McCarthy learning from 'twists and turns'

Tom Silverstein
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy talks with quarterback Aaron Rodgers at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn.

GREEN BAY – If you think it can get hot in your kitchen, try stepping into Mike McCarthy’s this week.

It’s like a furnace in there.

Never has the Green Bay Packers coach — and the rest of his staff, for that matter — had to endure the kelvins a midseason slump has produced in and around their cooking station.

Outside, the team’s loyalists are turning on them in droves, demanding changes from top to bottom, fed up with a losing trend that began last season and has seen the Packers go 9-12 in their last 21 games, including three losses in a row this season.

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Inside, the pressure McCarthy and his coaches are feeling has to be growing as they try to reverse a rapid downward spiral for the second time in two years. There are only so many slumps a team can overcome before it finds itself picking in the top 10 of the NFL draft.

The burn of another bad loss, 47-25, at the hands of the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, has forced McCarthy into a defensive posture. He fought off suggestions Monday that he doesn’t have a rescue plan for this hot mess he’s gotten into.

“I mean, let’s just state the facts: I’m a highly successful NFL head coach,” McCarthy said with passion at his Monday news conference. “With that, I’ve never looked at the ride to this point as smooth or whatever the words (are).

“To me, it’s always bumpy and to me that’s the joy of it. That’s this game. That’s how hard it is in the NFL. Really, what you did last year or 2010, as we know, doesn’t factor. It’s even more so with the parity and the youth of the team.

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“To me, you have to stay in tune with the now. Obviously, people outside of our room don’t feel really good about the now. Personally, I enjoy these type of moments. I think this is kind of how my life has gone professionally.”

McCarthy has fought off failure at every turn in his professional career. Even the team’s Super Bowl season of 2010 looked to be a disaster until his quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, began playing lights out and galvanized the rest of the team around him.

McCarthy has had nothing but postseason disappointment since then, falling on the final possession in three of five elimination games since the Super Bowl XLV victory. His team has endured massive amounts of injuries and lost three in a row in three of the last four seasons.

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“Every team is different,” McCarthy said. “Every opportunity is different. Every season is a different ride. It’s a different journey, it really is. We knew that when the schedule came out. We knew there was going to be a lot of twists and turns in the season.

“Did I still think we were going to win them all? Hell, yeah. I’ve never entered a contest – ever – where I didn’t feel like we were going to beat the other guy, and that won’t change, especially this week. That part of it is real, and that’s what we’re focused on.

“It’s important to understand the twists and turns of a season because you’ve got to learn from it. So every week there’s a different twist and turn you’re not going to see coming, and how you handle that is important. We didn’t handle that very well yesterday.”

Just as McCarthy is feeling the heat, so is defensive coordinator Dom Capers, whose unit has been as culpable as any in the last four losses. The disintegration reached shocking proportions Sunday as the Titans scored touchdowns on their first four possessions and five of their first six.

There were blown coverages, gaping holes, missed tackles and absentee pass rushers. The Titans were ranked 22nd in passing offense and yet quarterback Marcus Mariota completed 19 of 26 passes for 295 yards and four touchdowns.

If you’re Capers, who has been a target of disgruntled fans every season since the Super Bowl, the pressure inside the meetings rooms has to be enormous.

“We’ve been here before,” Capers said. “I don’t know about losing three straight. But I think back a couple of our very good years, first couple years I was here. I know we were 4-4 the first year and then we got things flipped around.

“Our Super Bowl year we were fighting our tails off and grinding to win those last two here at home. We know what we’re capable of doing, and it’s a matter of going back and working on the fundamentals.

“Nobody’s panicking around here. We just have to go back to work, and the players know that, they know what they need to do.”

If they were getting ready to face Jacksonville again, maybe panic wouldn’t be necessary, but they are heading to Washington on Sunday night to play a 5-3-1 team that has beaten Minnesota and Philadelphia in its last two home games.

Jay Gruden’s team undoubtedly will use a home playoff loss to the Packers last season as motivation, but even more than that will pore over all the weaknesses the Packers have shown on offense and defense the last five games.

As bad as the defense has been, the offense has underperformed even more. Except for pockets of success, it no longer dominates games even though its top player, Rodgers, is healthy.

The offensive coaches have been unable to get Rodgers on track and can’t seem to find the right style of offense for personnel that changes every week due to injuries. It’s the coaches who have to figure that out and the pressure is on.

“The priority is always self-improvement,” offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett said. “That's always a starting point. Each and every guy, what can I do more or what can I do better for the good of the unit?

“I think they're all on board. We all trust and believe in the process, and we know we can get it done.”

It’s either that or find a new kitchen.

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