Mike McCarthy's bold fourth-down call backfires on frustrated Packers
MINNEAPOLIS – In the immediate aftermath and the following 10 days of the Green Bay Packers’ 27-24 loss to Seattle on Nov. 15, players talked about needing to play to win and creating the moment, the spark, that gets them rolling.
After three one-possession road losses and a tie at home, the locker room was universal in its belief of self and how “close” the Packers were to finding the right mix Sunday night at U.S. Bank Stadium. But, they needed that little … push.
Ten days ago, some players felt coach Mike McCarthy should have given them a nudge by going for it on fourth-and-2 at their own 33-yard line with 4 minutes, 20 seconds to go and Green Bay trailing by three. Instead, the Packers punted, and the Seahawks ran out the clock.
Sunday against the Vikings, with his depleted team grasping for any kind of thread to pull on in a 14-14 game, McCarthy tried to offer a boost. On fourth-and-1 from his own 44 with 7:28 to go in the third quarter, he decided to go for it.
“I was trying to get something going there in the second half and I thought it was a clean play,” McCarthy said.
Despite a flap with the officiating crew over when the play clock began that forced a timeout, he didn’t waver. He had two calls to pick from and chose a run play with Aaron Jones.
To that point in the season, Jones and the offensive line were 4-for-4 on converting the first down when needing just one yard to do so. This included a successful third-and-1 run in the first quarter that helped set up the Packers’ first touchdown.
Except no one blocked Vikings safety Harrison Smith, who came around the right edge clean to stop Jones for no gain. Tight end Lance Kendricks crashed inside and wide receiver Davante Adams didn’t get down the line in time to slow Smith.
This time, the players felt they were given that push. They just didn't move.
“I like the call to go for it there,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “Just again, the execution. I don’t know that Davante had been in on that play when we ran it in practice. That was more EQ’s (Equanimeous St. Brown's) spot to be the cut-off guy on Harrison there but with his injury Davante was in there and again, that’s just execution.”
Jones had tried to pick his way around a penetrating Vikings player, but Smith was able to wrap up the running back’s feet.
“I didn’t even see him,” Jones said. “The next thing I knew I was getting hit. I was trying to run my feet but he was there by my feet. I’m like, where did he come from? I just wish I could have that play back. We gave them the ball in (our) territory, which is tough on any defense.”
Added McCarthy: “When you call plays or you call defenses in this league, you have two calls there and hindsight’s always 20-20. The second call would have been a better call there.”
The Packers' defense did hold the Vikings to a field goal, with Kenny Clark sacking Kirk Cousins on third down at the Green Bay 10.
“I’m happy coach McCarthy put us in that situation,” Clark said. “He had confidence in us to get them off the field and hold them to a field goal and we did that. We just gotta just hold them out of the end zone and hold them to another field goal and get our offense back on the field.”
With 3:31 left in the third quarter and trailing by a field goal, Rodgers and the offense get the ball back, “And we don’t do anything,” Jones said.
They immediately went three-and-out, including a delay of game on third-and-8 and then allowing a sack on third-and-13.
“That was a tough part,” Jones said. “The defense is out there playing great and holding teams to under 30 points and we feel like we should put up 30 points a game.”
The resulting punt was then returned by Marcus Sherels for 20 yards — and had another five tacked on thanks to an illegal formation penalty by the Packers.
That set the Vikings up again in Packers territory, at the 31. And this time, it took them just four plays to find the end zone for the decisive touchdown and a 24-14 lead.
The game, essentially, was decided in a 9 minute, 19 second stretch in the third quarter.
“Obviously it was an uphill battle,” defensive back Tramon Williams said of a fourth-quarter comeback. ‘But as a team, we’re always optimistic especially when we have the players we have on this team. It’s just not happening. We’re not making the plays. We’re getting caught up in the worst plays. It’s tough. It’s tough. But what can you do? Keep coming to work, keep working.”