Packers notebook: For second time in 10 days, a fourth-down decision backfires on Mike McCarthy
MINNEAPOLIS — Ten days after drawing criticism for his decision to punt on a late fourth-down in Seattle, Mike McCarthy decided to be aggressive on a crucial fourth down midway through the third quarter Sunday night against the Minnesota Vikings.
That didn’t work out the way the Green Bay Packers coach had hoped, either, in the Packers’ 24-17 loss to the Vikings at US Bank Stadium.
Although the Packers defense managed to hold the Vikings to only a field goal — snapping a 14-14 tie — on what could have been a game-changing momentum shift, the Packers offense went three-and-out on its ensuing possession, and the Vikings turned that into a touchdown and a 24-14 lead from which the Packers never recovered.
Against the Seahawks on Nov. 15, the Packers were trailing, 27-24, and facing a fourth-and-2 from their own 33-yard line with 4 minutes, 20 seconds left when McCarthy decided to bring out punter JK Scott, despite the Packers only having one timeout remaining. The decision backfired when the Seahawks were able to run out the rest of the clock without giving the ball back to the Packers and quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
On Sunday night, the Packers were facing fourth-and-1 from their own 44-yard line with 7:28 left in the third quarter when McCarthy decided to gamble and go for it.
Before he did, though, the Packers had to use a timeout after what McCarthy thought had been a premature start to the play-clock after running back Aaron Jones was stopped short on third-and-2. McCarthy, red-faced and clearly irate, argued with referee Bill Vinovich before and during the timeout, then watched as Jones was stopped for no gain and the Vikings took over.
Although a Kenny Clark sack on third-and-7 — after Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins had all day to throw but had no one open — forced Minnesota to settle for a field goal, it was a brief reprieve.
The Packers offense went three-and-out on the next series, as they were flagged for delay of game on third-and-8 and Rodgers was sacked for a 9-yard loss on the resulting third-and-13. After a 20-yard Marcus Sherels punt return, the Vikings needed just four plays to score on a 14-yard Cousins-to-Adam Thielen touchdown to make it 24-14.
With cornerback Kevin King (hamstring) missing his third straight game with a hamstring injury — and his fifth overall this season, as he missed two games earlier in the year with a groin injury — and veteran Bashaud Breeland (groin) sidelined for the second straight week, the Packers opened the game with rookies Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson as their outside cornerbacks and veteran Tramon Williams and Kentrell Brice at safety.
When they went to their nickel, the Packers brought Josh Jones off the bench to play safety and moved Williams to the slot. When they went to their dime group, recently added safety Ibraheim Campbell came in as the sixth defensive back.
But then Brice, who had been listed as questionable with a left ankle injury that has plagued him all year, reinjured the ankle on the Vikings’ third offensive series, as he tried to chase down running back Dalvin Cook on what turned out to be a 26-yard touchdown catch-and-run. It was clear that Brice couldn’t stop and change direction.
With Brice out, Campbell was forced to play more snaps at safety, and although Brice returned to the game in the second half, he then left the game again when he and Cook hit helmet-to-helmet on a running play with 50 seconds left in the third quarter. Brice left the game to be evaluated for a concussion and did not return.
The Vikings honored newly-minted Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver Randy Moss at halftime, presenting him with his Hall of Fame ring.
Moss burst onto the scene as a rookie first-round pick in 1998 against the Packers, when he caught five passes for 190 yards and two touchdowns on a rainy October night at Lambeau Field — a breakout performance that led then-Packers general manager Ron Wolf to draft three straight cornerbacks at the top of the 1999 NFL Draft in hopes of slowing the budding pass-catching star.
Many of the highlights shown on the US Bank Stadium screens were of Moss catching touchdowns against the Packers. Moss thanked God and the late Dennis Green, the Vikings coach who drafted Moss, to begin his remarks.
“And what better way to give me my ring than going against our rival?” Moss told the crowd. “Vikings bring it home. Skol!”
Veteran tight end Jimmy Graham played despite suffering a broken right thumb last week against Seattle, but he didn’t start the game — McCarthy went with veteran Marcedes Lewis on the opening two drives — and Graham struggled to both catch the ball and to block once he came into the game.
Graham finally entered the game on the Packers’ third series, and early in the second quarter, Graham appeared open on a seam route down the middle. Although Rodgers’ throw was high and it appeared Graham might’ve mistimed his jump by a bit, the ball did hit his hands before falling incomplete.
To start the second half, the Packers again went with Lewis instead of Graham again. Graham finished the game having caught two passes for 34 yards.
Left guard Lane Taylor left the game with a quadriceps injury in the third quarter and did not return. Justin McCray, the former starter at right guard, took his place. … All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari also left the game late in the third quarter with a knee injury but managed to return on the next possession before coming out again for the Packers’ final offensive possession. … Return man Trevor Davis, who was placed on injured reserve early in the season when the hamstring injury that had plagued him throughout training camp flared up before the Sept. 9 regular-season opener and spent the first two months on IR, left the game Sunday night with a hamstring injury and did not return. Davis’ injury happened during the first half, Jamaal Williams took over on kickoff returns and Williams assumed punt return duties. … On his first punt return, Williams got crushed at the end of a 23-yard return by a hard hit by Vikings linebacker Kentrell Brothers, but he bounced up smiling and playfully tapped Brothers on the head after the play. … Wide receiver Randall Cobb was inactive for the sixth time in the last eight games because of a hamstring injury.