaker from the cornerback position – dropped a gift interception from Tom Brady. From there, Brady converted third-and-17 and the Patriots took a 7-3 lead. When a Patriots defensive back got his chance to make a play, Kyle Arrington made the catch and broke four tackles on the way to a touchdown.

With the Packers leading 17-7, a harmless squib kick to a big, fat lineman turned into a 71-yard disaster. How is that McCarthy's fault? Packers defenders batted a couple passes in the air. They couldn't come up with an interception either time. How is that McCarthy's fault? McCarthy called a play that got Brandon Jackson matched up against 340-pound nose tackle Vince Wilfork. Jackson dropped the ball. How is that McCarthy's fault? Earlier, Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver and Quarless dropped easy catches. How were those McCarthy's fault?

"First and foremost, when you lose a game, you have to look at yourself," Woodson said. "So, I look at myself, and I drop an easy interception – one that I don't drop usually, one that would've gotten us the ball back, take seven points off the board early. I dropped the ball. It's plays like that that have burned us all year."

That McCarthy has this team in contention with all the injuries is an incredible accomplishment. What the Packers proved at New England is that there isn't a team in the league they can't beat. If they can take the NFL's red-hot juggernaut to the wire without Aaron Rodgers and Cullen Jenkins and Frank Zombo and Nick Collins, what can they do against the rest of the league at something resembling full health?

Then again, with such a track record of close-game futility, it probably doesn't matter who's healthy. Until enough players put it upon themselves to seize control of a close game, that ugly trend is bound to rear its ugly head again, whether it's next Sunday against the Giants, two weeks from now against the Bears or three weeks from now in the playoffs.

A fine line separates the good teams from the truly great teams. Teams like the Patriots, with Brady, and the Eagles, with Michael Vick and DeSean Jackson, are on the championship-contending side of that line. With dropped passes, missed tackles and blown assignments, we know what side of that line the Packers lie.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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