NFC North: Green Bay Packers
McCarthy would not offer specifics on Wednesday, when he held his season wrap-up news conference, other than to say everything will be scrutinized before any decisions are made.
All the assistant coaches, including embattled special-teams coordinator Shawn Slocum, were given this week off.
"It's important to evaluate," said McCarthy, whose offseason work was delayed by the unexpected death of his younger brother last week. "I obviously haven't had that opportunity. So we'll look at everything. We'll look at every job description, every job responsibility, performance – mine included – and we'll look to make changes."
McCarthy said it usually takes him a week to conduct his end-of-season meetings and evaluations with his coaching staff.
McCarthy and Slocum have a long history, having first worked together at the University of Pittsburgh in 1990, and McCarthy has fired only one coordinator in his nine seasons as head coach and none since he parted ways with Bob Sanders, who ran the defense from 2006-08.
Last offseason, the Packers fired special-teams assistant Chad Morton and hired veteran coach Ron Zook to help Slocum. They also assigned another member of the staff, Jason Simmons, to assist with special teams.
A poor season on special teams, which included having seven kicks blocked in the regular season, became worse in the NFC Championship Game loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Two plays – the Seahawks' fake field goal in the third quarter and their onside kick in the fourth quarter – turned out to be major turning points.
McCarthy discussed the fake field goal at length on Wednesday but was not asked about the onside kick, which went off the hands of tight end Brandon Bostick, who was supposed to block on the play, and was recovered by the Seahawks with 2:07 left in regulation.
At the Super Bowl this week, Seattle punter Jon Ryan, who played for the Packers from 2006-07, said the key to pulling off the fake field goal was to dupe linebackers Brad Jones and A.J. Hawk. Jones sold out hard for the block, and Hawk was left to decide whether to play Ryan as a ball career or drop into coverage against eligible lineman Garry Gilliam, who caught the 19-yard touchdown pass from Ryan with 4:44 left in the third quarter for Seattle's first points of the game.
It appeared to be a case of Seahawks special teams coordinator Brian Schneider outdueling Slocum.
"Fakes are risky," McCarthy said. "And Jon Ryan can run; we know that. I think from the responsibility standpoint, pursuit and so forth, I think it would've been a foot race for the first down. We did not execute our particular responsibilities as best we can, and they had a better play call than what we had called.
"Special teams has been no different than offense and defense," McCarthy added. "It comes down to healthy scheme, knowing your opponent. You're looking for the personnel matchups and ultimately executing the fundamentals. Our special-team errors have been critical more because of the timing of it. It definitely showed up in the Seattle game."
McCarthy said Wednesday that continuity on his coaching staff is important but added that "there's devils involved with that, too. You have to fight to complacency."
"We'll look to adjust or change and whatever we need to if we think it’s going to help us be better," McCarthy said.
That process starts now.
There may no more important task facing him this offseason.
The magnitude of the defeat -- one that quarterback Aaron Rodgers said after the game is "going to be a missed opportunity that we'll probably think about for the rest of my career" -- has not diminished in the 10 days since the 28-22 overtime loss occurred.
The details of the collapse -- from the fake field goal the Seahawks ran for a touchdown to safety Morgan Burnett's decision (at Julius Peppers' behest) to go down rather than return his fourth-quarter interception to a pair of three-and-out possessions with a 12-point lead in the final six minutes to the botched onside kick recovery and so on -- have been rehashed ad nauseam.
That's not likely to change between now and when training camp opens next season.
"It will be a positive," McCarthy said. "Every game you compete in is a unique experience, and the only way you benefit from that experience is you have to be able to learn from the victories and defeats. That's the mind-set of an alpha; that's the mindset of a champion. That will never change."
He was scheduled to do so last Wednesday, but his season-ending news conference was postponed following the unexpected death of his brother in Pittsburgh.
Before McCarthy's news conference, he issued the following statement:
"On behalf of the entire McCarthy and Grumbine families, I would like to thank all those who have offered their condolences and support since my brother Joseph passed last week. The outpouring of support we have received from the Pittsburgh and Green Bay communities, the Packers family and fans, as well as the NFL community, has been overwhelming and greatly appreciated. Thank you for the love and respect that you have shown our families, and may God bless you all."
