GREEN BAY — Mike McCarthy pondered the question. Little did he know that less than three hours later, it would no longer be his concern.
After an embarrassing 20-17 home loss to the lowly Arizona Cardinals on Sunday at Lambeau Field — a loss that meant his Green Bay Packers likely would be playing for little more than pride during the season’s final month — the longtime Packers head coach was asked how the team would move forward.
“I’ve never been in this spot,” a dejected McCarthy replied. “I’m not going to act like I know what the hell I’m going to do tomorrow when they (the players) get in here.
“We’re going to do what we always do: We’re going to represent the Packers the right way. I know that.”
As it turned out, there would be no tomorrow for McCarthy. Team president/CEO Mark Murphy fired him Sunday evening, naming offensive coordinator Joe Philbin as interim head coach.
Although the loss dropped the Packers to 4-7-1 on the season, it did not mathematically eliminate them from playoff contention, so perhaps Murphy thinks a change could lead to a late-season run. Or, perhaps Murphy wanted to spare McCarthy the ignominy of a month’s worth of questions about his future.
“The 2018 season has not lived up to the expectations and standards of the Green Bay Packers. As a result, I made the difficult decision to relieve Mike McCarthy of his role as head coach, effective immediately,” Murphy announced in a statement released by the team shortly after 6 p.m. “Mike has been a terrific head coach and leader of the Packers for 13 seasons, during which time we experienced a great deal of success on and off the field.
“We want to thank Mike, his wife, Jessica, and the rest of the McCarthy family for all that they have done for the Packers and the Green Bay and Wisconsin communities. We will immediately begin the process of selecting the next head coach of the Green Bay Packers.”
Two NFL sources said that while McCarthy was not expecting to return next season, he was surprised that he was fired Sunday night. McCarthy did not respond to a text message.
FOX Sports’ Jay Glazer spoke with McCarthy after the news broke and quoted him as saying, “I’m proud I was part of the Packers family, proud to be part of such a great organization.” Glazer said McCarthy told him his main focus was his family.
McCarthy became the first head coach in Packers history to be fired in-season, despite having led the 2010 team to the Super Bowl XLV title and compiled an overall record of 135-87-2, including his 10-8 record in nine trips to the postseason. The only coach in team history with more victories? The guy the stadium is named for.
“We clearly did not play our best football,” McCarthy confessed after the game, which ended in veteran kicker Mason Crosby missing a 48-yard field goal as time expired, a kick that would have forced overtime. “We have benefitted from a tremendous homefield advantage. We didn't take advantage of that today.”
After the loss, several players were asked if they felt McCarthy has lost the team. Veteran cornerback Tramon Williams took exception to the question. Veteran wide receiver Randall Cobb refused to answer it.
“I'm here to play football,” Cobb replied. “That's not … my feeling doesn't matter.”
Whether it was Cobb’s intent or not, his non-answer said plenty. As did the Packers’ uninspired performance. Because let’s be honest, if you can’t beat a warm-weather dome team, with a first-year, first-time head coach, and a rookie quarterback leading the least-productive offense in the league, at Lambeau Field, as a 14-point favorite who can you beat?
“It's just frustrating. This was a game that we have won in the past, expected to win,” said quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who completed 31 of 50 passes for 233 yards and one touchdown (79.8 rating) but once again by his own admission missed throws he should have made. “Teams that want any shot of having some postseason success have got to win these games. Dome team, 35 degrees, snow, wind — it's playing right into our hands. And we just came out flat. … We just didn't play very well.”
There have been disappointing, playoff-less seasons before, of course. Like last year, when Rodgers missed nine games with a broken collarbone and the team was eliminated with two weeks to play. Or 2008, Rodgers’ first year as the starter, when the team went 6-10.
But this? This was different. Rodgers, despite his opening-night knee injury, is plenty healthy to play. The preseason expectations were that they’d be a contender after last year’s lost season. While the roster had its holes even before injuries hit, Rodgers was expected to make up for them, as he always has.
On Sunday, the same issues that have plagued the Packers all season reared their ugly heads once again. After picking up their first two third-down situations, the Packers failed to convert their next nine. They finished the game at 3 of 14 (21 percent), and those third-down failures prevented them from taking control of the game, as rookie JK Scott punted a whopping seven times.
“It's the same things that we unfortunately say every week. I hate to repeat myself, but it's applicable,” Rodgers said. “We're just not on the same page consistently. We're not executing the right way. It's the same stuff. It's poor throws, not on the same page with receivers, wrong depth, protection. We all have a part in that and we've all picked our time to mess up a third down.”
The Packers took a 10-7 lead into the second half before the Cardinals (3-9) put together back-to-back big plays — a 23-yard Christian Kirk run on a jet sweep, and a 37-yard Josh Rosen deep ball to Kirk — to set up a game-tying field goal.
Rodgers and the offense predictably went three-and-out on the ensuing series, and the Cardinals took the lead when a 33-yard Rosen run and a 29-yard Chase Edmonds run set up an 8-yard TD run by Edmonds to make it 17-17.
While the Packers tied the game with 5 minutes 26 seconds to go with a 95-yard touchdown drive — their longest of the season — the Cardinals converted a third-and-23 when Larry Fitzgerald made a spectacular 32-yard catch, leading to Zane Gonzalez’s go-ahead 44-yard field goal to make it 20-17 with 1:41 to go.
The Packers’ ensuing drive stalled at Arizona’s 31-yard line, leaving Crosby a 49-yarder to tie it. He missed wide right, and McCarthy was out a few hours later.
Asked after the game how much blame the offense should get if McCarthy were to lose his job, Rodgers replied, “A lot, probably. We haven’t played very well. We’ve put up some yards at times and taken care of the football pretty well. Usually, over the years, the success that we’ve had, we’ve taken really good care of the football, but we’ve paired that with efficiency in the passing game and big plays and explosive gains. This year, we’ve had the taking care of the football, but we haven’t had the consistent explosive gains.
“We all take part in the disappointments and the failures that we’ve had this season. We’ve had a number of opportunities. It’s not like we’re getting blown out in a bunch of games. We’re in games. Even when it’s not looking great — it was ugly at times today — but we’re in the game, we’re tied in the fourth quarter. And we’ve been that way in (other losses), and we just haven’t gotten it done in any of those. If you get just a couple of them, this is a completely different conversation we’re having right now.”