Packers Coach Mike McCarthy Made Right Decision to Accept Penalty All Green Bay Packers All the Time
Don’t worry, coach McCarthy. I think you made the right decision to accept that second quarter penalty against the 49ers (I might be the only one to think that, though).

A lot of bad things happened after Mike McCarthy decided to accept a penalty and eschew a fourth-and-one situation near the goal line during the second quarter of the Packers’ loss to the 49ers on Sunday.

The decision gave the 49ers another crack at converting on third down — six yards away from the first down marker. Chaos ensued:

  • Colin Kapernick was forced out of bounds two yards short of the first-down
  • Clay Matthews launched himself at Kaepernick and drilled him after he stepped out of bounds, drawing a 15-yard penalty
  • Joe Staley went after Matthews, earning a 15-yard penalty himself
  • Matthews appeared to throw a punch at Staley and is lucky he didn’t get ejected
  • A bunch of other players got involved and had a mini Royal Rumble
  • The refs screwed up the offsetting penalty calls and wrongly replayed third down
  • The 49ers took advantage of the extra opportunity and scored a touchdown

Whew. Got all that? Life would have been so much easier if McCarthy just declined the original penalty and made Jim Harbaugh decide to go for it or kick a field goal on fourth-and-one, right?

In hindsight, probably. But we don’t judge on hindsight around here. I agreed with McCarthy’s decision to accept the penalty and push the 49ers back, even if it meant giving them another crack at converting on third down.

In all likelihood, Harbaugh probably would’ve went for it on fourth-and-one anyway. And in all likelihood, the 49ers probably would have converted. McCarthy knows this — he’d seen the 49ers offensive line bully his defenders and their passing attack baffle his defensive backs for nearly 10 quarters at that point. He also knew that Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman have a handful of playcalls that the Packers just aren’t ready for (see the third-and-four pass to Vernon Davis late in the fourth quarter for exhibit A).

McCarthy also knows the numbers the 49ers have put up against the Packers lately. Check this post for the rundown. It ain’t pretty. After looking at those numbers and considering everything else, would you feel confident about the Packers ability to stop the 49ers from gaining one yard? I wouldn’t. I also would have elected to push the 49ers back another five yards to make them convert a third-and-six instead.

Kaepernick ended up about two yards short of the first down before Matthews stupidly lit him up out of bounds. Could you make an argument that if Harbaugh would have went for it on fourth-and-one that he’d also go for it on fourth-and-two? I don’t think so. One extra yard is a lot in that situation. I think Harbaugh would’ve taken the field goal.

I might be in the minority — and what happened after the decision certainly was a disaster for the Packers — but if we’re not unfairly using hindsight to judge McCarthy’s decision, I think he did the right thing in accepting the penalty.

If you’re going to be upset at McCarthy about anything surrounding that series of events, be upset that — like the officials — he didn’t know the rule about not replaying the down after offsetting deadball personal fouls. A head coach (or someone on his staff) should know the rules inside and out, and let the officials know when they are making a mistake like the one made on Sunday.


Adam Czech is a a freelance sports reporter living in the Twin Cities and a proud supporter of American corn farmers. When not working, Adam is usually writing about, thinking about or worrying about the Packers. Follow Adam on Twitter. Twitter .


47 thoughts on “Packers Coach Mike McCarthy Made Right Decision to Accept Penalty

  1. No, no, no. It doesnt matter, you give your opponent 4th down. If Harbaugh wants to go for it, so be it. And if you think that MM thinks that his team has been bullied for nearly 10 quarters, then they shouldnt have bothered travelling to the game. Thats chickening out. Sometimes you need to show what your defense can do, and that couldve been one of those situations.

    1. I don’t necessarily disagree, you have a point, but how is lining them up again at 3rd and 6 with apparent confidence that they can stop them again not showing what your defense can do?

      1. Shouldn’t have bothered travelling to the game? And miss out on a free trip to sunny San Francisco?

        The Packers have shown what their defense can do against the 49ers to the tune of allowing almost 1,500 yards over the last three games.

        1. You’re ignoring the point that it is highly likely that Harbaugh would have went for it on 4th and 1.

          With that in place, what is the difference between showing what your defense can do on 3rd and 6 or 4th and 1?