They signed first-year player Cody Mandell on Monday, the team announced.
Mandell spent part of last offseason with the Dallas Cowboys. The former University of Alabama punter played in one preseason game last summer before he was released just two weeks into training camp. He punted three times against the San Diego Chargers, averaged 43.7 yards and placed all three punts inside the 20.
At Alabama, where he first joined the team as a walk-on in 2010, he averaged 42.6 yards per punt in 52 career games. He was a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award as a senior.
Masthay, who has been the Packers' punter since he beat out Australian Chris Bryan in 2010, is under contract through the 2016 season as part of the four-year, $5.465 million extension he signed in 2012. The Packers' career leader in both gross (44.3 yards) and net average (38.3 yards), Masthay’s net average in 2014 was the lowest of his career at 37.0, which ranked 30th in the NFL.
He struggled late in the season, when he averaged just 32.9 net yards per punt over the final eight games of the regular season. The Packers have not had another punter on their roster since Bryan was released at the end of the 2010 preseason.
This does not mean Masthay's time in Green Bay is running out.
In fact, it is probably just a combination of two things: to get a look at Mandell and also to give Masthay some competition. That helped get kicker Mason Crosby turned around in 2013. After Crosby's career-worst season in 2012, when he made just 63.6 percent of his field goals, the Packers put Crosby through a head-to-head competition in training camp. Since then, Crosby has made 85.7 percent of his field goals in the regular season.
There were a total of six known fines for actions on the field, not including uniform violations. The total from those fines was $88,197.
There also were at least two known uniform fines – one to Julius Peppers and one to Matthews, both for wearing unapproved shoes.
We have to write "known fines" because the league does not volunteer all information on fines. Rather, they will confirm inquiries about specific players.
Here's a list of the known Packers' fines this season:
- Matthews: $22,050 for a blindside block vs. Seattle in NFC Championship Game
- T.J. Lang: $8,268 for unsportsmanlike conduct vs. Dallas in NFC divisional playoff game
- Sam Barrington: $16,537 for roughing the passer vs. Detroit in Week 17
- Barrington: $16,537 for horse-collar tackle vs. Buffalo in Week 15
- JC Tretter: $16,537 for leg whip vs. Philadelphia in Week 11
- Andrew Quarless: $8,268 for fighting vs. the New York Jets in Week 2
He's also facing some decisions about players under contract for next season.
Not that the Packers are hurting for salary-cap space -- they already have $18,361,430 in available room for 2015, according to ESPN Stats & Information salary data -- but they could pick up a lot more room if they decide to release some players already under contract.
If the Packers make salary-cap related moves, they usually do so before free agency begins in March.
Here's a look at three possible salary-cap casualties:
A.J. Hawk, LB
2015 salary-cap charge: $5.1 million
Cap savings if released: $3.5 million
Brad Jones, LB
2015 salary-cap charge: $4.75 million
Cap savings if released: $3.75 million
Julius Peppers, OLB
2015 salary-cap charge: $12 million
Cap savings if released: $7 million
Dean Blandino, the NFL's vice president of officiating, put an end to that.
Question regarding #Seahawks onside kick. Rule states you must have at least 4 players on either side of the ball. Formation was legal.— Dean Blandino (@DeanBlandino) January 22, 2015
It's right there in Rule 8, Article 3, Section C, which states: "At least four players of the kicking team must be on each side of the ball. At least three players must be lined up outside each inbounds line, one of whom must be outside the yard-line number."
So the Green Bay Packers have nothing to gripe about, at least not from an officiating standpoint on that play.
The play will go down as one of the most agonizing in Packers playoff history given that they almost certainly would have advanced to the Super Bowl had they secured the ball. Instead, it went through the hands of tight end Brandon Bostick -- who was supposed to be blocking on the play to allow sure-handed receiver Jordy Nelson to field it -- and the Seahawks recovered and scored the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Thompson may already have made up his mind about some. Others will come down to price. But this much is certain: Not all of the 14 upcoming free agents (11 unrestricted and three restricted) will be back with the Packers next season. Last year, eight of the 19 returned.
