On its face, losing by three points on a Thursday at one of the most notoriously difficult stadiums to play in as a visiting team isn’t cause to sound the alarm. But after the Packers went down against the Seahawks, 27-24, head coach Mike McCarthy’s grip on his job is looking more and more tenuous, as—once again—the decisions he made leading up to the defeat don’t look so good in the harsh light of a 4-5-1 record.
With 4:20 to go, facing a fourth-and-2 on their own 33-yard line while losing by three with one timeout, McCarthy and the Packers took the ball out of Aaron Rodgers’s hands and punted it away. They wouldn’t see it again for the rest of the night, as four straight runs gave the Seahawks a pair of first downs, which allowed them to spend the entire final two minutes—prime Rodgers time—just kneeling down.
“With the one timeout and the ability to stop the clock at the two-minute [warning], we played the numbers,” McCarthy said after the game.
Publicly available win probability equations don’t include timeouts, so it’s difficult to slam McCarthy’s logic with cold numbers. (ESPN’s model, for example, gave the Seahawks a mere 91 percent chance of winning even as they were kneeling.) What we can say, however, is that the Packers offense averaged 7.5 yards per play in the game, and only needed two. Their defensive line had also suffered a pair of key injuries—to Kenny Clark and Mike Daniels—earlier in the game, and the Seahawks had already been running it all over them, racking up a total of 173 yards on the ground last night. Oh, and all-world superstar and late-game comeback specialist Aaron Rodgers was playing quarterback!
Of course, it’s not just the fourth-down decision that’s haunting McCarthy this morning, it’s also the wasted timeouts (again). The Packers burned their first while facing a third-and-3 in the third quarter. (Rodgers was sacked on the next play.) Even worse, they lost their second when they couldn’t get a play off in time following a massive 57-yard completion from Rodgers to Davante Adams early in the fourth. Those spent timeouts, a recurring problem for McCarthy, haunted the rest of the game. Not only were they desperately needed during the final possession, they also likely prevented McCarthy from challenging a long Tyler Lockett catch with about five minutes remaining, which set up the go-ahead Seahawks touchdown.
Despite the loss, the Packers remain within striking distance of the NFC North-leading Chicago Bears, who are 6-3, so it’s probably not yet time to pull the plug on the whole season. Still, it’s getting exhausting talking about Mike McCarthy’s faults as a coach year after year for over a decade now, and barring some major turnaround, missing the playoffs in back-to-back seasons may finally be enough to get him out of Green Bay. But when Aaron Rodgers doesn’t get a chance for a comeback two-minute drill in primetime, that’s a fireable offense in itself.