In defense of McCarthy

Coach Mike McCarthy is getting undue criticism in the wake of Green Bay's first loss of the season,'s Steve Lawrence says.

I really didn't want to rehash the Packers' loss to Chicago, but it's still the talk of Titletown. From the e-mails in my box to the guys on the sports-talk radio station, the blame game is being played with almost the intensity seen on the field on Sunday night.

As has been the case since Mike Holmgren skipped town, most of the blame is getting dumped on the coach. Which is amazing to me, since Mike McCarthy wasn't the one fumbling the ball or throwing stupid passes.

On the radio on Tuesday, the hosts — including Packer Report contributor Harry Sydney — were second-guessing McCarthy's decision to pull James Jones out of the lineup.

First, they wondered if doing so hurt the offense (as if two critical turnovers that kept the Bears in the game weren't hurting the offense). Second, they said McCarthy should have let his assistant coaches handle that dirty work (apparently forgetting that day when Holmgren grabbed Bill Schroeder). Third, they wondered if the benching would hurt Jones' confidence (logic that makes sense for a college freshman but not an NFL rookie).

Look, you can't tolerate turnovers, something Packers fans should recall from how Mike Sherman handled Favre's poor decisions and Ahman Green's slippery fingers. Most Sundays, they are what separates the winners from the losers. Jones has been such a key performer that you cut him a little slack after the first fumble. But he didn't learn his lesson, and his lax ball-security skills resulted in another huge turnover. So, a disgusted McCarthy did what he felt was the right thing.

Did not having Jones on the field hurt the offense? Perhaps, but McCarthy also has to keep the big picture in mind. Maybe, just maybe, Jones will have learned from this incident — not to mention remember the ball-security techniques that are taught way back in Pop Warner — and he'll be a better, more reliable player in the long run.

More than a few e-mails reiterated what John Madden said during the game, when the Hall of Fame coach/NBC commentator/video-game mogul questioned McCarthy's conservative offensive approach in the second half.

Again, I'll defend McCarthy.

After the Packers took a 20-10 lead on a drive resulting from Tramon Williams' long kickoff return, the Packers' next four possessions started at their 10- , 21-, 10-, and 23-yard lines. That fourth drive became the 13-yard line after a first-down holding penalty.

Combine that horrendous field position with poor pass protection (Favre was pressured throughout the second half), Jones' benching and Greg Jennings' injury, and it's easy to see why McCarthy employed a conservative approach.

Besides, the Packers ran the ball effectively in the first half, so why not keep trying? Had the Packers lost by passing every play, the same fans who are miffed at McCarthy's play-calling still would be miffed at his play-calling.

McCarthy is not yet a great coach. But he's a good one, as evidenced by the NFC North standings. Coaches by their nature have egos, and it takes a good man to put his aside. McCarthy wants to run the football. He wants to win his way. But he also sees putting the ball in Favre's hands gives his team the best chance to win.

For the last two weeks, the Packers have been sloppy with the ball. They didn't learn their lesson after beating Minnesota. Maybe that lesson will sink in this time.

Steve Lawrence is a regular contributor to E-mail him at

Packer Report Top Stories