Mike McCarthy loosened Brett Hundley’s reins this week.
The question is, why?
The Green Bay Packers’ 23-0 loss to Baltimore at Lambeau Field was about as bad as it gets for an offense in the NFL. The last time the Packers were shut out was McCarthy’s rookie season as coach, when New England knocked Brett Favre out of the game with an elbow injury in the second quarter and gave McCarthy’s team an even worse beating (35-0) than it had Sunday.
It comes a week after the Packers played the way they have to play to have a chance with Hundley. He’s not a pure passer and doesn’t make the quick reads and throws like the better quarterbacks in the NFL. So at Chicago last week, it was run first, pass off that. It helped the Packers hammer out an ugly, tough win on the road against a division rival.
Playing that way takes patience. It might mean living with a lot of punts. But it’s the way to play.
SILVERSTEIN: Hundley's play sparks tough questions
But facing a much better opponent this week, McCarthy came out throwing. On his first two series, nine passes to two runs. And Hundley moved the ball on both drives. But then each ended with a bad-decision interception, one in the end zone that took points off the board, the other on a scramble and back-foot throw that never had a chance and led to a Ravens’ field goal.
It’s hard not to think McCarthy out-thought himself Sunday. He knew Baltimore would watch the Bears video and stack the run. So he tried the unexpected.
It was fool’s gold. It got the ball down the field but didn’t yield any points. And things only got worse from there. Hundley (43.6 rating) showed little pocket presence, and whatever run-first identity McCarthy had established at Soldier Field was long gone. McCarthy admitted as much after the game.
“Anytime anything happens with the quarterback position, I take that extremely personal,” McCarthy said after the game. “I have to do a better job. I think there’s some things in the game, as far as (not) sticking with the two-back versus one-back offense, we’ll take a look at that as a staff.”
McCarthy, in fact, has to look at himself there. With Aaron Jones (knee) and Ty Montgomery (ribs) out, he says he didn’t want to overwork rookie back Jamaal Williams, who finished with 18 carries. But then Williams’ backup, rookie Devante Mays, lost a fumble on his first NFL carry, in the second quarter, and McCarthy sent him to the pines until garbage time. Mays and Williams were the only halfbacks healthy for this game.
“I wasn’t going to come in here and line up and try to bang the football with, frankly, one halfback that I believed in, and that’s just where Mays is right now,“ McCarthy said. “That’s more on the play caller.”
It is on the play caller. As much as players have to be disciplined, so do coaches. McCarthy didn’t have the luxury of indulging his anger or giving Mays a teachable moment. He needed to pound the 230-pound back at the Ravens in tandem with Williams for four quarters and hope to grind the Ravens down and eventually open things up for Hundley.
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Of course, that was going to be hard. The Ravens are not the Bears, that’s for sure. With defensive lineman Brandon Williams back from an injury the last few weeks, they’ve been lining up two 340-pound run stoppers (Michael Pierce was the other) on early downs. That’s a lot of beef to try to run at. But if you’re McCarthy, you gotta do what you gotta do.
Otherwise, he’s asking Hundley for more than he should.
The Ravens, for one, considered the interceptions — Hundley finished with three — entirely predictable.
“With some of the things we saw on film, we knew we were going to get some opportunities,” Ravens safety Eric Weddle said.
McCarthy now has to decide where to go from here. He’s unequivocally stood by Hundley ever since Aaron Rodgers went down and backed him again Sunday. That’s a public stance and no doubt the message McCarthy wants to send to his team. The locker room is his audience on this point.
“Brett Hundley is our starter,” McCarthy said. “I believe in Brett Hundley. It didn’t go very well, obviously. We understand the standard that has been set here.”
What McCarthy really thinks is another matter.
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The season is getting away from him fast. Rodgers’ possible return looks academic. Is there any reason to think this team will still be in the playoff race in the final two or three weeks? That answer is no.
There surely will be calls for McCarthy to give his No. 3, Joe Callahan, a shot now. He couldn’t do any worse, right?
Actually, yeah, he could. But it’s got to be something McCarthy at least is thinking about, even if he said Sunday that he never considered putting Callahan in the game.
If I’m McCarthy I’d give Hundley another week. Do you really want to throw Callahan out there against the 8-2 Pittsburgh Steelers, who are as complete a team as there is the league? That sounds like a bad idea to me.
No, Hundley isn’t the backup the Packers thought he was. But more to the point, McCarthy didn’t give him any help Sunday, either.