Dougherty: Packers' crisis jeopardizes jobs

Pete Dougherty
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\Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy yells out to the field during a stop in play during their game against the Tennessee Titans Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016, at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The Green Bay Packers officially are in a crisis.

How do you view them any other way after the Tennessee Titans blew them off the Nissan Stadium field on Sunday?

The Packers went into the season a Super Bowl contender, as they have been every year since last winning the Lombardi Trophy in the 2010 season. That now looks far-fetched.

They’ve lost their last three games, and four of their last five. In the past two weeks, desperate to get out of a tailspin, they’ve responded with their worst football of the season against teams from the supposedly inferior AFC South. On Sunday, in a textbook backs-against-the-wall setting, they were dominated, 47-25.

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Incredibly, at 4-5 the Packers still are only one game out of first place in the NFC North, so that’s what they clung to after their embarrassing defeat. But this deep into the Ted Thompson-Mike McCarthy era, scraping into the playoffs doesn’t matter. Competing for the Super Bowl is what counts.

McCarthy and Thompson have been to the playoffs seven straight years, and their long tenures have made the Packers one of the two most stable franchises in the league (Pittsburgh is the other). By all appearances, team president Mark Murphy values stability and patience as much as Steelers’ ownership.

But the deeper the Packers sink this season, the more Thompson’s and McCarthy’s jobs are in jeopardy. The standards are high, and their Super Bowl in the 2010 season is getting further and further in the rear-view window. In that context, this marks the regular-season low point of their tenure.

When asked whether jobs are on the line, McCarthy didn’t blanch.

“We’re focused on winning the game,” McCarthy said. “We’re all signed on for our commitment to one another, and that’s as far as it goes.”

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That’s as good an answer as you can expect of a question that really has no good response for a coach. It’s hard for outsiders to know the psychological state of the team, but the performance Sunday speaks for itself. None of us knows how this will turn out, but it feels like things are unraveling. Instead of getting better the last two weeks, things have gotten worse.

PackersNews ran a story last week about the state of leadership in the Packers’ locker room, and it raised good questions that might or might not get answered in the season's stretch run. But at this point, I’m wondering about the leadership elsewhere. Namely, where is Thompson?

I well remember Thompson’s mentor, Ron Wolf, making himself available in the Packers’ locker room after all road games, most especially after some of his most bitter defeats. He’d take question after question, sometimes acknowledging shortcomings, just as often barking back. Regardless, when his team was down, he was there.

But for all the strengths Thompson brings to the organization as an even-keeled presence and respected talent evaluator, when it comes to taking the heat during the season he’s a no-show. That leaves it all on McCarthy, Rodgers and a handful of players in the locker room to absorb the blows.

Maybe it’s just not in Thompson’s constitution to do anything more than the bare minimum of the public side of his job. But that only makes others bear all the weight.

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As for this game, so much happened it’s hard to know where to start. The Packers came in as three-point road favorites yet collapsed on both sides of the ball and fell behind 21-0.

Coordinator Dom Capers’ defense, playing without Clay Matthews for the fourth straight game, was an unmitigated disaster. It gave up four touchdowns on the first four possessions, and 351 yards and 35 points in the first half.

Their second-ranked run defense was exposed as a fraud. They’ve played two good running teams, Dallas a month ago and the Titans on Sunday, and both punished the Packers. DeMarco Murray’s 75-yard touchdown run on the Titans’ first snap was a stunner and a sign of things to come.

The Packers’ offense, with running back James Starks back from knee surgery, appears no closer to finding a rhythm or identity than it was a month ago. Their final stats (402 yards in total offense) ring as hollow as their desperation fourth-quarter comeback against Indianapolis last week. They needed to produce early to stay in the game but put up only one first down the first three times they touched the ball.

The Packers didn’t give up, but they should take little consolation in that. For back-to-back weeks now, they’ve been marginally competitive. Injuries or not, that’s not what quality teams do.

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About the only encouraging development for the Packers was their reaction to Rodgers taking a shot from Perrish Cox in the end zone on a 20-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Receivers Davante Adams and Randall Cobb went hard after Cox. They weren’t penalized, but even if they had been, it had to be done.

On the other hand, Mike Daniels, the most vocal player on the team, took the worst kind of penalty. Early in the third quarter, the Packers’ defense had a shot at a big stop after dropping Murray for a two-yard loss on second down. But Daniels picked up a 15-yard taunting penalty, and it drained the Packers of hope. Three plays later Quinten Rollins blew coverage on a 33-yard touchdown pass to Tajae Sharpe, and a 13-point lead was back up to 19.

I distinctly remember Daniels getting in center JC Tretter’s face in Week 2 at Minnesota for taking an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty — Tretter got in a tussle in retaliation for Rodgers taking a late shot in the end zone in that game, too. Daniels’ penalty Sunday was more damaging. Looks like everyone on the roster has to take a look in the mirror today.

As for where the Packers go from here, there’s nothing for the players to say. They gave the standard answer — just go back to work and try to get better. But at this point, rhetoric is empty. All that matters is what they show on the field.

And if that doesn’t get better fast, there’s no telling what changes the offseason might bring, even to a franchise that prides itself on stability.

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