The 2014 Green Bay Packers are finished. In the books. Done. And it still doesn’t seem right. By now, we’ve all seen a lot of write up’s, videos, meme’s and tweets about the game between the Packers and Seattle Seahawks. Many of the narratives, common ideas and frustrations have already been aired. At the end of it all, it was an atrocious loss for this storied franchise and it cost them a chance at another championship. I mentioned the curse of the Arizona Super Bowl and how all three times that the Grand Canyon state (my home state) has hosted the Big Game, the Packers have appeared in the conference championship and lost. In the first two, they lost to the eventual champions that season. And now, all we’re left with is how to make sense of it all and move forward.
That begins by looking ahead to what this team, staff and management can do from today forth. It’s impossible to ask anyone who cares about the Packers to just try and block it out as if it never happened. It’s also tough not to re-hash what could have been. A catch here, a stop there. It’s a game of inches and the saying “give someone an inch and they’ll take a foot” is exactly what the Packers allowed the Seahawks to do. But instead of recyling the same questions, debates and arguments about how the game turned out and the opportunity lost, perhaps we try to focus more on the big picture. The Packers lost another playoff game and need to somehow regroup and retool this team for another run next season.
For me, things start near the top. General manager Ted Thompson will now face some decisions about free agents-to-be and also at any outside options to add to this roster. Last year, he brought in Julius Peppers to stimulate the defense and broke his ritual of not adding any outside and established players to this team. Prior to Peppers, it had been years since Thompson dipped into the league’s marquis talent pool. Overall, I’d say Peppers was a plus for the Packers and did add to their success. He had some big plays in the last few games, including sacks in each playoff game this season. And let’s not forget about Letroy Guion, who came on during the second half of the season and seems to have found a home in Green Bay for at least a few more years while the team works on a long-term deal with the defensive tackle. Will that prompt Thompson to look outside once again this year?
Thompson will undoubtedly and tirelessly look for more fresh talent to add via the draft. In last year’s draft, he found safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, receiver Davante Adams and center Corey Linsley, both of whom became starters and regular contributors by season’s end. This year, the Packers will be picking 30th which means most of the top-level guys will be off the board by the time their name is called. This may be a year we see the rebirth of trader Ted. Senior Bowl is coming up soon and Thompson is said to be one of the first to arrive and last to leave every year. His passion is scouting and it shows. Every GM misses every now and then, but if you’re able to step back and be objective, Thompson has done this team very well over the last 10 years. Thompson signed an extension with the team in late July last year.
Midway through the season, Thompson added some more years to the deal of head coach Mike McCarthy and the two will continue working together for the foreseeable future. McCarthy has surpassed the legendary Vince Lombardi in wins as a head coach (although don’t construe that as a direct comparison of the two), and has had this team in the postseason in seven of his nine seasons as head coach. Many out there count every season that doesn’t culminate with a Super Bowl trophy a failure, but I maintain that it’s impossible to win one if you don’t get in the tournament in the first place. Of course, getting there could lead to more outcomes like yesterday’s or it could result in some of the magic we saw in 2010.
The thing that keeps resonating with me over the last day about McCarthy is the way these playoff losses tend to finish. Which is to say, dramatically and poorly. 2007 and 2009 with late turnovers. 2011 with an inexplicably horrible showing by the offense that propelled the team to a 15-1 regular season record. 2012, an inexplicably horrible showing by the defense. 2013 was injury-plagued and was the most “normal” of the ousters. I’m aware the coach doesn’t throw the ball, drop it, miss a coverage, fumble or miss tackles, but he is responsible for getting the team ready every week. When it comes to January football, a different type of preparation is needed. And I’ll say it: I’m not sure that McCarthy always has his teams ready for the circumstances that these games present. One of the biggest debates about Sunday’s loss is whether it was player execution or coaching that was more to blame.
It’s both. But there’s no way Morgan Burnett slides with way too much time left on the clock unless he was told to do so. Whether that was McCarthy himself or one of the defensive coaches, it was a poor decision. Piss poor, if we’re being brutally honest. And that it came from one of his coaches falls squarely on Mac’s shoulders. Dom Capers may call the defense, but the head coach always has final say. Why abandon what was working all day and allow big play after big play to energize and eventually lift Seattle to an improbable victory? To get outplayed is one thing and it happens. Sometimes the guys across from you are just better on that day. But to get outcoached over and over starts to become a hallmark. For a guy who outdid one of the best in the game and the head coach of the AFC champion New England Patriots earlier this season, McCarthy allowed his and his team’s soul to be sucked right out from underneath them at CenturyLink Field. That game will be talked about for years and years. Probably longer than that. Those are the types of things the legacies are built on. And that’s not the right type of thing any coach should want. Disagree all you want that the coach was to blame. I’m not saying he’s 100% at fault, but he certainly deserves a lion’s share. Did he anticipate that Brandon Bostick would leave his responsibility and allow the Seahawks to get the ball back and take the lead? He surely did not. But from there, sheer madness ensued and in my eyes, McCarthy has to take the fall for the team’s mentality. It’s been said a hundred times: the Packers played not to lose. It’s killed them in the past and it did again in this game. Teams take on the persona of their head coaches and this lack of a “killer instinct” is starting to concern me. Seattle had no problem throwing one up and hoping their guy would make a play in a sudden death, overtime scenario. And after their quarterback had thrown four interceptions on the day. I get that the Packers never got a chance at the ball and that Rodgers might have done the same had they won the coin flip. But they didn’t. This team just lacks that loose, confidence that other successful teams have. I liken it to book smarts versus street smarts. Both can lead to a lot of success and the Packers pride themselves on having some of the highest-character players there are in the league. But at times like the end of yesterday’s game, the street smarts were nowhere to be found and the Packers left themselves open for one of the biggest sucker punches the game has thrown at them in their nearly 100-year history.
Zebra’s don’t change their stripes so I don’t think we’ll see a huge change from McCarthy in 2015 and beyond. Perhaps a big change isn’t needed. He made some small tweaks this season in training camp and in the practice schedule and it netted them 12 wins and the healthiest roster they’ve had since he arrived in Green Bay. The Pack was five minutes from a Super Bowl appearance that still seems like it belongs to them. Now it’s McCarthy’s job to get them back there and soon. With Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, that’s always a possibility. As spoiled as Packers fans can be, myself included, anything less is almost unacceptable. My hope is that the sting and burn of yesterday’s game lingers with these players for a good, long time. Maybe even calling for some Tums to deal with it all. From pain and loss can come strength and growth.
Let’s hope McCarthy is ready to instill both into the 2015 version of the Green Bay Packers.
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: