Go for it in hopes of prolonging the drive, knowing full well that the season would have been over had the offense failed to convert? Or punt, in hopes that his defense could give the offense one more shot?
After determining it wouldn't have been worth challenging the spot on Eddie Lacy's third-down run, McCarthy's "initial reaction," he said on Monday, was to punt.
Instead, it led to what he called Aaron Rodgers' "finest hour" as quarterback of the Packers.
"Very tough call," McCarthy said after the game. "One timeout was the (key factor in his decision). Really, the response of the players and the one timeout, it was the right call. I wasn't going to look back. If I didn't go for it, I may look back on that with some regrets."
By "response of the players," McCarthy was alluding to the prodding of his players to go for it on fourth-and-inches, which weighed in his decision.
"Hey, trust me, players are excited," McCarthy said on Monday. "Those are emotional decisions by the players, and that's important, because you do want your players to grab onto it and take it and make them part of it, because ultimately they're the ones doing it. I love the fact that they wanted to go for it. I think in my earlier days I would've said, ‘Hell, yeah, let's go for it every time on fourth-and-1.' But you've got to mature through that part of it. They were right. It was only one timeout in that situation and playing the high side of playing defense there was probably not the best choice."
In the risk-vs.-reward equation, it wasn't that the risk was huge. With Green Bay's powerful rushing attack against Chicago's last-ranked run defense, the odds were in Green Bay's favor. As McCarthy pointed out, his entire fourth-and-1 menu of plays was available. Rather, the reward wasn't enormous. After all, the Packers were still 45 yards away from a 50-yard field goal attempt.
Nonetheless, McCarthy pulled his punt team off the field and sent the offense back onto the field.
"I think we all knew that we were going to find a way," said receiver Randall Cobb, who was lined up in the backfield with fullback John Kuhn. "When we came to the first fourth down and Coach was calling the punt team out and we were like, ‘No, let us get this. This is our time. This is our moment.' We were able to come through in that moment. Everybody was calm. It was just, ‘Go out there and handle your job and go out there and make a play,' and we were able to make some big plays."
Added receiver Jordy Nelson: "We wanted to go for it. Obviously with our season on the line, offensively we wanted to make sure it was on us to either continue to go on or (to) go home."
The Packers converted the fourth down, with Kuhn gaining a yard after Rodgers made sure they were in a legal formation. A few plays later, Rodgers threw caution to the wind and scrambled for 4 yards on third-and-3.
"That run was just reactionary there," Rodgers said. "I knew we had 3 or 4 or 5 yards to get, and was able to get the necessary yardage. My calves started cramping up -- somehow in this temperature -- and somehow got through that."
Rodgers' run gave the Packers a first down at the 35. That set up the next key moment: another fourth-and-1, this time from the 44.
Rather than using brute force, like the initial fourth-down play, the Packers went finesse. With three receivers, Kuhn and tight end Andrew Quarless on the field, Rodgers threw a quick pass to Nelson in the left flat for a gain of 6 to midfield.
On the first-down play, the Packers narrowly averted disaster. Rodgers wasn't prepared for the snap; fortunately, center Evan Dietrich-Smith's snap hit Rodgers between the "1" and the "2" on his jersey. Rodgers grabbed the ball but missed a potential big play by underthrowing Quarless. Eddie Lacy's second-down run gained 2 yards and Rodgers threw behind Nelson on third down.
That set up the final fourth-down play: Rodgers bomb to Cobb against an all-out blitz. It was a dramatic moment for Rodgers¬ and Cobb, who were returning from serious injuries.
Rodgers said the moment ranked "right near the top" of his personal highlights.
"Hey, man, you can't write that stuff," Dietrich-Smith said. "It's the human drama of the NFL."
McCarthy called it "the finest drive" of his coaching career. In 1994, when McCarthy was an assistant with Kansas City, Joe Montana led the Chiefs past John Elway and the Broncos.
"It was a great classic game," McCarthy said. "We went down the field in the two-minute drill to win the game. But this was for all the marbles. Aaron hadn't played in eight weeks. They were aggressive with their game plan. This was clearly -- you know, it feels good today because it just happened yesterday, but it's the finest one I've ever been a part of."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.