There were conflicting reports about whether or not the NFL and the locked-out NFL Referees Association had a deal or not when Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy stepped to the podium Wednesday evening.
“I’m not your labor relations guy, frankly,” McCarthy deadpanned. “That would be the best thing for the game of football, there’s no question about it. Where they are in the negotiations, I haven’t followed it. Anything that improves the quality of play on the field, I am definitely up for.”
One thing McCarthy was sure of – and he certainly believes would improve the quality of his team’s play – was this: The disappointment of losing on a controversial last-second touchdown in Seattle on Monday night is in his players and coaches’ collective rear-view mirror, putting the focus on Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Saints.
“I look at this week as no different than any other week. Our experience the last couple of days has been different, unique. You can’t deny that or throw it off to the side. I think it would be foolish,” McCarthy explained. “As far as my comments and my direction with the team, it’s the same as it always is: They know exactly how I feel about everything that has happened and everything about the path forward that we’re taking. So, I feel like we’re all on the same page and we’re worried about one thing. And that’s New Orleans. We’re focused on New Orleans.
“Our record is 1-2, and we’re clearly focused on beating New Orleans and getting to 2-2. That’s where we’re at.”
Of course, the news cycle wasn’t exactly cooperating. Various reports from ESPN, the Bergen County (N.J.) Record, CBS Sports, New York Times and the Washington Post had the NFL and NFLRA agreeing to a deal late Wednesday night, meaning the regular officials would return in time for Thursday night’s game between Cleveland and Baltimore and the full slate of Sunday and Monday games. League spokesman Greg Aiello announced the deal was done at 10:58 p.m. on his Twitter feed.
But earlier in the day, several players admitted that their loss being the league’s gain – while certainly not making up for the loss to the Seahawks – would at least be the tiniest bit of consolation.
“It’s not giving us back a win, it’s not doing any of those things, but inherently it’s better for our game,” veteran center Jeff Saturday said. “Whenever it happens, it’ll be a good thing.”
Added guard Josh Sitton: “I’m not sure if it was the turning point or the tipping point, but if it was, good. Hopefully it’ll get done soon.”
Before moving on to the Saints, the Packers had to come to terms with the emotional aftermath of the loss, and while it didn’t seem to be affecting players’ focus, it was clear that they were still in disbelief of their misfortune. Saturday, for example, admitted that watching the replay of what he firmly believed was an M.D. Jennings interception was difficult.
“That one hurt. I guess in my mind, it wasn’t nearly as clear as it was when you see it on television,” Saturday confessed. “I was dumbfounded at how it occurred, and I think that frustrated me even more. If it was close, if it was closer, I would’ve had more of an understanding. But it was fairly obvious right away, the first time I saw it I knew. And you see the two referees doing the opposite signals and you can’t wrap your head around how this thing didn’t get fixed. So it’s frustrating, but there’s nothing we can do about it now. We’ve got to go play. We’re 1-2, and we’ve got to go play a game.
“It’s not the way you want to lose – you don’t ever want to lose. But at the end of the day, it’s a loss, you have to put it behind you. We’ve got work to do, and that’s take care of the Saints, get to 2-2 at the end of the first quarter and give ourselves a shot at the playoff picture.”
Jennings, who found himself the center of the NFL media universe after the play, said he didn’t especially enjoy the notoriety – the play led and filled local Green Bay newscasts for two days – and wasn’t sure
“Every time I turn on ESPN or any other news stations, I see the play,” Jennings said, adding that the coaches were fine with him intercepting the ball instead of trying to knock it down. “It’s tough to learn something from that situation. You can second-guess yourself thinking, ‘Catch it or bat it down?’ but I just had to go on with my instincts and that was to go up and try to make a play on the ball. And just put it behind me and move on. That’s all I can do.
“If I could do it all over again, I’d probably do the exact same thing. I was 100 percent sure I caught the ball. I still think I caught the ball. I feel anyone who actually watched the play can see I had the ball."
For his part, quarterback Aaron Rodgers believed the loss would have a galvanizing effect on his teammates.
“I think (it will have) a positive effect. It’s got to,” Rodgers said. “You hate to have to go through it, but hopefully we can build some character and we can learn something from this. I think one thing that we really learned from this is, as frustrating as it is, ultimately it's a game judged by people who are imperfect, and there's going to be mistakes. And you hate it that it affected us and we lost a win because of it, but there's a lot of blame to go around other than referees.
“They have a job to do, they're trying to do their best. They obviously didn't bring their best in that game and in that play, but there's a lot of blame to fall on the shoulders of guys like myself who didn't play their best game that night. As a man, I think it's more important that you stand up in situations like this and point the finger at yourself first, and let the opinions fall where they may.”
McCarthy, who wasn’t in the mood to talk immediately after the game about the possible positive motivational impact the controversy might have on his team, wasn’t ruling it out on Wednesday.
“I love emotion. Emotion is the engine that makes this thing go. I’m for any kind of emotion as long as it’s channeled properly,” the coach said. “So, if you want to talk about chips on your shoulder, whatever, the only emotion I don’t care about is self-pity. We’re not the victim.
“Nothing is guaranteed to you. The game of football is not perfect. That’s why you play the whole game and at the end of the game one team walks off as the winner. … We’re all about New Orleans.”