The Seattle Seahawks came away with a 27-24 victory over the Green Bay Packers on Thursday night, in a game they never led until Russell Wilson found Ed Dickson for what would serve as the game-winning touchdown with 5:08 remaining.
On the ensuing drive, the Packers had 4th-and-2 at their own 33 with 4:20 remaining. Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy chose to punt, trailing by three points with only one timeout left.
This is while the Packers have Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. You know, arguably the greatest quarterback of all-time. The guy that has the top passer rating in NFL history. The guy who’s thrown 19 touchdowns and just one interception this season. The guy who threw this absurd 57-yard pass on the previous Packers drive:
McCarthy was afraid of this quarterback trying to get two yards, or handing off to Aaron Jones (owner of an NFL-best 6.8 yards per carry average this season) for two yards, while trailing by three points and having far from a guarantee of getting the ball back (and again, with only one timeout remaining). And especially when the opposition has Russell Wilson (who’s second in NFL history in passer rating) and just had a seven-play, 75-yard touchdown drive on the previous possession.
A Mike McCarthy masterpiece: Blow your timeouts so you don’t use your challenge but you do punt on fourth-and-2 when your D is getting steamrolled.
— Gregg Rosenthal (@greggrosenthal) November 16, 2018
Sure enough, Seattle got two first downs and was able to run out the clock.
Now, this just isn’t a McCarthy thing in the world of football coaching; it’s an issue with coaches across the sport, and especially the “old school” coaches that only know football this way. It’s the playing not to lose thinking instead of playing to win. It’s funny because the “old school” football ways are associated with “tough guy” football, yet these coaches frequently coach extremely scared in key situations.
“Oh we can just get a stop, then force them to punt, and then we can drive down the field and kick a game-tying field goal.”
Sure, that will work sometimes, but you’re counting on a great opposing quarterback to not get the job done (even just one first down from Seattle and the odds are greatly against Green Bay there), and counting on the defense that had given up 27 points — and lost key players such as Mike Daniels to injury in the game — to get the stop in the most difficult environment to play in pro football.
That’s instead of just letting Aaron Rodgers try to lead your team to getting two yards (this would usually work out in Green Bay’s favor). Additionally, even if the Packers failed to get the two yards, you can still hold the Seahawks to a field goal and be within six points. It’s not like the game is over.
Eventually we’ll see coaches be more aggressive in these situations and try to win a football game instead of sitting back, hoping to hang on. But it’s still a big problem in the sport and it could’ve been the difference in the Packers winning or losing this game.
And it’s a huge loss for the Packers, with their record now at 4-5-1. Five Thirty Eight now has their playoff chances at just 14%.