GREEN BAY, Wis. — When the referees walked into the Packers’ locker room just moments after Monday night’s now-infamous touchdown ruling in Seattle, linebacker A.J. Hawk thought it was going to be good news.
“I thought they were going to tell us we won the game, honestly,” Hawk said Wednesday. “I think a lot of people thought that. But they were saying we had to get back on the field (for the extra point). That was obviously a weird moment for everybody. I think it was pretty tense for those refs. They didn’t feel super comfortable in there.
“Who knows, 30 years from now, hopefully it’s a decent story to tell. But for now, we’re 1-2 and we need to find a way to change that.”
After the Packers finished throwing towels at the locker room televisions and tweeting their frustrations in profanity-laced fashion, coach Mike McCarthy had an incredibly challenging task. Despite having a victory taken away from them by a missed call from a group of replacement referees who are now ex-NFL referees after the officials’ union and the NFL reached agreement Wednesday night, McCarthy had to convince his team to not dwell on the outcome any longer.
“We need to stay focused on ourselves, the things we can do better,” McCarthy said Tuesday. “Our players, I feel for them. It’s time for us to move on.”
That message has been received.
During the Packers’ team meetings on Wednesday, McCarthy and veteran defensive back Charles Woodson spoke to the entire group of players and coaches about how exactly that can be done.
“(They) gave an excellent speech about not looking to blame people and taking responsibility and looking in the mirror, moving on and getting better because of it,” nose tackle B.J. Raji said. “We were obviously a little bit upset about what happened, but it wasn’t the whoa-is-me feeling sorry for ourselves that most people would think after a horrible loss like that.”
There is plenty for the Packers to fix right now. Last season, Green Bay finished with a 15-1 regular-season record and was the highest-scoring team in the league. Through three games this year, the Packers rank 20th in the NFL in passing yards, 28th in rushing yards and 26th in points.
“There’s a lot of things that we actually talked about in the preseason, when the questions were, ‘How can you improve on last year?’” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “It was a lot of things that the coaches told us: It was red zone TD percentage, third-down percentage.
“A game like (Monday) night, you feel like you left a lot of points on the board.”
In 2011, Rodgers was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player for throwing 45 touchdown passes and only six interceptions while becoming the all-time leader in single-season passer rating. So far in 2012, Rodgers has three touchdown passes in three games, plus two interceptions, while being sacked a league-worst 16 times.
“We had some protection breakdowns and some situations where I didn’t get rid of the football,” Rodgers said of being sacked eight times in Seattle. “There’s a fine line between trying to make a play outside the pocket and throwing it out of bounds. So we’ll do a better job of that moving forward.”
That’s why, while Packers fans and NFL talking heads raged on about a bad call before Wednesday’s agreement, Rodgers is ready to learn from the experience — and get better for it.
“I think (it will have) a positive effect (on the team),” Rodgers said. “It’s got to. It’s a good learning experience for us. You hate to go through it, but you have to understand there’s sometimes things that are out of your control. Hopefully we can build some character and we can learn something from this.
“I think one thing that we really learned from this is, as frustrating as it is, ultimately it’s a game judged by people who are imperfect, and there’s going to be mistakes. And you hate it that it affected us and we lost a win because of it, but there’s a lot of blame to go around other than referees.
“There’s a lot of blame to fall on the shoulders of guys like myself who didn’t play their best game that night. As a man, I think it’s more important that you stand up in situations like this and point the finger at yourself first, and let the opinions fall where they may.”
The opinions of NFL fans nationwide firmly fell in favor of the Packers. Even many Seahawks fans commented that their team stole the game. As Green Bay wide receiver Greg Jennings said after the game, even Golden Tate, the Seattle receiver who was given the touchdown, would not pass a lie-detector test if he answered “yes” to a question of whether he actually caught the ball that appeared to be intercepted by M.D. Jennings.
But the fact that nearly everyone agreed with the anger that Packers players were feeling on the plane ride back to Green Bay made it easier for them to move on.
“I think it helped because it’s to the point where we don’t have to fight our battles anymore,” Raji said. “Other people are fighting them for us. I don’t need to complain. People are talking about it. It’s funny. I’m just happy that people see it for what it was. Obviously, we can’t change the outcome. Everyone knows what transpired.
“I feel it’d be a lot harder if everyone was saying, ‘No, it was a catch. No, he didn’t push off.’ Then it’d be like, ‘Come on.’”
According to many players, McCarthy deserves a lot of credit for changing the talking points in the locker room in a very short span of time.
“He’s handled it amazing,” Hawk said. “How he’s approached us and how he’s spoken to us after the game and today, I think he’s kind of put us on the right path and really put it in perspective of what happened. I have a lot of respect for how he’s handled it because he can get excited, he’s very passionate about this, so I think he’s done a good job of holding his emotions and that’s kind of got us in check, as well.”
The reality is the Packers are 1-2. The blown call could end up costing them a playoff spot. It could be the difference between hosting a playoff game or even clinching home-field advantage throughout the postseason. But with the desperate 0-3 New Orleans Saints traveling to Lambeau Field on Sunday, there just isn’t any time left to fret over what’s in the past.
“We feel like we can definitely overcome this, for sure,” Hawk said. “We put us in that position. We feel like, as a defense, we should have pitched a shutout until then and it wouldn’t have been the case, and it wouldn’t have mattered if they scored on that last play.
“We can definitely overcome it. We know it’s a long year.”