Here's a look at the Packers' free-agents-to-be on offense (to be followed later by the defensive players):
Randall Cobb, WR: Back in November, a high-ranking NFL executive said the feeling around the league was there's no way Cobb would hit the open market. Since then, the price to keep him has gotten higher. Cobb finished with 91 catches for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns -- all career highs. Jordy Nelson’s extension last summer averaged $9.75 million per season. Cobb may not get that much, but it could be close. 2014 base salary: $812,648.
Matt Flynn, QB: The Packers brought back Flynn as an insurance policy after he went 2-2 as a starter last season during part of the time Aaron Rodgers was out because of his broken collarbone. But the Packers didn't need Flynn this time. He played only in mop-up duty except for two meaningful series in the Week 17 game against Detroit after Rodgers left briefly because of his calf injury. If Flynn returns, it likely will be under another one-year deal. 2014 base salary: $730,000.
Scott Tolzien, QB: After a strong showing in the preseason, outplaying Flynn, he spent the entire season as the No. 3 quarterback, marking the first time since 2008 the Packers opened the season with three quarterbacks on the roster. Coach Mike McCarthy invested nearly two years in Tolzien, so it's unlikely the Packers would let him walk without seeing if he could handle the No. 2 job. 2014 base salary: $645,000.
Don Barclay, OG/OT: After starting 18 games over the previous two seasons, mostly in place of Bulaga, Barclay was expected to be the utility lineman who could play either inside or outside. But he tore the ACL in his right knee in early August and missed the entire season. Still, he likely will be tendered at the minimum level and given another chance to compete for a roster spot. 2014 base salary: $570,000.
Jarrett Boykin, WR: Perhaps the most disappointing player on the Packers' offense this past season, Boykin had as many dropped passes (three) as he did receptions (three for 23 yards). That followed a 2013 season in which he caught 49 passes for 681 yards and three touchdowns. He lost the No. 3 receiver spot to rookie Davante Adams in the first month of the season. Given that the minimum restricted free-agent tender will be around $1.5 million, it's possible the Packers won't even make him an offer. 2014 base salary: $570,000.
Was this the start of another run of great chances to get back to the Super Bowl or something that could begin a downward spiral?
How the Green Bay Packers come back from the stunning end to this season, the NFC Championship Game collapse against the Seattle Seahawks, will alter how history views the 2014 season.
"It's going to be a missed opportunity that we'll probably think about for the rest of my career," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said after the 28-22 overtime loss to the Seahawks. "We were the better team today, and we played well enough to win, and we can't blame anybody but ourselves."
Can the Packers get back to this position next season?
"Yes, we can," veteran safety Morgan Burnett said.
If so, then perhaps Rodgers and his teammates won’t have to think about it for the rest of their careers.
Team MVP: Forget team MVP. Rodgers should be (and probably will be) the NFL's MVP. Rodgers threw just five interceptions in the regular season to go with 38 touchdowns. His touchdown-to-interception ratio of 7.6 was more than double what second-best Tony Romo's was, at 3.78. At home, Rodgers was unbeatable, going 9-0. In those games (playoffs included), he threw 25 touchdowns without an interception. His last interception at Lambeau was 418 passes and 36 touchdowns ago. His performance against the Cowboys in the divisional playoff game, playing on a badly strained left calf, was one for the ages. His season-long production was even more remarkable considering he had only two consistent weapons in the passing game, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb.
Best moment: R-E-L-A-X. On Sept. 23, Rodgers went on his weekly radio show on ESPN Milwaukee and said: "Five letters here just for everybody out there in Packerland: R-E-L-A-X." Rodgers added, "Relax. We're going to be OK." At the time, the Packers were two days removed from a 19-7 loss at the Detroit Lions that dropped them to 1-2. That one word served as an unofficial theme for the season. In the next game, Rodgers threw four touchdowns in a 38-17 road win over the Chicago Bears that began a stretch in which the Packers won nine out of 10 games and 11 out of their last 13 to close the regular season. They won the NFC North for the fourth straight season.
