Dougherty: Packers prove nothing with feel-good win for Philbin
The Green Bay Packers played a pretty good football game the week after they fired Mike McCarthy as coach.
If you’re looking for deeper meaning in their comfortable 34-20 win over the Atlanta Falcons, you’re not going to find it here. It will take more than whipping their equal in 2018 underachievement to prove anything about anything with this team.
It’s no surprise the Packers played well. According to ActionNetwork.com, NFL teams that fired their coach in-season dating back to 2003 are now 10-14 in their next game, which might look unimpressive until you find out that those same 23 teams were 64-172-2 (.269 winning percentage) before the firing.
In other words, coming off a firing, teams either have something to prove or no longer feel the pall of a dead-man-walking as their coach. Or both. Whatever it is, they get a temporary lift.
None of those other teams had a future Hall of Famer at quarterback, either. The Packers were capable of playing like this in any given week regardless of their coach.
The only real test they face in their final three games is next week at Chicago, which was 8-4 going into its game Sunday night against the Los Angeles Rams. (The Packers’ other two games are at the New York Jets and at home against Detroit).
If Joe Philbin’s and Aaron Rodgers’ offense shows up against the league’s No. 4 scoring defense and plays with the rhythm it had against Atlanta, and beats the NFC North-leading Bears, then it might mean something.
If you’ve been following the Packers, the main thing you’re wondering is whether Rodgers will play better in the final four games with the change at coach.
Yes, he played winning football Sunday (103.1 passer rating, 44 yards on three scrambles), and maybe he felt more energized or more engaged or more something after McCarthy’s firing. His throwing accuracy might have been a little better than the past couple months.
But it’s only one game, and against a defense that ranks No. 28 in points allowed and defensive passer rating. When Rodgers was playing at an MVP level, this kind of game, even with three backups starting on the offensive line, would have been ho-hum.
Rodgers wouldn’t cop to anything feeling much different even though McCarthy wasn’t at the helm for the first time in the quarterback’s 11 years as a starter. But you have to think he had a little something to prove after his obvious differences with McCarthy boiled over this year.
“I just was trying to have fun out there and lead and inspire,” he said.
The most obvious difference with Philbin running the show, at least to the naked eye, was the mixing and matching of personnel. This game took you back to circa 2011, when McCarthy routinely ran players on and off the field snap after snap after snap, which made it hard for a defense to get a bead on anything.
McCarthy had grown much more static with his personnel the last few years, but Philbin turned back the clock. His plan from the start was to change players on almost every down.
On the Packers’ first series, which was a 75-yard touchdown drive, Philbin subbed in at least one player on each of the 10 snaps. He nearly kept up that pace the whole game. Until the Packers were killing clock in the fourth quarter, Philbin rarely kept the same players on the field for back-to-back snaps.
Philbin and Rodgers also pulled that old West Coast-offense standby, the slant, out of mothballs on that first possession. In fact, Rodgers pointed to that play – an eight-yard pass to Randall Cobb against a blitz – as one that jumped out to him.
“That one felt great,” Rodgers said. “Felt like we were in a great rhythm down the field and an important drive for us to get going.”
The offense’s tempo seemed good, though it’s hard to know whether that was anything more than the product of making a few more plays than usual. It looked like Philbin might have been getting his play calls to Rodgers a little faster than McCarthy had, and that Rodgers was getting the ball snapped with five to 10 seconds left on the play clock more than previously this season. He certainly didn’t flirt with any delay-of-game penalties.
“Joe did a great job on the calls and the flow and the timing,” Rodgers said.
Winning NFL games is rarely easy, so Philbin has to feel good about how his first as interim coach went. The side of the ball (i.e., the offense) that had been the problem most of this season performed well on his watch. No matter what the numbers suggest – the Packers’ 300 yards in total offense isn’t going to impress anyone in today’s NFL – this one passed the eye test.
Still, what’s happened this season to think it’s anything more than a one-off? The game that will mean something is next week. If Rodgers plays like an MVP against the big bad Bears, then there will be something to talk about.