GREEN BAY - At its core, the first question posed to Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy during his season-ending news conference was an exercise in optimism or pessimism.
The 2016 Packers won eight straight games to come within a whisker of the Super Bowl. They were, at least down the stretch, one of the best teams in the NFL. Their quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, rebounded from a dismal start to vault himself into the conversation for Most Valuable Player.
But for a franchise that talks only about winning world championships — a goal outlined by McCarthy, his assistants and his players from the first day of OTAs through the playoffs — doesn't anything less than a Super Bowl victory constitute failure?
“I think you have to look at it from two different ways,” McCarthy said Thursday at Lambeau Field. “We’ve never wavered each and every season about what the ultimate goal is. With that being said, it’s a focus from Day 1. It was a focus leading up to our last game, it was a focus the day of the game. … The ultimate goal is a constant as far as the way we coach, the way we prepare and really it’s a big part of just messaging in our program. That’s the goal. We don’t shy away from it. I’m never going to be one up here to try and hedge my bets or the old saying of under-promise, over-deliver. I think that’s a weak mindset, personally. That’s the ultimate goal; we fell short.
“But the second part of it is you have to be able to measure success because I think one of the best things we do, and it’s a constant struggle and focus for everybody, is we spend a lot of time on handling success. Handling success, it doesn’t just start when you win the Super Bowl. Handling success starts each and every day that someone in our program has success, whether it’s making the team, it’s being a starter one week or making a bunch of big plays, kicking a winning field goal. With that comes responsibility and focus because success is achieved on a bunch of different levels. We reached a very high level of success this year. I would say our team clearly had a successful season, without a doubt.”
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McCarthy’s explanation opened the door for personal interpretation, and opinions are sure to land all over the map — from remarkable turnaround to another year of wasting Rodgers’ prime.
But even McCarthy could not shroud the way in which his team approached the 2016 season. They had a countdown clock that began with their first game and ended with the Super Bowl in Houston. Each week the number of days between the present and their ultimate goal decreased. They knew exactly what they wanted to achieve.
Then everything came crashing down in the Georgia Dome last weekend, whipped into the offseason by a better, more talented and more explosive team. From a macro point of view the Packers certainly failed.
“Everybody wants the ultimate goal of what Atlanta and New England are playing for,” McCarthy said. “With that, we fully recognize that when you don’t reach that goal there comes criticism and opinions, which we fully accept and understand, it’s part of our industries. But we had a successful season. But we did not reach the ultimate goal of winning the Super Bowl.”
McCarthy touched on a number of topics during his 30-minute news conference. He reflected on the season that was, projected to the season ahead and offered his opinion on various aspects of the football team and front office.
Michael Cohen, Ryan Wood and Pete Doughtery discuss Packers coach Mike McCarthy's comments Thursday on the 2016 season and looking ahead. (Jan. 26, 2017)
Here are some of the highlights:
On running back Eddie Lacy, who ended the season on injured reserve (ankle) and will become an unrestricted free agent in March: “I’d love to see Eddie back. Eddie is going through a medical situation. I clearly understand his contract situation. So that’s really something we’ll continue to work through. Russ Ball is always on top of those things, but until Eddie clears the medical threshold, we’ll have to see where we are.”
On whether 66-year-old defensive coordinator Dom Capers will return for another season: “I feel really good about the coaching job of our staff. ... This is no time for drama. Dom Capers is an outstanding football coach. That doesn’t change. He had a tough challenge in front of him this year.”
On general manager Ted Thompson’s future with the Packers: “Ted is back. I mean, I don’t know where the heck some of the articles come from. I don’t see any change in him."
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On safeties coach Darren Perry, who was charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated, his fourth known drunken-driving offense: “I would say there’s no concern, but I understand your question and I go back to — we’re not perfect. We make mistakes. We have people in our program who make mistakes. I make mistakes. With that, as an organization there’s obviously continuing education and discipline that goes along with those mistakes. That’s a pending legal matter, and that’s really where it stands.”
On Rodgers’ comment about going “all in” every season: “The way Aaron plays the game, especially that last game, he took his game to another level. You can talk about statistics, you can talk about mistakes, but the energy and the passion that he threw out there in that NFC championship game, I thought that he went to another level. That’s what I’m thinking about. We need that and that is a great example of a great player elevating or trying to elevate his teammates. That game speaks volumes. I know what the score was, I know how it went. It wasn’t very good. But there’s a lot of things out of that game that we’ll be able to draw from.
“As far as being ‘all-in,’ just like I talked about earlier to change, adjust, emphasize, everybody in our football operations, we’re going to go through that and we’re going to get better. That’s our responsibility, that’s our focus, that’s always been my focus. The process has started and it will be about getting better in everything that we do moving forward. I think that’s part of it, too.”
On whether Clay Matthews will play outside or inside linebacker next season: “Once again, this outside linebacker/inside linebacker deal, I don’t know why we have to keep trying to put him in a place. He moves around. If you watch the games, he doesn’t always line up in one spot. I think that’s very important for us to continue to do that. Frankly, if he doesn’t have the injuries, you would have seen a lot more of it this year. He’s a playmaker. He brings a unique set of skills to our defense. Maybe we can come up with a new position for him so we don’t have to — because he plays both. He plays the rover position, he plays inside, he plays outside.”
On getting over the Super Bowl hump: “What hump are you talking about? OK, yeah, we’ve got one more hump to get over. But frankly, it doesn’t work that way. You don’t — just because where we are today doesn’t mean we’re going to come back here next year and we need that much more to get to the next game. It’s not practical. It’s not practical thinking. I get where you have to write the stories and you have the opinions. That’s part of the process. But you don’t — you don’t say, ‘Hey, we were right there on the doorstep, let’s just change this next year.’ We have to change a lot of things. We have to get better at some of the things we did very well this year. Do you know why? Because we can.”
On the window to win with Rodgers at quarterback: “We need to win a championship for everybody. Obviously, he’s the key to our team. He’s the best player on our football team. Hell, he’s the best player in the National Football League. But it takes more than one player to win that, and we understand that and we need to improve in so many areas — even in the areas that we’re very good at. I’m sure if you sit down and talk to him, he’s already thinking about the things that he’s going to work on in the offseason. I get it. We all want to win the world championship, and I can just promise you and our fans that we’re doing everything we can to get that done. I think going back to Aaron’s statement — all in — we can control what we control but everybody in football ops we need to max out this opportunity and we’re already working on the next opportunity.”