Worst moment: Take your pick, but most of them happened in the final minutes of Sunday's NFC Championship Game. You can start with Seattle burning the Packers for a fake field goal. Then there were the back-to-back, three-and-out possessions (and some ultra-conservative play calls) that began with 6:53 and 5:04 remaining. The Packers led 19-7 to start both of them. Then there was the botched onside kick recovery in which backup tight end Brandon Bostick, who was supposed to be blocking on the play, went for the ball and couldn't corral it. And finally the defense allowing touchdowns on Seattle's last two possessions of regulation and in overtime. If you want to look at another game, try Week 15 in Buffalo, where Nelson dropped a potential touchdown pass in a 21-13 loss that cost Green Bay home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
2015 outlook: At age 31, Rodgers still has plenty of good years left, so the Packers' championship window would seemingly remain open for a while. However, there are some key issues general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy need to address. First, Thompson must find a way to re-sign Cobb, who would be a free agent in March. Then, he needs to find another weapon or two for Rodgers. McCarthy must fix the special teams and defensive issues that have plagued the Packers since their Super Bowl win four years ago. This is a team that has shown it's the class of the NFC North, but is not in the class of recent NFC Super Bowl participants.
"We're hurting just like you guys are, and resolute in our determination to get back out there and have a better result next year."
Rodgers talked at length about Sunday's loss during his 36-minute radio show, and he didn't try to downplay the significance of the defeat.
He admitted that he can't help thinking that had any one play gone differently, he might be preparing right now for his second Super Bowl appearance.
"We all play the what-if game," Rodgers said. "It's a terrorizing game because it can really mess with you mentally. Of course, you go through the different plays throughout the game. A lot of times, we're sitting here and thinking, you know, we've lost some playoff games where, yeah, we probably needed to make a few more plays — more than one. You look at the game on Sunday, really one play here or there could have made the difference. Could have been a play in the first quarter or a play in the last quarter."
Some of those plays can be attributed to Rodgers himself. He threw two interceptions, although on one he was convinced he had a free play, and his passer rating of 55.8 was the second lowest among his 11 playoff starts.
"For sure, it's disappointing," Rodgers said of his performance. "It's a great defense but missed a couple throws and then had the couple miscommunications. Yeah, it's frustrating. We were so close. Just a play here or there that would have sealed it."
How will the Packers bounce back?
Even Rodgers isn't sure.
"That's the million-dollar question right there," Rodgers said. "You have to be able to refocus. It's getting away, whether physically or mentally, and kind of refreshing your mind and then getting ready. Every year you get older in the league, you know the chances become fewer. That's why it stings probably a little bit more. I'd love to play, like I've said, another seven or eight, nine more years, but you just never know how your body's going to hold up, how the team's going to hold up and your opportunities you're going to have.
"We had a great opportunity right in front of us to do something special. That's what makes it hard. I remember Ray Lewis talking about losing that AFC Championship, I believe it was to New England, and then how that kind of spurred them on the next year to come back and win it. That's obviously the goal, but so much has to happen between now sitting here in January and getting back to this point. You realize it's a tall task, but we'll be up for it when we get back together."
So he took a shot and threw to rookie receiver Davante Adams in the end zone, but cornerback Richard Sherman picked it off.
Two days after the game, Rodgers remained convinced the officials missed the call.
"I think it's pretty evident on the film," Rodgers said Tuesday on his ESPN Milwaukee radio show.
A review of the game film shows Rodgers has a legitimate gripe.
It potentially cost the Packers points because it was a third-and-10 play from the Seahawks' 29-yard line. At worst, an incompletion there would have set up a 47-yard field goal by Mason Crosby, who was 5-for-5 in the game. A penalty would have given the Packers a third-and-5 play from the 24 yard line.
It was one of two interceptions Rodgers threw in the 28-22 overtime loss.
After the game, he explained them both.
"Felt like we might have had an offsides on the first interception," Rodgers said at the time. "Corey [Linsley] snapped it early -- I figured it was a free play -- and Davante was the only route that was going in the end zone. Sherm made a good play. The second one, just miscommunication between Cobb and I."
Rodgers said after Sunday’s loss that he "felt it the whole game" when asked about his injured calf, although he appeared to be more mobile as the game progressed.
