A dreadful performance against the Jets at Lambeau Field was the lowest point of a season of low points for the Packers. As hard as it was to watch the 38-10 drubbing, the lopsided outcome was the best thing that could have happened to the team and Mike McCarthy going forward in his head coaching career.
Had the Packers played a competitive game against the Jets and lost by a close margin, the status quo might have followed leading up to the game at San Francisco. A close loss would have looked like improvement compared to the previous two weeks - losses to the Patriots (35-0) and Seahawks (34-24).
The Packers were in such a state of desperation, though, that something had to change. It started with McCarthy's press conference following the Jets game. The normally even-keeled coach was in a different mood than all the other times he stood at the podium. This game bit at him and he seemed a little more agitated, a little more close to the Mike Holmgren end of the spectrum.
The following Monday might have been the longest day of his coaching career thus far based on a comment he made Wednesday at his mid-week press conference.
"It seems like when it goes the other way on you, your Mondays are forever," he said. "There's usually more fires to put out, you usually don't get started on the next opponent until probably 8 or 9 o'clock at night, where when you do win, you come in, everything's smooth and then when you have the Victory Monday with the performance that we had, you're able to get on to the next opponent by dinner time and things like that. It just seems like when it goes the other way, the game takes forever to get out of your system. It's harder to move on to the next game."
The nature of the Packers loss to the Jets forced McCarthy into deviating from a plan formulated from the day he was hired. It was time for change, albeit not scrapping the zone-blocking scheme or firing any coaches just yet. It was a time for opportunity and being more definitive game-planning on both sides of the ball. The result was a better performance and a win at San Francisco.
Defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila played less and Cullen Jenkins more. The Packers ran 34 times (second most of any game this season) and passed 34 times featuring some new formations (three running backs in the backfield) and less tight end motion. The offensive staff showed more trust in the offensive line by not protecting them as much with extra blockers, and the defensive staff let its players play and did not appear to out-scheme itself.
McCarthy intimated that more changes could be on the way over the final three games. He said certain players – tight end Zac Alcorn, safeties Atari Bigby and Charlie Peprah, cornerback Jarrett Bush, and defensive tackle Johnny Jolly – are getting more repetitions in practice. That could translate to more playing time on game day. As for the coaches, McCarthy is not ready to make any moves quite yet, but defensive coordinator Bob Sanders has to be on the hot seat. He needs to show better organization and a more definite plan over the next three games or the Packers might be continuing their annual search for a defensive coordinator.
It still may pain some to think that the Packers have not established an identity on either side of the ball, but it seems like McCarthy is using these final games of the regular season to find something to take into next year. If he does not, he will be the one on the hot seat.
Losing the way the Packers have at times this year can have more of a benefit to a team long-term than having moral victories. Just ask Mike Sherman who fielded a competitive team a year ago, but won just four games and was fired. The Packers are just now starting to find out about themselves, and more importantly, McCarthy is learning valuable lessons that will shape his coaching style. He found out a little about his team's character after the Jets loss.
"(We learned) that we have the ability to overcome adversity," said McCarthy. "That's something that this team has done throughout the year. We had two segments of our season that didn't go very well and we have bounced back from that. I think the most important thing is what we do with the San Francisco game. How does it carry over to Detroit? How does it carry over to these next two home games? That's the part of stacking success that we're looking for."
What McCarthy takes from the Jets loss to the 49ers win could be a turning point in his career. At a time when his team could go no lower, he finally managed to make some changes with positive results. For once, the Packers did the dictating and did not have to watch others dictate to them.
Matt Tevsh is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at email@example.com.