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McCarthy's Season on the Brink

The next five days will tell the tale of the Green Bay Packers' season. Sitting and 5-5 and a game out of first place, the possibilities are as polarized as they come.

The Packers could beat both the Vikings today and the Lions on Thursday, and wind up sitting at 7-5 and in first place in the NFC North, if not by tiebreaker then outright possession.

However, if the Packers lose both games, they will sit at 5-7 with four games left to play, with infinitesimal scenarios that put them back into the playoff hunt.

A split of games is almost as equally as damning for the Packers, particularly if the loss comes on Thursday. 6-6 is a tough hole to climb out of without a division tiebreaker advantage.

One thing is for certain, however. The Panthers and 49ers stand firmly ahead of the Packers in the wild-card standings even now. In other words, if Green Bay is to make the playoffs this year, they will likely have to win the division to make it there.

In any other season, teeing up against the miserable 2-8 Minnesota Vikings and the whatever-whatever Detroit Lions, I'd already be looking ahead on the schedule. In any other season, wins against the Vikings and Lions are invariably a sure thing.

Also, in any other season, looking up at the Lions in the standings is about is a likely as Aaron Rodgers' collarbone miraculously healing before noon today.

But without Rodgers and a host of other important starters playing due to injury, even a win at home against the miserable Vikings isn't a sure thing. And it needs to be a foregone conclusion going into Thanksgivings' game against the division-leading Lions. The Packers can't afford any more losses.

Moreover, they can't afford any more self-doubt.

And, whether we like it or not, this adversity is going to be a test of head coach Mike McCarthy's resolve and ability to hold the team together.

He's done it before. Can he do it again?

There are two seasons you can look at polar opposites in how a head coach managed the adversity of injuries and repeated losses: 2005 and 2010.

2005 was a miserable season, a 4-12 record marked not only by long injured reserve and weekly injury lists, but repeated injuries at the same position. There's a reason you end up with street free agents like Samkon Gado and Taco Wallace starting for your team by the end of the season, and that's because the starters and backups have all resigned themselves to not playing.

But more importantly, as the season wore on, it became more and more clear that some of the players were giving up. Minor injuries became major injuries, and major injuries became season-enders. In the end, Brett Favre walked out onto the field surrounded by almost a completely different cast the the one he started the season with, and proceeded to try and win games all by himself by throwing interceptions.

But 2005 was marked by what I still call to this day "Harlan's Folly", the insistence of the team president to ask his new general manager, Ted Thompson, to keep Mike Sherman on as head coach. And, of course, Thompson's willingness to go on with it.

Now, I would never begrudge any newly-hired general manager for hiring his own guy to coach a team. But to keep the guy you just demoted from his dual role as GM/HC? Ludicrous.

Sherman had been losing respect from his players for years, evidenced in part by the stand-off between him and petulant cornerback Mike McKenzie the previous year. At the end, Sherman blinked and traded him away. While we can look back and congratulate ourselves that Thompson turned that second-round pick received in exchange from the Saints into future Pro-Bowler Nick Collins, the damage done to Sherman in the eyes of the players was set in stone.

It's very difficult to be both a head coach and general manager unless you have the presence of a guy like Vince Lombardi. The same face controls your contract negotiations, and at the same time controls your playing time. For a cerebral coach like Sherman, who regularly capitulated to Favre's ego trips, it was a mistake to put him in that lofty dual role.

It was even worse to keep him, defrocked of his GM duties, on the sideline in 2005. Sherman barely kept his bitterness hidden as the season went on. And as the season wound down, the players stopped playing for him, and the blistering rate of games missed due to injury skyrocketed at the end of the year.

You doubt that the Packers would allow a minor injury to take you out for the season? Let me introduce you to Seneca Wallace.

On the other side of the spectrum would be the 2010 Packers, under the firm leadership of Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson. Both had demonstrated not only the leadership to finally end the capitulation of authority to Favre, but circled the wagons around his successor, Aaron Rodgers. Those decisions let the Packers know who was in charge, unlike Mike Sherman.

