Packers repose, re-tool and prepare for Detroit

By: 

Gary Seymour, Leader Columnist

Bye week couldn’t have come at a better time for the Green Bay Packers.

Most often, you can cut and paste that paragraph and use it every year. The mini-break is always great for resting those battered bones and preparing for the next opponent.

The bye week loses some of its appeal after a bad loss, though, because you have to deal with the taste of that defeat a little longer than usual – which is where the Packers find themselves today.

A disgusted Mike McCarthy made like Harry Truman at the press conference following the Packers’ 26-17 loss to New Orleans on Sunday, leaving full responsibility for the setback at his feet.

“A disappointing loss,” McCarthy said. “We didn’t stop them on defense, and we had poor production from our passing game. We can sit here and pick it apart all you want. Let’s blame it on the head coach today, OK?”

OK, then, even if it’s only partly true. McCarthy himself committed no turnovers or penalties, but his play-calling was unimaginative after the Packers broke ahead early. He didn’t give quarterback Brett Hundley a good chance to find a rhythm throwing the ball. Hundley was making his first NFL start opposite a future Hall of Fame quarterback making his 238th start.

The Packers suffered a brain cramp when they had only 10 defensive players on the field for the Saints’ first touchdown. Packers special teams were whistled for too many penalties and made a few ill-advised kickoff returns out of the end zone. Those missteps fall to defensive coordinator Dom Capers and special teams coach Ron Zook, but McCarthy dove on the grenade and assumed the blame.

Magnanimous in the face of mounting frustration, McCarthy did get a few things right last week. Aaron Jones is getting the lion’s share of the carries now, an inevitable transition since his breakout performance in the Dallas game two weeks ago. Ty Montgomery did a commendable job as a fill-in running back when the need arose last year, but with Jones in the backfield, the offense is better.

McCarthy’s game plan also made good use of Hundley’s legs, as his 44 yards rushing on three carries included the touchdown that put the Packers up 14-7.

What the Packers coach might have been trying to avoid were questions involving Hundley’s paltry numbers passing and, by extension, how realistic the team’s prospects are now for staying in playoff contention until Rodgers’ hoped-for late-season return.

That was an elusive point on Sunday because Hundley threw downfield so infrequently. He completed 12 of 25 passes for 87 yards with an interception – stats that won’t generate a ton of fantasy-league buzz but might have been more reflective of the conservative game plan than Hundley’s ineffectiveness.

Plus, it was raining – not the best of conditions to be making an NFL debut as a quarterback. It stands to reason that Hundley’s lack of timing with his receivers will improve as he goes, hopefully soon.

Without Rodgers, the Packers still have enough talent to win, including on the defensive side. Tackle Mike Daniels, nose tackle Kenny Clark, linebacker Blake Martinez and Damarious Randall all made big defensive plays against the Saints.

The 26 points that the defense allowed against New Orleans were one-half of the total given up to the Saints in the previous week by the Packers’ next opponent, the Detroit Lions.

If the Packers lose to Detroit they will be 1-2 in the division, with the same 4-4 record they had at the mid-point last year with a healthy Rodgers. The 2016 team would fall to 4-6, seemingly out of playoff contention, until Rodgers engineered the famous running of the table, wherein the Pack knocked off their last six opponents to qualify for an eighth straight postseason appearance.

Parity reigns throughout the league this season. After seven games, every team but one has at least two losses. The Packers could conceivably lose the rest of their games … or they could get hot and do something crazy again. But it’s not about running any table at this point. It’s about sinking one ball.

Veteran sportswriter Gary Seymour’s column appears weekly in the Leader. He can be contacted at sports@wolfrivermedia.com.