The Republicans blame Barack Obama.
“South Park” blamed Canada.
Green Bay Packers fans — when they’re not blaming Dom Capers or Shawn Slocum — blame Mike McCarthy.
No one is suggesting McCarthy is a modern-day Vince Lombardi. He’s also not Dan Devine.
Did the Packers lose Sunday’s NFC Championship Game because of McCarthy’s conservative coaching?
Coaching is a tough gig from a public-relations standpoint. Win, and the players are great. Lose, and the coach is an idiot.
On the first doomed red-zone possession of the first quarter, did McCarthy coach Mike Daniels to run onto the field for a stupid unsportsmanlike conduct penalty? Daniels wasn’t even on the field for the play. Was it McCarthy’s coaching that got John Kuhn stopped just short of the goal line on second down? Everyone hates when McCarthy gives it to Kuhn; accept, of course, when Kuhn scores. Was it McCarthy’s coaching that got Eddie Lacy stuffed on third down? Or did those plays fail because Seattle’s excellent defense got the best of Green Bay’s excellent running game on two key plays?
On the second doomed red-zone possession of the first quarter, was it McCarthy’s coaching that caused Jordy Nelson to stumble a bit midway through his route, which fouled up the timing on what should have been the easiest of touchdowns on second-and-goal? And was it McCarthy’s coaching that caused Davante Adams to miss the necessary block on Earl Thomas that might have sprung Randall Cobb into the end zone on third down?
In the second quarter, was McCarthy’s play-calling in any way involved in Aaron Rodgers throwing slightly high to a wide-open Cobb and Cobb being unable to pull in a crossing route that might have put the offense inside Seattle’s 10-yard line? Later in the quarter, was it McCarthy’s fault that Cobb and Rodgers weren’t on the same page on an interception that took a potential field goal off the scoreboard?
On the first possession of the third quarter, did McCarthy throw the low pass to Cobb in which he was tackled a yard short of the first down with the Packers approaching midfield?
Through all of that, the Packers led 16-0. McCarthy wouldn’t second-guess his play-calling after the game. Maybe he has in retrospect. Should he have turned Rodgers loose? A frustrated, disappointed and irritated Rodgers seemed to suggest as much after the game, but what had the passing game done? Rodgers completed 19 passes for 178 yards even with almost impeccable pass protection. That’s a woeful 9.37 per completion and 5.23 per attempt — about the same as his 8.22 per completion and 5.73 per attempt in Week 1. Wilson wound up with far better numbers (14.93 per completion and 7.21 per attempt) even after all but losing the game for most of four quarters. Once again, the NFL’s best defense was better than the NFL’s best quarterback.
Seattle got back in the game on the fake field goal. If you want to blame McCarthy for not warning everyone of the possibility of a fake, that’s fair. If you want to blame McCarthy for sticking with Slocum as his special teams coordinator, that’s fair, too — though, it should be noted, Green Bay finished 19th in 2013, 12th in 2012 and 13th in 2011 in the Dallas Morning News’ special-teams rankings, so it’s not as if Slocum’s units had been horrible in the past seasons. The players deserve blame here, too. How does a 320-pound offensive lineman get 5 yards behind everyone in a yellow helmet?
At 19-7 the game unraveled. Taking over at their 13 with 6:53 left, the Packers ran it twice to set up a third-and-4 pass to Andrew Quarless. K.J. Wright gets credit for the pass breakup but it’s a play Quarless needed to make.
No worries, though. Morgan Burnett intercepted Russell Wilson on the next play. Burnett took a flop on Julius Peppers’ orders at the Packers’ 43. Whether Burnett could have taken that ball into scoring position, at the least, will forever be debated and be the ultimate hypothetical question. Either way, the Packers were 5:04 from victory. The Packers ran the ball three times, the Seahawks burned two timeouts and the Packers punted after taking 1:12 off the clock.
You know the rest. Touchdown, Seattle. Brandon Bostick ignored months of coaching and botched the onside kick. Touchdown, Seattle. Two-point conversion, Seattle. Field goal, Packers. Touchdown, Seattle.
Season over. Blame McCarthy season begins.
Should McCarthy have gone for it on the fourth downs? The first one, perhaps, with the Packers a half-yard away. But after two running plays had just gone nowhere, do you try it again? Remember, the Packers couldn’t hammer it home in the same situation against Detroit a few weeks earlier. On the second fourth-and-goal, the field goal was a no-brainer, with Cobb tackled well outside the 1-yard line.
Should McCarthy have let Rodgers throw it on third-and-3 on the drive in which Green Bay tacked on a field goal to lead 16-0? That's a fair criticism. Should the game plan have been more aggressive in general? Maybe, but Rodgers went 1-for-6 on passes that traveled at least 20 yards, with the completion being Cobb’s touchdown. Should McCarthy have gone after an injured Richard Sherman? Sure but, ultimately, it’s Rodgers who decides where the ball’s going. Should McCarthy have thrown the ball in those late-game drives? Maybe, but, again, what had Green Bay’s passing attack done to show it could move the chains? With the way the defense was playing, burning off the clock was the appropriate move.
Look, almost nobody goes without blame for what happened. McCarthy included. But with a 19-7 lead and possession of the ball with 5 minutes to play, the Packers had the game won. WON. Against a heavy favorite playing with its indomitable homefield advantage, McCarthy had done his job by riding his defense. With the game on the line, however, a run-blocking unit that “kicked ... ass” all game, as guard Josh Sitton put it, got its ass kicked. Bostick choked on the onside kick. HaHa Clinton-Dix choked on the two-point play. A high-flying offense failed to deliver when it needed to; Seattle’s offense rose from the abyss to win the game when it needed to.
Should the Packers be playing in the Super Bowl? Yes. But, ultimately, they deserved to lose because they failed again and again and again to put away the champions. Green Bay dominated the game; Seattle dominated every big situation. If you think the blame for that overwhelmingly falls on McCarthy, that’s just not firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.