Mike McCarthy, Packers focus on fixing fourth-quarter failings
GREEN BAY — The Green Bay Packers’ search for consistency and offensive productivity — not to mention victory — has led them to one place: The fourth quarter.
Coach Mike McCarthy said Monday in the wake of yet another competitive-but-not-good-enough road loss to a legitimate Super Bowl contender — this time a 31-17 setback at the hands of the New England Patriots on Sunday night at Gillette Stadium — it’s painfully clear why the Packers have hit the midpoint of their season at 3-4-1 after losses to the Patriots (7-2) and Los Angeles Rams (8-1) in back-to-back weeks.
“We’re not finishing games,” McCarthy lamented during his usual day-after-the-game Q&A session with reporters at Lambeau Field. “Our challenges have been in the fourth quarter two weeks in a row.”
Indeed, they have. While recent fourth-quarter foibles don’t comprise the exhaustive list of all that’s ailed McCarthy’s team this season, the fact that the Packers were in position to beat both the Rams and the Patriots in the fourth quarter and failed can be traced to untimely turnovers and a stagnant offense that stalled with the game on the line.
“The games in November are always where teams historically start to separate one way or the other,” McCarthy said. “So, our focus is really on our self-scout and things we’ve been working on.”
Although backbreaking fumbles by now-departed kickoff returner Ty Montgomery with just over 2 minutes left in their 29-27 loss to the Rams and running back Aaron Jones’ fumble on the first play of the fourth quarter Sunday night were game-changing mistakes, the offense didn’t do enough in either game – regardless of those turnovers.
“Offensively, we’ve had 22 total plays in both games in the fourth quarter,” said McCarthy, whose team faces the Miami Dolphins on Sunday at Lambeau Field. “We’re going to keep staying the course and keep creating plays and opportunities for our players.”
Each of the past two weeks, those opportunities have been there in the fourth quarter.
Against the Rams, while the Packers scored the go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth, they got the ball with a 27-26 lead with 6:49 to go on their own 21-yard line. After a first-down incompletion to Montgomery, Jones gained 4 yards on second down before Aaron Rodgers was crushed by Rams star defender Aaron Donald for a 10-yard sack.
After JK Scott’s 25-yard punt, the Rams only had to drive 24 yards for the go-ahead field goal. Then came Montgomery’s fateful decision to bring the ball out of the end zone instead of taking a touchback, with his fumble preventing Rodgers from getting a chance to run the 2-minute drill and take back the lead.
Against the Patriots, even after Jones’ fumble — which came at New England’s 28-yard line, already within kicker Mason Crosby’s range for a go-ahead field goal — led to a James White touchdown and a 24-17 lead, the Packers got the ball back at their own 25 with more than 10 minutes left. They promptly went three-and-out, with Jamaal Williams gaining 3 yards on first down, Rodgers and rookie wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown failing to connect on a downfield throw on second down and Rodgers absorbing a 9-yard sack on third down, forcing a punt.
Three plays later, Tom Brady hit Josh Gordon for a 55-yard catch-and-run touchdown to put the game away.
“It’s frustrating,” Rodgers said Sunday night. “(It was) 27-26 against the Rams with a chance to go down the field again and put the game away. And 17-17 (against New England), we’re already in field goal range to take the lead. Jonesy has had a really nice year for us, so that one play obviously doesn’t lose the game. But it’s plays like that, by all of us — myself included — that have just hindered us from finishing games out.
“I say it all the time: Every year, you have to learn how to win again, and we have to learn how to win on the road. We’ve lost four road games. We haven’t lost at home, we’ve tied, but we haven’t lost at home. We’ve played two great teams who could be considered two of the top teams in the NFL in their respective conferences. And we had a chance to win both games.”
But they haven’t, and Rodgers acknowledged that he and the offense haven’t done their part.
“The consistency (is lacking). We’re not hitting on all cylinders,” Rodgers said. “We’re hurting ourselves with negative-yardage plays and missed throws and turnovers at the wrong time and not being on the same page too many times, whether I’m missing a throw or we’re not in the spot I think we’re going to be at. It’s happening in the worst times. When we have to play our best in those crunch times, we haven’t been playing our best.”