You can't deny the injuries were similar to that of this season, though you can make the case that the Packers seemed to have a deeper roster that was able to adequately fill the holes left.

It didn't change the fact that the Packers lost three out of four games near the end of the season, Aaron Rodgers' future was murky, and the team was sitting at 8-6 and looking up at the Bears in the standings.

McCarthy (certainly helped by the return of Rodgers from his concussion injury) kept the team together and went on perhaps the most wild run ever seen in the history of the franchise. A team that many fans had lost faith in never lost faith in itself.

The end result, of course, was a Super Bowl victory by perhaps one of the unlikeliest of teams. One could make the case that the 2010 team was more than the sum of its parts, that it exceeded its own abilities simply through sheer will and dedication to the goals set forth by its coaches.

The 2005 team? You could say the complete opposite: a team that wasn't even worth the sum of its parts. A team that gave up on itself and gave up on its coach.

As these two games over the next five days give us an indication if the playoffs are even a whisper of a dream for this team, it becomes yet another trial for McCarthy. Can he recapture the magic of 2010, turn this team around against the ods, and put them in the thick of the playoff battle?

Will the players truly believe in themselves and their coaches, and strive to exceed even their own expectations? Or will they give up, play sloppily, and just let the season end.

Some might say it is unfair to place this burden on McCarthy, who is already wearing a Super Bowl ring. Unfortunately, no head coach can rest on his laurels based on past success. The trial never ends, and like players, you're fighting for your roster spot every season. Coaches aren't much different.

It starts at noon today.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (29) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Nerd's picture

Getting REAL sick of the 2010 comparisons.

Just sayin.

tundravision's picture

Appreciate your feedback. That's why I included 2005. Does that make you feel better?

Nerd's picture

I love you man.

Albert Lingerfeld's picture

Did you stop to think this is not a talented team and may actually be lucky to have the record they do?
I mean please. We have no pass defense and if you want to compare years, I believe we almost set a league record for most yards allowed through the air last year, and how did we improve that this year?

The pass rush has gotten better over last year but Datone for a number one isn't lighting up the press headlines, Perry is again injured with multiple weeks off and no sign of return, heck if I broke my ankle I would be back by now, Raji, Pickett and Jolly are stopping the run but the run isn't going at them, its always outside around end and were starting to realize that Jenkins made Mathews look real good, in that 2010 year your talking about.

No this team will lost today for the above mentioned reasons and TG in Detroit will be just a meaningless game.

Lets say for one minute we did get to the playoffs. To fave whom: Seattle, Frisco, New Orleans? They are way more talented then the Pack so it would be another one and done year anyways.

My take, we've had three crappy drafts in a row, Lacy was good, but everyone else is non productive and soft.

tundravision's picture

Well, I think that's why you take a look at 2005 and 2010 as being the "0" and "10" on the scale of how this team can respond to adversity. I don't think this team is as together as the 2010 version or as messed up as the 2005 version.

The question is where this team falls on the scale. And we'll find out in the next five days.

Stroh's picture

None of the other teams lost their Franchise QB either. This year we did... That alone is whats hurting the Packers far more than any other injuries or issues.

Bearmeat's picture

I'd bring up 2008 too. Injuries destroyed the defense that year.

So, injury years under MM would be: 2008, 2010, 2012, 2013. Healthy years: 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011.

Exactly a 1/2 chance of being blown up. Either MM is doing something wrong or GB has recently had the worst luck with injuries anyone has ever seen.

2010's result was an outlier. When teams are severely injured, they almost always fade out of the playoff picture.

While GB CAN save its season in the next 5 days, I'm not hopeful.

tundravision's picture

2008 is an interesting season, but I do chalk up so much of the lack of success in that one to the Favregate hangover. I'm not sure any team can really deal with the fanbase as fiercely polarized as it was and the relentless attention it got during the time it most needed to bond.

Interesting on the 50/50 theory. Id love to see how other teams in the league measure out, and how that correlates to their levels of success.

Bearmeat's picture

You're absolutely right about Favre-gate and its effect on GB's final record that year. But the injuries were bad too. They might have managed 8-8 if the DL had stayed healthy.