"The fourth quarter, I just kind of let it go," Rodgers said in his post-game press conference. "I need to push it and run a little bit and just kind of let it go."
Cobb replaced Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, who pulled out because of an injury. Shields got the spot because New England Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis is in the Super Bowl.
The game is Sunday in Glendale, Arizona. The teams will be divided up on Wednesday night in a Pro Bowl draft to be televised on NFL Network.
Cobb set career highs in receptions (91), yards (1,287) and touchdowns (12).
Shields had two regular-season interceptions and another in the playoffs. He became the first Packers cornerback to be selected to the Pro Bowl since Charles Woodson in 2011.
Five Packers were initially voted in. They were: quarterback Aaron Rodgers, receiver Jordy Nelson, guard Josh Sitton, fullback John Kuhn and linebacker Clay Matthews.
It's unclear if Rodgers will go, considering he has been dealing with the strained left calf for nearly a month. Sitton said Monday that he was undecided. He has been listed on the injury report with a toe injury ever since the bye week in November.
"I'm just trying to deal with this," Bostick said Monday as the Packers cleaned out their lockers for the offseason. "I'll just move on from it, come back here and just work hard and just try to put that behind me."
Bostick was gracious enough to relive the botched onside kick recovery for the second time since he failed corral the loose ball with 2:07 remaining in regulation. Again, he discussed how his responsibility was to block so that receiver Jordy Nelson could field the ball. When he went after it and it bounced off his hands, the Seahawks recovered and scored the go-ahead touchdown.
"I guess I just reacted to it," Bostick said. "I just saw the ball and went to get the ball, which wasn't my job. That's all I can say about that.
"I'm human. I made a mistake. But if I would've made the play, we wouldn't have been in this [situation] or if I would've made the block, we wouldn't be talking about this. But it's over now, so I'll just try my best to get over it."
Bostick said the last day has been difficult. He hasn't watched the play and probably won't for a while.
He doesn't need to. All he has to do is close his eyes and he sees it.
"I just keep replaying that play in my mind over and over, just trying not to think about it, just trying to get over it," Bostick said. "I did my best, but I'll be all right."
He just doesn't know when.
"I don't think there's a timeline on it," he said. "I definitely don't want to watch it on TV for a while or even watch the Super Bowl. I wouldn't put a timeline on it."
His teammates have been supportive. Randall Cobb was one of the first to console him on the sideline, a gesture Bostick said he appreciated.
Even former teammates have reached out either privately or on social media.
Keep your head up, young brother. The best is still yet to come! @Bostick11— Greg Jennings (@GregJennings) January 19, 2015
Proud of the entire Packers team & especially my man @Bostick11. Everyone makes mistakes, but it's how you react to them that defines you!— Jermichael Finley (@JermichaelF88) January 19, 2015
Here's how he explained it:
"I saw Julius Peppers look at me and give me the 'No Mas' signal,' Burnett said. "That means get down. We were just more so concerned about securing the possession of the ball, getting our offense back on the field for another possession."
Indeed, the film showed Peppers giving Burnett the safe sign as soon as he caught the ball.
It gave the Packers possession at their own 43-yard line with 5:04 remaining and a 19-7 lead. However, Burnett easily could have gotten more yards and with a juke move or a broken tackle, he might have gotten well into Seahawks' territory or possibly even scored.
What followed was a conservative offensive approach with three straight running plays -- losses of 4 yards and 2 yards by Eddie Lacy before he gained 2 on third-and-16 -- and a punt. The Seahawks then scored touchdowns on their next three possessions (not including a kneel down to end the fourth quarter) -- the final two of regulation and in overtime.
"I don't take nothing back that I did," Burnett said. "It's easy to sit here after it happens to sit here and say, 'You should've done this or should've done that.' If the outcome was different, we wouldn't even be talking about it."
Burnett had an otherwise stellar game with two sacks plus his interception.
"That play was an interception, it's not like that was the determining factor in the game," Burnett said. "We had a lot of things go on throughout the course of the game. Like I said, if we come away with the win, we wouldn't even be sitting here talking about that. It's nothing that I would change or nothing that I would take back."