Analysis: Packers Lacking in Close Games, But Don't Blame Quarterback
By By Chris Jenkins, Associatd Press
Next game: Sunday, December 7 vs. Houston
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) -- The Green Bay Packers made a habit of winning close games in their charge to the playoffs last season. Now it seems like they can't buy a clutch play -- or even a lucky bounce.
Sigh ... if only Brett Favre were here.
Provided ol' No. 4 could punt, stop the run and tackle kick returners, that is.
Trading away a three-time MVP and replacing him with a first-year starting quarterback might be the most convenient way to explain the Packers' sudden inability to win close games, including Sunday's crushing 35-31 home loss to Carolina. Read Internet message boards or listen to Wisconsin sports radio long enough, and you're bound to see or hear it.
"I think you have to look at all of the elements that have happened throughout the course of a game," McCarthy said Monday. "Our quarterback position, I think, has played at a very high level this year. I don't think it's an issue at all."
McCarthy isn't denying that the Packers have plenty of issues. He's just saying the play of Aaron Rodgers isn't particularly high on that list.
Last year, the Packers were 5-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less in the regular season. This season, they're 1-4 in close games -- and that's a big part of the difference between last year's 13-3 record and being 5-7 with four games to go this year.
Some problems have been chronic, such as the defense's inability to stop the run or rush the passer. Then there's the punting problem, something that was addressed decisively Monday when the Packers released the inconsistent Derrick Frost without immediately announcing who would replace him in Sunday's home game against Houston.
Frost, who was signed when the team cut Jon Ryan just before the season opener in September, performed well in practices but couldn't carry it over to games.
He had only eight punts downed inside the 20-yard line all season, tying him for 29th in the league. He averaged 42.1 yards per punt and 36.1 net yards, putting him outside the league's top 20 in both categories.
"He's practiced very well the last month, but it's a performance industry," McCarthy said. "We all know that. And it did not transfer. And it was something that we felt that factored in some of the outcomes of our games, and we need to make a change."
Other problems seem to pop up out of nowhere.
"Every game is different," McCarthy said. "There are different factors -- we talk about different factors in here every week."
After Sunday's loss, the talk was about the excruciating manner in which the Packers blew a potential come-from-behind victory. After failing to punch the ball in the end zone on two straight running plays from the Panthers' 1-yard line, the Packers kicked a field goal to take a 31-28 lead with 1:57 left in the game.
Then they gave up three straight back-breaking plays: a 45-yard kickoff return to Mark Jones, a 54-yard pass to Steve Smith and a 1-yard touchdown run to DeAngelo Williams.
Trying to rally the Packers again with 1:19 left on the clock and the ball on the Green Bay 17-yard line, Rodgers threw an interception to ice the game for Carolina.
"Trying to make a play," Rodgers said. "But no excuses, though."
Although the Packers would have won if not for the special teams and defensive meltdowns, Rodgers blamed himself and the offense.
"We've had a number of games that have gone down to the wire and we haven't been able to pull them out and lost by a close margin," Rodgers said. "We haven't executed in the crunch time like we should."
Packers offensive lineman Jason Spitz said Rodgers had no reason to hang his head -- and if he was, Spitz didn't expect it to last very long.
"I'm sure he's disappointed in himself," Spitz said. "But Aaron loves this team so much that he feels it's always on him, and it's not. But he's going to bounce back. He's going to come back and keep playing well."
In all, it was another close loss in what is rapidly becoming a lost season.
"We're way better than 5-7," Packers safety Nick Collins said. "But we haven't been winning the close games. And it shows. We let another close one get away."
Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said closing out games was a point of emphasis for coaches on Monday.
"We talked to our guys today about it: The one thing we have to do better, that we haven't done, is close out a ballgame," Philbin said. "It's still hanging over our head, so to speak, and there's no easy answer."
Notes: Defensive lineman Kenny Pettway tore his ACL while trying to cover Jones' long kickoff return in the fourth quarter and will be out for the season. "Very disappointing," Pettway said. "This is the first surgery of my whole career, since I touched a football." ... The Packers placed Pettway and LB Nick Barnett on injured reserve Monday, and signed DT Alfred Malone and CB Joe Porter from the practice squad. ... McCarthy said C Scott Wells sustained a concussion Sunday and would likely miss most of this week's practices, putting his availability for Sunday's game in doubt. ... McCarthy said SS Atari Bigby had a sprained shoulder and would likely be out this week. If Bigby can't play, the Packers could keep CB Charles Woodson at safety after he performed well there against Carolina. ... RB Ryan Grant will likely practice with a splint and wrap on his sprained thumb this week. ... Backup QB Matt Flynn will replace Frost as the holder on field goal attempts.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)