Big halftime leads can be a 'challenge'
Even the Green Bay Packers weren't expecting the shellacking they handed rival Chicago Bears on Sunday night.
Offensive coordinator Tom Clements admitted nobody anticipated Green Bay's 55-14 blowout would be as one-sided as it became. Head coach Mike McCarthy said his team arrives at the stadium each week ready to play four quarters.
So when the Packers led 42-0 at halftime, the feeling was unusual.
"It's a good challenge," McCarthy said Monday. "I don't want to say 'problem.' It's a good challenge to have."
Big, halftime leads are nothing new to Green Bay this season. At halftime in their past three home games, the Packers led 28-0 against the Minnesota Vikings, 28-3 against the Carolina Panthers, and 42-0 against the Bears.
There's less stress in the locker room when a team leads by several touchdowns at halftime. Still, decisions have to be made. Perhaps none are more important – and tricky – than how long to leave the starting quarterback in the game.
McCarthy has been consistent with when to yank quarterback Aaron Rodgers from blowout leads. Rodgers played at least two third-quarter series against the Vikings, Panthers and Bears, despite leading by several touchdowns.
"It stresses your football team out when you start taking players out of the game very early," McCarthy said. "You only have 46 players that are up for the game. When you start pulling three, four, five players on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, the special teams really gets stretched, and that's what you saw at the end. That's what happened last night.
"I don't have a thing on my call sheet, 'OK, we're going to pull everybody at this point.' Frankly, you wouldn't want to do it before the fourth quarter. That has not been the case of late."
With the special teams thinned, the Packers allowed a 101-yard kickoff returned for touchdown in the fourth quarter Sunday. The game had long been decided. Bears kick returner Chris Williams' score cut Chicago's deficit to a whopping 41 points.
Rodgers and many starters had already exited. Unlike games against the Vikings and Panthers – when Rodgers played until the end of the third quarter – he left before the third quarter expired Sunday.
"When we come out of the locker room at halftime, we were coming out the same way we came out the first quarter," McCarthy said. "It was important for us to take away any surge from Chicago. That was our plan."
Of course, there's a danger in being overaggressive.
Rodgers has been hit multiple times when the Packers have held big second-half leads at home. It happened again Sunday night. McCarthy had no interest discussing the risk Monday.
"This is professional football," he said. "We showed up to play four quarters. Frankly, that shouldn't even be part of the evaluation, in my opinion. I think it's ridiculous I have to answer that question."
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