As far as the number of injuries over the past 10 years goes, I think I read on PFT that GB has more games by starters lost to injury since 2004 (in the last 10 years) by a clear 33% over the 2nd place team.

Stroh's picture

In '08 it wasn't just the fan base that was split. Farve had a lot of supporters in that lockerroom. Driver, and a few of the older vets were firmly in Favres corner when training camp rolled around and Favre wanted to return they believed he should have been given his job back. A lot of the younger guys didn't have the same connection w/ Favre, since he had always had his own lockerroom and they were firmly in Rodgers corner.

The fanbase was split for sure and dramatically so. But so was the lockerroom.

tundravision's picture

Exactly. That's why I do consider 2008 to be its own animal.

bkshimada's picture

It doesn't show the level of success although I could probably later look up the record for each team, but here's a list of injuries for each NFL team from 2008-2012 by Bill Huber: http://www.scout.com/2/1311216.html

tundravision's picture

That's awesome. Interesting how we led the league in both 2010 and 2012.

bkshimada's picture

Correction: meant from 2006-2012 haha.

Stroh's picture

Couple things... Harlan didn't insist on Thompson keeping Sherman. Thompson had full authority to make whatever changes he saw fit when he took over. Including firing Sherman, as shown by his using his 1st pick as a GM on a QB when he already had a franchise QB on the roster (which pissed off not only Favre, but Sherman too). However, Thompson had a working relationship from their previous stint in GB under Holmgren and Thompson had plenty of reasons to believe they could co-exist.

Sherman was upset that he lost the GM job and didn't handle it well. He became more and more non-communicative w/ Thompson as the season wore on. Which inevitably led to his firing after that one season together.

The fact that they were using guys like Gado and Wallace in starting roles was a direct testament to Shermans inability as a GM. He never had any experience working in a Front Office, non as a full time scout. When Thompson took over there was already a severe lack of talent on the bench. The starters were very good, but they had no one capable at backups up and down the roster. Compare that to what happened in '10 when Thompson had restored the depth of the roster. Barnett goes down and an equally talented Bishop steps in. Tauscher goes down Bulaga steps into a starting role. In '05 the backups were atrocious, so Thompson was replacing untalented player w/ more untalented players.

I don't believe Sherman ever lost his lockerroom or the respect of his players. He was simply an inept talent evaluator and didn't communicate w/ his new boss.

The McKenzie episode was just the last straw in Harlans mind that Sherman wasn't capable of handling the dual and often conflicting roles of HC and GM. Sherman continuously thought in terms of a HC living mostly in the moment and not being able to put the GM hat on and think long term.

Thompson firing a popular and ultimately successful coach let the players know there was a new man in town. In the end, Sherman wasn't a bad coach, not a great one either, cuz w/ the starting talent he should have been able to get them to at least one SB. Good not Great HC, but an absolutely inept GM!

tundravision's picture

That's a great conversation to have one of these days, now that we're so far removed from it. It seems like you couldn't bring up Sherman without a huge fight breaking out in those years after he was fired, as he was always the measuring stick when any criticism was directed towards McCarthy.

"Yeah, would you rather have Sherman back? Let me list the x number of ways he screwed everything up!!!"

I liked Sherman, but do believe the dual role really diminished what he might have accomplished as a head coach. It's too bad, but you could see the defensiveness build over the years, particularly after 2003's "4th and 26".

But yes, his talent procurement will always be questioned, and still overshadowed what I thought was some pretty good seasons as a coach.

Archie's picture

Today will tell us much about this team. The odds-makers have the Pack favored to win by 5 points.

Outdoors, cold, Lambeau, all favor the Pack.

If AP does NOT take over the game, I see no reason for the Pack to lose this game. The Viking defense should not be able to get off the field against us. The question will be whether we can get off the field against them.

Sure hope Franklin doesn't fumble on ST.

Nerd's picture

If Dom shits himself today, he needs to go.

Cow42's picture

"When" not "If".

Cow42's picture

"Or will they give up, play sloppily, and just let the season end?"

Um - did you watch the last two games?

Give up? Check.
Sloppy? Check.
Letting the season end? Check.

