Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy did a great job of getting the Green Bay Packers ready to play a game against the Atlanta Falcons that they had no business winning with all that was going against them.
McCarthy has often done his best work with the Packers as the underdogs and undermanned, and that proved true yesterday in a 33-32 loss in the Georgia Dome to the Falcons. With the Packers having the worst injury report I can ever remember, the Packers hung toe-to-toe with a very good Atlanta team behind Aaron Rodgers playing like his vintage self. There are no moral victories in the NFL, or any sport, but there are positives that you can certainly take forward.
However, games this close in the NFL often come down to a couple of plays or little things like clock management, and McCarthy failed brutally in the clock management department at the end of both halves. McCarthy made the same error twice — not calling timeouts to stop the clock with Atlanta about to score — and both times it cost the Packers valuable seconds on offense.
McCarthy is usually always aggressive in trusting his defense to get stops and calling timeouts, and it often burns him. However, there was absolutely zero downside in using the timeouts with the Falcons already deep in the red zone towards the end of the first half.
The Falcons had first-and-goal from the five-yard line with a 1:05 left in the second quarter and the Packers were ahead 21-13. Devonta Freeman got stuffed for no gain, and McCarthy needed to call timeout right there. He failed to do so, and Freeman scored on a pass from Matt Ryan from on the next play with 27 seconds remaining. So, McCarthy wasted almost 40 seconds for a red hot offense to come down the field and score before the half for literally no reason. This is just elementary clock management.
Yes, the Packers got the field goal on their ensuing possession, but with how quickly they moved the ball they could have easily scored seven with close to 40 more seconds on the clock.
If that wasn’t bad enough, McCarthy inexplicably repeated this mistake again with the game on the line. Atlanta trailed Green Bay, 32-26, and had a third-and-1 from the Green Bay 14-yard line with 1:08 remaining. Ryan completed a three-yard pass to Austin Hooper for a first down, which should have immediately resulted in a timeout from McCarthy, who had two remaining.
How could he put any trust in a battered defense that everybody — but McCarthy, apparently — knew would give up the lead at that point in the game? As mentioned previously, he put too much faith in his defense, but this time in not calling a time out instead of calling one. McCarthy had to be banking on Atlanta running out of time before they scored a touchdown, since they were smartly bleeding the clock down. Yet, how could he be trusting his defense more than his offense in this spot?
The clock went down all the way to 31 seconds before Atlanta scored on its next play — an 11-yard touchdown to Mohamed Sanu. Once again, McCarthy blew his offense almost 40 extra seconds to get a game-winning field goal. Luckily for him, Atlanta scored on its very next play to give the Packers any chance at all.
The Packers caught a bad break when they had to use a timeout on a Jordy Nelson injury on the ensuing possession, but they would have had to been close to perfect to get the necessary yardage in 31 seconds anyways without an imposing deep threat. Rodgers should have been able to comfortably lead the Packers with 40 more seconds, but had to rush with so little time remaining.
These things may seem small and insignificant when they happen, but they cost teams games all the time. It’s amazing with all the resources these NFL teams have that they do not invest in one math genius who is only in charge of managing the clock on game days. Most NFL coaches prove incapable time and time again. In a one-point loss, not using those timeouts played a big part in Green Bay’s loss.
Another big factor in the loss was in the third quarter when the Packers punted on consecutive possessions. Green Bay had an opportunity to “double up” Atlanta after three points on the final drive of the first half. McCarthy, who apparently does not believe in the mantra “stick to what’s working”, made an egregious decision to go with heavier formations and trying to run the ball conventionality.
Balance is one of the most overrated things in the NFL, just look at the Patriots for an example of that. The Packers employed some two tight end sets during those possessions with Richard Rodgers and Justin Perillo, which is just a complete waste of time. It should not be legal to have two skill position players that slow on the field at the same time. When McCarthy went back to the spread formations, the Packers marched down the field with a 13-play, 86-yard touchdown drive.
The Packers and McCarthy deserve credit for putting together a very well played game with their backs up against the wall, but they let one slip away due to errors that should have been easily avoided. It’s hard to feel anything except frustrated.