Packer Coach Mike McCarthy actually uttered this sentence in his postgame press conference: “I was not really committed to the running game today.”
Without hearing it, I’m not sure whether it was more a statement of fact or a self-criticism. Or both. McCarthy was asked what the Giants did to stop Ryan Grant. His entire answer: “I thought they played good run defense. We didn’t do a very good job of knocking them off the ball and I was not really committed to the running game today.”
Clearly McCarthy abandoned the run early. When he returned to it a couple of times in the second half, Grant had two of his best runs of the day. It’s silly to suggest that those gains were the beginning of a pattern, but the failure to run the ball had two corollary effects, both of which cost the Packers the football game. First, as we noted yesterday, the Packer defense was on the field for twice as long as the Giants defense. Three passes and out will do that to you. Second, I think the Packers failure to run the ball — and run the ball well — contributed directly to Brett Favre forcing the ball to his receivers as the game wore on and, ultimately, to his overtime interception. If you’re Favre, you are watching your defense give up sustained drives to the Giants in the second half and you see that the flat screens for no gain (or 2 yards) are getting your offense nowhere. This is when Favre presses – when he is not seeing success from his teammates.
Mike McCarthy has been a much better coach than I expected he would be when he was hired. I think pretty much everyone could say the same thing. And over a long season, his playcalling has not only been good, it has been exceptional. (The Bears games, particularly the first one, stand out as obvious exceptions.) His players did not perform well last night, but the playcalling, as much as anything, put them in a position to lose. It’s a bad way to end a great season.