GREEN BAY — Mike McCarthy promised himself to leave the Green Bay Packers’ troubles behind at Lambeau Field Sunday afternoon. Once the 12th-year coach finished work, jumped in his monstrous black pick-up truck and headed for home, he was going to focus on celebrating Christmas Eve with his family and not his team’s ongoing struggles — and potential sub-.500 finish — without quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
But truth be told, McCarthy said, he’d likely be still thinking about Saturday night’s 16-0 loss to the Minnesota Vikings as he made his way to his house in suburban Ledgeview and before the holiday fun commenced.
“It was a rough day at the office (Saturday) night, but the holidays are very important, your time with your family is precious. So I’ll definitely enjoy that and take a deep breath before I leave here,” said McCarthy, whose Packers (7-8) must beat the Detroit Lions (8-7) at Ford Field on Sunday in their regular-season finale to avoid their second losing season of McCarthy’s tenure.
“Yes, you think about these things. This league, this game, this profession, it occupies a lot of your time. Not only how much time you’re here at work, but your thought process. It’s a very selfish profession that we choose, and the sacrifices that your families make.
“It will not ruin Christmas. I can promise you that. But the car rides home, the time in the shower, the walk with the new dog — I should be thinking about my family. But we’re going through a rough patch.”
That they are. The loss to the Vikings was the Packers’ second shutout defeat of the season — they were blanked 23-0 by Baltimore on Nov. 19 — and marked the first time that’s happened since McCarthy’s inaugural season in 2006, when the Chicago Bears and New England Patriots both posted shutouts at Lambeau Field.
Back then, though, the Packers were in rebuilding mode. This season, the loss of Rodgers to an Oct. 15 fracture of his right collarbone derailed what surely would have been their ninth straight trip to the postseason.
Now, with Rodgers back on injured reserve after his unsuccessful one-game comeback against the Carolina Panthers and the Packers left playing for pride, McCarthy loathes the idea of using the finale as another audition for young players or veterans whose returns in 2018 are no sure thing.
“I’m focused on winning the game. Preseason is long gone,” McCarthy said. “I have zero interest in trying to throw a guy a bone and get him a couple reps because it’s the end of the year. That does nothing for me. That’s not how you coach a team.
“Our focus is to beat Detroit. I’m not into the tryouts. Preseason is long, long gone.”
Of course, McCarthy may have no choice but to play a number of youngsters against the Lions given their injury situation. With Rodgers out, McCarthy started backup Brett Hundley at quarterback for the eighth time this season, but the offense was beset by injuries throughout the game, contributing to Hundley’s struggles. Already without No. 1 wide receiver Davante Adams (concussion), they lost right tackle Jason Spriggs (knee), wide receiver Jordy Nelson (shoulder), tight end Richard Rodgers (shoulder) and running back Aaron Jones (knee) to injuries during the course of the game.
“A lot of people got reps and experience (but) you’ve got find a way to win. That’s the name of the game,” said Hundley, who finished the night having completed 17 of 40 passes for 130 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions for a passer rating of 30.2, his lowest of the season. “(On) offense, we didn’t capitalize on the plays we needed to – and that starts with me. I’ve got to be able to lead this team no matter who’s on the field and get us in better opportunities to put some points on the board.”
Although McCarthy acknowledged Hundley “needed to play better” against the Vikings — “Probably one of his lowest grades of this year,” McCarthy said Sunday afternoon — the injuries and an alarming seven dropped passes didn’t help his cause.
McCarthy also said he didn’t think about benching Hundley in favor of third-stringer Joe Callahan at any point.
“There was a lot more going on than just the quarterback,” McCarthy said, adding that Hundley will start against the Lions. “Every game has challenges, no excuse. But (Hundley) had to play uphill in some spots. But I was not considering a change. It never crossed my mind.”
IR move doesn’t worry McCarthy
McCarthy shrugged off an ESPN report that multiple NFL teams complained to the league about how the Packers put Rodgers back on injured reserve after the loss to the Panthers, claiming if there was no new injury to Rodgers that the Packers violated IR rules and therefore Rodgers should have been released according to league rules.
“Frankly, I don’t see any issue with Aaron Rodgers going on IR. My understanding is we communicated, followed the procedures and guidelines that you have to, to put a player on IR,” McCarthy said. “So, from our perspective, there’s no issue.”
McCarthy said Spriggs’ knee injury is “serious” and that he’ll likely be placed on IR on Tuesday or Wednesday. “Walking out on the field, you knew it was serious,” McCarthy said. Asked if Spriggs is in danger of not being ready for next season, McCarthy replied, “As far as how long it’s going to take, we’re still working through all that.” … McCarthy said Nelson and Richard Rodgers were both undergoing further tests on their shoulder injuries, while Jones’ knee injury was “similar” to the one that sidelined him earlier this season, only to the other knee. … Still, McCarthy expressed concern with how many injuries the Packers have entering the finale. “We may only have 46, 47, 48 healthy guys,” McCarthy said. “So whatever those guys can contribute to beating the Lions, that’ll be their role.”