Notebook: Finish With a Flop

The Packers fizzled in the fourth quarter and coach Mike McCarthy takes the blame. Plus, injury updates for Mark Tauscher and Aaron Kampman, and more from Monday.

With a gaggle of late-game failures last season, nary a day in training camp went by when Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' offense didn't run a two-minute drill against the Packers' defense. And to further prepare his team for playing at crunch time, coach Mike McCarthy stepped up the tempo of his practices.

All of that hard work didn't help a bit during Sunday's 38-28 loss at previously winless Tampa Bay.

After taking a 28-17 lead early in the fourth quarter, the Packers were outscored 21-0 the rest of the way. Given two shots to at least tie the game in the final 4:14, Rodgers and Co. couldn't even muster a first down.

Repeating what he said on Sunday, McCarthy on Monday maintained that his biggest mistake was working the team too hard at practice last week.

"I felt in the fourth quarter that our energy level wasn't what it was in the first three quarters, and that's something that I have to take a very close look at because they had a good week of work. That's the facts," McCarthy said. "Now, what happened on Sunday was there was a lot of production. We had a lot of production yesterday. The impact plays against us is what cost us the game, and that's the reality of the way the game went. To have as much production on offense as we did in the first three quarters, and then ... the last two series on offense and defense and the long kick return to me are huge indicators of what happened yesterday. We need to play our best football in the fourth quarter."

Instead, after Rodgers' 12-yard touchdown run gave the Packers an 11-point lead, the Packers played their worst football. There was Clifton Smith's 83-yard kickoff return to set up a touchdown that got the Buccaneers back in the game. And the defense, put in horrible positions throughout the game by the offense and special teams for the second straight week, fell apart down the stretch against a rookie quarterback making his first NFL start.

Still, the Packers had two chances to at least tie. But both of those possessions included a sack — the fifth and sixth of the second half — and one had a holding penalty and the other had a dropped pass.

"The worst body of work that we had was the last two possessions of the game, there's no question about it," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said on Monday. "We didn't finish the game. Had opportunities but didn't have the production. They played better at the end of the game than our offense, there's no question about that."

That wasn't what McCarthy had in mind. Then again, he didn't have a lot of this in mind back in August.

"We have a tremendous amount of time that has been spent in our training in two-minute, both offense and defense, and we didn't answer the bell," McCarthy said. "Those are the things we'll look at today. Those are the things that we'll address as players and coaches and we'll move on to Dallas."

Injury updates

Fortunately, when Mark Tauscher hobbled off the field early in the third quarter, it wasn't because of a major injury to his surgically repaired left knee.

McCarthy called it a knee sprain, and Tauscher has a "slight chance" of playing this week. At worst, McCarthy called it a "couple-week" injury.

"He did OK. It was a decent first time back for him," Philbin said. "He had a couple plays he needed some work on, but overall for his first game in about a year, it was solid."

Assuming Tauscher can't play, McCarthy hinted that someone other than Allen Barbre might start against the Cowboys. Rookie T.J. Lang, who was benched after a false start and a pressure in the second quarter, is one possibility.

Meanwhile, outside linebacker Aaron Kampman suffered a concussion on the fourth play of the game, leaving his availability up in the air for this week.

NFC playoff standings

For what it's worth, the Packers are in eighth place in the NFC playoff chase and very much in the mix for one of two wild-card spots.

Division leaders: New Orleans (South, 8-0); Minnesota (7-1, North); Dallas (6-2, East); Arizona (5-3, West). Wild-card chase, in order: Atlanta (5-3), N.Y. Giants (5-4), Green Bay (4-4), Chicago (4-4), San Francisco (3-5), Carolina (3-5), Seattle (3-5).

Sunday's game against Dallas is huge, not only in the standings but for the conference tiebreaker. The Packers are 3-3 against the NFC after losing twice to Minnesota and on Sunday to Tampa Bay.

Four-point stance

— McCarthy said he has no intention of shuffling his coaches in light of perpetual problems in pass protection and new problems on special teams. "Our problems aren't teaching and scheme," he said.

— Tight end Jermichael Finley says he's "50-50" to return to the lineup this week against Dallas. Finley, out since suffering a knee sprain early against Cleveland two weeks ago, said he'd likely test the knee on Friday.

Tramon Williams, with four punt returns for 18 yards last week, will remain in that role.

— According to the stats on NFL.com, the Packers' combination of 31 sacks and 50 quarterback hits is one fewer than Buffalo's 23 sacks and 59 hits.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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