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Mike McCarthy Will Regret Handing Off Packers’ Play-Calling Responsibilities

Steve Silverman

Steve Silverman is a longtime sportswriter who spent 10 years as senior editor at Pro Football Weekly and he has also written for the Wall Street Journal, ESPN Magazine, MSNBC, and NFL.com. Silverman currently covers all sports – including the NFL – for CBS New York and Bleacher Report.

Seattle head coach Pete Carroll took a ton of abuse for his decision to throw the ball on the goal line to Jermaine Kearse with the Super Bowl on the line instead of give the ball to power back Marshawn Lynch.

That decision turned out to be a disaster when New England rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler intercepted Russell Wilson’s pass and gave the Patriots the victory in Super Bowl XLIX.

While the decision was initially categorized as “the worst play-call ever,” Carroll calmly defended the call and the firestorm has subsided.

Two weeks earlier, Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy found himself under the gun when his team blew a 12-point lead late in the fourth quarter against the Seahawks and cost themselves the NFC Championship.

McCarthy, considered to be one of the best head coaches in the NFL, took his foot off the gas pedal at the worst possible moment.

That allowed the Seahawks to gather momentum and get back in the game. When the Packers made a huge special teams gaffe and Brandon Bostick failed to recover an onside kick, that gave Seattle additional gas to pour on the fire, and they eventually burned the Packers to a crisp.

McCarthy is not one to cry in public over his pain. He has parted company with Bostick and special-teams coach Shawn Slocum, but he has also come down hard on himself.

McCarthy will no longer be the Packers’ primary play caller. That responsibility will fall on the shoulders of offensive coordinator Tom Clements.

Prior to the loss in the NFC Championship game, McCarthy had not been the type to ease back when his team had the lead and look at the clock to try to bleed his opponent.

He had the best quarterback in the league in Aaron Rodgers, and he was not afraid to ask him to throw the ball downfield even if the Packers had a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter.

McCarthy had reasons to back off against the Seahawks. No team has the kind of attacking, aggressive and efficient defense to take advantage of mistakes the way the Seahawks do. No matter how good Rodgers is, he is not infallible and an interception or fumble at the wrong time could have given the Seahawks momentum that the Packers were incapable of stopping.

Of course, that’s just what happened. The Seahawks didn’t gain momentum from a turnover, they gained it from a three-and-out series in which Carroll used his timeouts to keep the Packers from taking significant time off the clock.

That was McCarthy’s biggest mistake. His strategy of avoiding the turnover fell apart because he made Green Bay’s dangerous offense one-dimensional, and it was easy for the Seahawks to stop the Green Bay running game and get the ball back quickly.

It was a brutal mistake and it cost the Packers as much as or more than the botched onside kick recovery.

But does that mean that McCarthy is not a great play caller and perhaps the best in the league?

His mantra in working with Rodgers has been to avoid interceptions and turnovers, and the quarterback has learned his lesson well. Rodgers threw 38 touchdown passes last year and just five interceptions, and while the quarterback deserves credit for that TD-interception ratio, so does McCarthy.

McCarthy and the Packers have reacted to their loss in the NFC championship game, but that reaction may not be one that helps the team in the future.

Clements has excellent credentials and may turn out to be a top-drawer play caller, but he has to prove himself.

McCarthy has been sensational in that role. Remember how the Packers performed in their Week 13 26-21 win over New England? That game was a chess match between McCarthy and Bill Belichick, and McCarthy got the best of the NFL’s reigning grand master.

Nobody was more impressed than Belichick, who greeted McCarthy warmly after the game and was clearly impressed with the Packers and their gameplan.

It was the best-played game in the NFL this season.

If McCarthy can ace that exam against Belichick, he should not have taken drastic action against himself just because critics were upset with him for his mistake in the NFC Championship game.

The move could end up costing the Packers a lot more than one NFC Championship.