Mike McCarthy reflects on life and football at season’s end
GREEN BAY, Wis. — As Mike McCarthy stood at the podium Wednesday at Lambeau Field, there was obviously a lot weighing on his mind.
McCarthy’s end-of-season press conference was originally scheduled for a week earlier, a time at which he would have reflected upon the series of improbable situations that led to the Green Bay Packers losing in the NFC championship game.
While the personal responsibility he felt for the Packers not being in the Super Bowl was still present, there was a different perspective on everything in McCarthy’s world after the sudden death of his younger brother Joe.
"Life is precious," McCarthy said. "I don’t have the words or the emotional discipline to take you through it. It’s very difficult, and we’re pressing on as a family."
Though McCarthy kept his thoughts brief on family matters, the 51-year-old head coach spoke for more than 30 minutes about his football team. McCarthy made it clear that he’ll do everything possible to make sure Green Bay moves on from the loss in Seattle and doesn’t let it have a lingering effect next season.
"It will be a positive," McCarthy said. "Every game you compete in is a unique experience, and the only way you benefit from that experience is you have to be able to learn from the victories and defeats. That’s the mindset of an alpha, that’s the mindset of a champion. That will never change.
"The 2015 football team will not bear the burden of what happened in 2014 or before that. That’s not the way we operate. We won’t internalize the things that go on outside our building. We’re going to create another opportunity to build the best football team that we can in 2015, and we’re going to go for it."
Some of the comments from Packers players as they cleaned out their lockers Jan. 19 gave the impression that overcoming this loss would be more difficult than a typical season-ending loss. It’s certainly not every year that a team is 3:52 away from the Super Bowl with a 12-point lead only to — in Aaron Rodgers’ words — give it away.
"Anytime you feel like you should have won, it’s tough to get over," left guard Josh Sitton said. "And when it’s the last one it’s very difficult to get over. You feel like it’s a waste of seven, eight months. What’s the point of getting this far? I’d have rather not even made the playoffs."
Despite the Seahawks’ come-from-behind victory, McCarthy’s wasn’t going to dismiss everything that happened in the five months that preceded it, including winning a fourth consecutive division title.
"2014, excellent season for us, something we’re very proud of," McCarthy said.
However, McCarthy didn’t gloss over what happened in that game, either.
"A very disappointing loss," he said. "Definitely a game like we felt like we had plenty of opportunities to win and I felt like we let it get away. . . . I think the first 11 series of football was tremendous. We just didn’t finish it there in the overtime."
Immediately after the game, McCarthy said he had no regrets about the way he coached. When asked Wednesday if he wished he had done anything differently in terms of play-calling, McCarthy’s answer had changed slightly.
"I take full responsibility for everything that goes on in the game," McCarthy said. "As far as regrets, I regret not doing enough to help the team win. That’s how I feel after every loss, and obviously this is magnified because it was the NFC championship game and we were in position to win the game."
McCarthy came under plenty of criticism for some of his conservative decisions during the game. There were the two first-quarter drives in which Green Bay faced fourth-and-1 from the 1-yard line, both times that McCarthy opted for 19-yard field goals. There were also late-game situations following Morgan Burnett’s interception that the Packers ran the ball three consecutive plays for a total of minus-4 yards, giving it right back to Seattle’s offense.
"I actually had called the fourth-down play when I called it on the headsets, that my third- and fourth-down calls would be 93-Iso, Wing-Rifle," McCarthy said in surprising detail. "With that, the penetration I saw on the second down, I saw it again on the third down on the back side, that’s why I decided to kick the field goal there.
"I think the one where Randall (Cobb), we had the ball on the third down, he caught it, the call we have is ‘Duke," the route concept. If I recall that was fourth-and-2 [was actually fourth-and-1 according to the play by play], so I took the points there.
"I think it’s convenient to go for it now, but like I said, you have a game plan. You feel how you match up going into the game, was very confident with the defense going into it and just the way they started. Eleven series into the game our defense had kept our opponent to zero points. That’s where my confidence was."
McCarthy understood the disappointment of fans, saying "we’re right there with you." But with that disappointment there was also an overwhelming amount of positive that he took from the 2014 season.
"The players, the coaches, the support staff, the commitment, the preparation, our football IQ, I think was probably the highest in my tenure here of this football team," McCarthy said. "I thought our guys did a great job each and every week preparing and obviously performing. I’m very proud of what was accomplished there."
McCarthy has many offseason decisions to make in the coming week, and that could potentially include a change of special teams coordinators. That decision might have been made already under normal circumstances, but McCarthy’s family commitments delayed that process. The coordinators and assistant coaches have this week off leading into the Super Bowl.
"It’s important to evaluate," McCarthy said. "I obviously haven’t had that opportunity. So we’ll look at everything. We’ll look at every job description, every job responsibility, performance; mine included, and we’ll look to make changes."
McCarthy later added, "Our special team errors have been critical more because of the timing of it. It definitely showed up in the Seattle game."
As he begins his 10th offseason in Green Bay, McCarthy knows he has a team that’s very close. Now, it’s about fine-tuning and improving to make the final jump to get the Packers back to the Super Bowl after winning it all four years ago.
"We’ll continue to build and continue to create a program that puts us in position to win championships," he said. "We have a system and a format. We believe it works. The way we develop our players, the training. We have (stadium) construction again this year, so the commitment to continue to give our players the best opportunity on Sundays is at the forefront of our thinking.
"We’ll go through it and 2015 we’ll have a different opportunity than 2014."
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