STICK A FORK IN THESE LOSERS!

Bears provided the first punch.
Vikings will provide a staggering body blow.
Lions will provide the knock out shot to the head.

How depressing is that?

You know AD's gonna go nuts today with Jolly out.
You know one of MN's wr's is gonna have a huge day... just hope it's not Jennings.

Stroh's picture

Any teams is gonna suffer a letdown when they lose their franchise QB and undisputed leader. It was inevitable in the games immediately after Rodgers went down. How they play today will be a good judge tho. They've had a couple weeks to deal w/ that loss and should be able to move forward together now. That along w/ Tolzien getting more snaps under his belt where before he had NONE should start to show today.

tundravision's picture

Agreed, but I also think we had seen signs of some of the fringey edges of the team, even when Rodgers was still playing and the team was still winning games. I think the injuries had piled up (especially on defense) and Rodgers was was still a rallying point. When he left, it hurt the team. Now, if you lose Rodgers for 4 games and still have the full compliment of starters around Tolzein, I think this team does significantly better the past three games. Maybe not 3-0, but certainly not 0-3.

Stroh's picture

Wasn't trying to minimize the losses on D. The loss of Matthews and now Shields is difficult at best, but w/ Rodgers at QB they could overcome the numberous injuries. Losing the triggerman of the offense is far more serious.

Archie's picture

Sherman = great starters and weak depth.

TT = mediocre to sub-par starters (save #12 and #52) and mediocre to above-average depth.

Makes Sherman sound better than TT. Interesting.

btw - agreed Sherman sucked as GM. Liked him at first as a HC but he became "owned" by the players. Lost objectivity. A little bit like Lindy Infante. If only he had stuck to his guns and drafted Barry Sanders. Sanders and Majik in the same backfield would have been awesome. Instead, idiot GM Tom Braatz picked the steroid baby. But I digress. Pack will win today! And it will be exciting for Packer fans. Not sure who starts Thursday. If ST is lights out today, Pack may roll the dice on Turkey day. Hard to see risk of playing being significantly less on Thursday than today i.e., if you play Thursday, you play today. Can Tolzein win today and Thursday?

btw - I am betting on TB to cover against DET today (Revis on Megatron) and the Rams over Da Bears. Zac Stacy will go over 200 yds v Bears. So, if Pack loses today, standings may stay the same. And if they win, and DET/CHI loses, it could be a happy night in Titletown.

Nerd's picture

Another of Sherman's weaknesses was that he hired his friends to man his staff. Like Tom Rosseley. Instead of people who were competent in that capacity.

At the time Sherman was hired, no one who was qualified wanted anything to do with the GB HC job. Favre had already taken over after Holmgren left. Sherman was only marginally qualified, but he was the best man for the job. Then when Wolf retired, they couldn't replace him, or a new GM would probably have completely cleaned house.

What was that other guy's name? He was ST coach, then "retired," but never went away, because he was the snitch who reported everything he saw to Sherman? Mike Stock? Something like that.

Far as I'm concerned Ted is the second best GM in the league. I don't know why people say he doesn't stack this team with talent. I'm starting to question not only Dom but Darren Perry as well.

Barry Sanders was a great player for Detroit. But he would never have been great on the natural surface of Lambeau, much less in all that weather.

Stroh's picture

On another note... With Jolly out today, I have to believe Datone Jones gets his first start today. Looking forward to seeing what the 1st rd pick looks like! I'll be happy as long as he can hold the point of attack and make some plays in the run game. While losing Jolly's bulk the Packers will also gain Jones quickness, which can sometimes help vs the run. Jones has to play very well against the run. That is obviously priority No.1. If he gets a sack and some pressure even better.

Today isn't just a good measuring stick for Tolzien is should be for Datone as well!

UP-Packer's picture

GB's talent is overrated. TT's ability to draft talent is overrated. Mac's ability to coach is overrated.

This team has been all about AR since 2008. ---- 0-3 is all one needs to point out.

packeraaron's picture

AR was drafted by TT and coached by Mac. So....

Nerd's picture

Well THAT was interesting.

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