Play of the game: McCarthy outsmarts himself

Packers coach Mike McCarthy forgot his own run-first mantra in calling the fateful fourth-quarter, goal-line pass that became the game-killing interception.

Let's hope first-year Packers coach Mike McCarthy learned a valuable lesson from the key play of Sunday's unthinkable 24-10 loss at Buffalo.

Don't think too much. Be "Pittsburgh Macho," the trait that got you the job in the first place.

Despite three turnovers, atrocious special teams and one disastrous breakdown in the defensive backfield, Green Bay was in position to forge a 17-all tie with less than 5 minutes remaining in the game.

The Packers had just marched 60 yards in six plays to get to Buffalo's 1. On the drive, Ahman Green had runs of 9 and 16 yards, and Noah Herron moved the ball to the threshold of the goal line with a 10-yard burst.

Then Mr. Run-First McCarthy thought too much, and decided to call a pass. He figured he had the element of surprise on his side, and with the Bills running in their goal-line defense, McCarthy figured a pass play run before the Bills were set would lead to the touchdown.

"You've seen it over and over again during the year where we have the ability to catch people in transition," McCarthy said. "I think it's convenient now to say I should have run it. (But) the tempo of our huddle enabled them to react."

That's all well and good and true and logical, but it ignores the obvious. The Packers were running the ball down the Bills' throats. Green, with 23 carries, 122 yards and a 5.3-yard average, finished with his third consecutive 100-yard game. The Packers averaged 4.9 yards per rush in the game. More importantly, the Packers averaged 6.6 yards per rush in the second half.

With four cracks from the 1-yard line, the Packers could have run the ball into the end zone on accident.

But McCarthy thought too much.

Bills cornerback Nate Clements was thinking, too. The Packers had run quick slants for short touchdowns to Donald Driver against Miami two weeks ago and the Bills just a quarter earlier.

While the alignment wasn't the same – Driver split out far to the right instead of in the slot, giving him plenty of room to beat Clements before the safety could get in position to help.

That formation should have prevented an interception, but Clements correctly guessed, smothered Driver and stuck a hand between the ball and Driver. The ball popped to safety Ko Simpson, who returned it 76 yards.

While the play call was bad, so was Favre's throw. The pass should have been low, giving only Driver a chance to make the grab. If the ball had been thrown low, a deflection would have been unlikely because Driver could have used his body to seal Clements. And if it had been deflected, it almost certainly would have bounced straight into the turf. Instead, because it was high, the deflection popped in the air.

The Packers' fourth turnover of the game set up the clinching touchdown against a Green Bay defense that appeared to throw in the towel out of sheer disgust or despair. The Bills' pedestrian and plodding backup running back, Anthony Thomas, ran at Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila on three straight plays for big gains. The last rush was a 14-yard touchdown in which Thomas easily ran through a weak tackle attempt by safety Tyrone Culver.

Had the Packers scored the tying touchdown, the odds were in their favor to force a punt and get a crack at scoring a game-winning field goal. The Bills were held to 184 yards, and quarterback J.P. Losman neither had time to find a receiver or the accuracy to connect.

They might have been 4-4, with a game next week at punchless Minnesota, also 4-4. The winner would have been a front-runner in the wild-card race. Instead, the Packers lost, and are 3-5 entering the season's toughest stretch. They enter it with a bruised psyche and, worst of all, maybe a little less faith in their coach.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. Send comments to steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com.


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