  2. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. We have no idea what happens if the Niners are forced to make that 4th down call (FG vs. run a play). That early in the game, I think that most coaches probably would take the points. That was essentially a 4th and goal, though, as the 2 yards and a play to the endzone are essentially one and the same.

    1. Yeah but a decision to GFI on 4th is a hard decision for SF. Ging for it on 3rd is a no brainer, Why give them a free play that deep in the red zone? Make them sweat the decision.

  3. I agree that the mistake was that no one on our staff knew that the officials mishandled the call.

  4. Even supposing the odds were better for the 49ers, it’s been shown time and time again that every coach outside of Belichick is usually more conservative than the percentages would suggest. That’s because when things blow up, the coach gets blamed. See Patriots vs Colts 4th and 2 game a couple years ago.

    Even if you’re on the wrong side of the finesse, you still lay down a low card and make the dummy guess the queen.

      1. Totally agree. Good O-lines and good D-lines give you the confidence to control the situation. The 49ers are a very good football team (and without Crabtree) that isn’t afraid to take what they want.

      2. So true: later when he could’ve played it safe and relied on his defense, they tried the hard count (which didn’t work…kudos to the DL), and STILL ran on 4th down.

        If he’d do that when the game is clearly on the line, why not when there’s plenty of wiggle-room earlier on?

  5. This article is non-sensical. For one, you mention how you’re not going to judge hindsight and then you use hindsight a couple paragraphs later when talking about 4th-and-2. Secondly, all the points you made about the Niner offense are true, but they’re just as true for 3rd down as they are for 4th down, so there is no marginal difference there. Finally, you completely ignore the notion of frequency — if the Niners offense does own us, why give them two chances to own us instead of one?

    I’m not advocating for or against accepting the penalty, I’m just analyzing your points on their own merits. And on that front, they aren’t coherent or intelligent.

  6. You decline the penalty. Give them 1 chance not 2. These split second decisions in the game have never been MM strong suit.

  7. Who cares, none of it really mattered anyway! When the game plan is to allow at least one 49er to run rampant without any semblance of defensing that player, you’re not likely to win!

  8. Adam, you’re an excellent writer but completely wrong on the first point. Any knowledgable football person declines the penalty. It’s a no brainer. I nearly broke the TV screen with a thrown projectile when MM accepted. All the logic you need is this: If you’re GB you want SF to go for it because that’s a bad decision on their part. In that game situation any reasonable takes the 3. However, MM’s simply inexcusable error allowed Harbaugh not to be stupid. Possibly the worst in game decision of MM’s tenure.

    However, you’re exactly right about the staff failing to catch the ref’s error. Professional coaches must know the rules and game situation at all times. This was not MM’s and the staff’s best day.

    1. If you’re coaching from a textbook, yes, you decline the penalty.

      If you’re coaching using what you know about you’re own team, your opponent, and recent history like McCarthy was, you accept the penalty.

      1. Check your grammar. It is “have gone” not “have went” (“Harbaugh would have went for it on fourth-and-one”)

        1. Thanks. I didn’t know that you became an English teacher after your days of making rap albums w/ the Fresh Prince were over.

  9. This is easy logic. 3rd and 6 from the 10. 2 outcomes. FG or TD. 4th and 1 from 5. 3 outcomes. FG, TD or turnover on downs. 31 other NFL coaches plus thousands more from pee-wee to college football decline the penalty. McCarthy has to practice what he preaches and accept be accountable for a bad decision.

      1. No, it means he is stubbornly refusing to learn from his mistake. That’s unpardonable mistake #3.

        We’d not take this level of mistake-making from a player. He’d be benched

  10. At the time I thought he made the wrong call, but in hindsight, it probably was the correct call. They did limit him to a four yard gain after all. What happened after that was out of the coaches control. Although I do agree that MM should have been all over the referee regarding the offsetting penalties. My guess is no one was considering Mathew’s hit a dead ball foul, even though we all know now it was.

  11. slightly off the topic, but i say bring back nick collins fast. hell, dig up bobby dillon and put him out there. what in the world are we going to do with the safety positions????

