Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY

Numbers Ruin McCarthy’s Fourth-Down Gamble

We take an X's and O's look at what happened on the game's most important play -- Mike McCarthy's decision to go for it on fourth-and-2 rather than tie the game with a field goal.

MINNEAPOLIS – Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy gambled and lost.

And so did the Packers.

Facing a fourth-and-2 from the Vikings’ 14 with about 5 minutes left in the third quarter, McCarthy could have sent on Mason Crosby and the field-goal unit for a 32-yard kick that could have tied the game at 10. Instead, McCarthy kept his offense on the field. James Starks needed to gain 6 feet. He got 5 of them.

That decision came back to bite the Packers in the butt, as they lost 17-14.

“We were on a 12-play drive,” McCarthy explained afterward. “I felt the advantage was to the offense in that particular situation. We had a solid play call and that’s my decision.”

On the third-and-2 play, quarterback Aaron Rodgers went up the field to Jordy Nelson, who was matched one-on-one with rookie Mackenzie Alexander. Alexander jammed Nelson at the 5. In a game littered with penalty flags in the secondary, that probably should have been a 5-yard penalty for illegal contact. Nelson hardly protested, though, so that set up fourth down.

The Packers lined up with trips to the right – receiver Randall Cobb at the line of scrimmage with tight end Jared Cook to Cobb’s left and Nelson to Cobb’s right. Lined up outside the numbers to the left was tight end Richard Rodgers. Aaron Rodgers was in the shotgun with Starks lined up to his right.

What’s noteworthy is the Vikings basically ignored the Packers’ trips set, with only linebacker Chad Greenway and cornerback Terence Newman in the area and safety Harrison Smith lined up 10 yards off the line of scrimmage. A quick pass to Nelson might have been the better option, especially with Cobb and Cook there to block.

But Rodgers stuck with the run and it didn’t have a prayer. At the snap, the Vikings had seven in the box against the Packers’ five blockers. From a pure numbers perspective, the play was doomed. The execution didn’t help. Defensive tackle Linval Joseph pushed back center J.C. Tretter and defensive tackle Shamar Stephen beat left guard Lane Taylor. The play was designed to go left but Starks had to cut it up the middle because of Stephen’s presence. However, because they were outnumbered in the box, Brian Robison, the defensive end to Green Bay’s right side, was unblocked and eliminated the cutback lane. Joseph and Robinson grabbed Starks and Starks wasn’t able to power through them far enough to get the first down.

“I liked the call,” Rodgers said. “They brought double edge pressure. (Safety Andrew) Sendejo’s coming on (the right) side, but I felt like we’d kind of beat him with the run. Had a chance to maybe throw it off to Jordy, maybe convert it. But felt good. Not sure about the spot. I don’t know, have to go back and look at it. But I felt like from where I was standing, we had maybe got the ball a little farther. But I liked the call. It was an aggressive call, we were moving the ball well and we’ve got to convert that.”

The Vikings then motored 87 yards in less than 3 minutes to take a 17-7 lead. Given the Packers’ offensive impotence, the deficit was too big to overcome.

Bill Huber is publisher of 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

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