  12. Just so we’re all clear… That 4th-and-1 was more like 4th-and-inches. If you don’t think Frank Gore and that offensive line could have picked up a few inches, then you’re probably one of the few people who were surprised that Green Bay lost the game.

    1. This is the correct point and everyone needs to read and understand it. All 4th and 1’s are not created equal. There is about an 85% chance that a simple QB lean converts te 4th down — there is almost no chance to stop it even if our defense were the 70’s Steelers or combined names like White Davis Jordan and Hubbard.

      McCarthy made the right call.


  13. I agree, I was at odds with myself on whether to accept the penalty or not. The same thoughts went through my mind as they did yours. I knew hardball would go for it on 4th and inches and I also thought there was a high probability that they would convert. On the other side of the coin it’s hard to not accept forth down as a stop. To me it was a 50/50 call. I agree that the bigger issue out of this whole scenario was that nobody on our staff new the offsetting penalties rule, or at least I didn’t bring it up to the refs.Over the years I have always thought that MM was a bad in game coach as far as making quick decisions on the fly .

  14. I was glad that MM took the penalty as I would rather the D face 3rd and 6 than 4th and inches. Although Kaepernick didn’t throw any picks (our favorite team should have had one) we can hope for a batted ball, a poor throwing decision and pick or incomplete pass. Let us remember that prior to last season the Packers owned the 49ers. I hope that they meet in the playoffs and that order is restored to the universe with the Packers winning.

  15. As soon as dumbass made that call we were yelling- you owe us 4 points coach! Then…. Karma beat the snot out of him.

    Thank God this is his last yr. He knows it. He n his family can’t take anymore.


  16. 9rs wer kicking our ass at the time…. As evidenced by the TD!! When we got them to a 4th down we had a chance to chg momentum. Old ballsy decided his D would be tough on just one play of that drive. Plus— our front 7 was the best thing we had on week 1. Man up you pussies!

  17. This is worth repeating:
    This is easy logic. 3rd and 6 from the 10. 2 outcomes. FG or TD. 4th and 1 from 5. 3 outcomes. FG, TD or turnover on downs. 31 other NFL coaches plus thousands more from pee-wee to college football decline the penalty. McCarthy has to practice what he preaches and accept be accountable for a bad decision.

    1. This isn’t statistics. The likelihoods of the outcomes are neither random nor are they of equal weight.

      1. True but they EXIST. Stop SF for that one play and it is the same thing as a turnover.

        That formula does NOT EXIST on 3rd down. It removes all pressure from the SF coaching staff and lets them have a free chance at a TD.

  18. It was a 4th and inches and Harbaugh would go for it. If he doesn’t make it, he has the Packers pinned with poor field position again and may get the ball back again with another shot in good field position. If he makes it he has 4 more shots at a TD. It’s good for the 9ers either way. As for the GB staff knowing the rules, wouldn’t it be nice if the Refs actually knew the rules. Win or lose the games are becoming harder and harder to watch due to chronic bad officiating. Thanks, Since ’61

  19. Hindsight? I was yelling at the TV as soon as the penalty was accepted. Accepting it gave SF a free chance for a TOUCHDOWN not for a 1st down. And did those 5 yards mean the difference between a makable FG and a tough FG? LOL.

    Look what hapened anyway and assume Mathews does not get his boneheaded penalty. It’s 4th an short again and SF is right where they started. The ref mistake is clouding the issue in Packer fans minds. It was the ref’s fault!! No, it was McCarthy’s fault.

    That decision carried a lot of risk and virtually no reward. That is the hallmark of a TERRIBLE call.

  20. It was the WRONG decision….it’s not a matter of pushing them back from the first down line, They were inside the 10, inside touchdown range.

    Concivibley if they had gooten the first down a touchdown is just as likely on the same play….thus…

    declining the penalty would give them the option of “going for it” or kicking it…..BUTTTTTTTTTT

    accepting it is AUTOMATICALLY giving them a chance to score a TOUCHDOWN (the first down is not the thing to worry about inside the 10yrd line.)and after the third down,…..they can “still” go for on that 4th down.

    basically he made a horrible decision that cost us the game…. the only way that decision could be justfied is if it was a 50/50 field goal range, it was the end of the game, and the game was on the line and within 3 points and even then idk

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