There was not going to be a Super Bowl-or-bust pronouncement. That has never been Mike McCarthy’s style, and the Green Bay Packers coach wasn’t about to start on Thursday night.
“I don’t jump out and make statements,” McCarthy said when asked by a reporter following his team’s 34-14 preseason-ending victory over the Kansas City Chiefs at Lambeau Field if he felt he had a Super Bowl team on his hands. “But our goal is simply the same every year. We’re here to win championships. That’s what we’re working for, that will never change, that’s a part of being a Green Bay Packer.
“I’m not into bravado, I’m not trying to make headlines, that’s the way we’ve always approached it.”
But in truth, McCarthy did make a statement Thursday night. Just not the kind that he’d been asked to make.
It also wasn’t the kind that was going to find its way onto the Seattle Seahawks high-tech bulletin board in advance of next Thursday’s NFL Kickoff opener at CenturyLink Field. Or the kind of stir-the-pot attention-grabber that makes for perfect “embrace debate” fodder for Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith on First Take.
But it was a significant pronouncement nonetheless.
McCarthy has made no secret of the fact that, coming out of each of the past two training camps, he didn’t like where his team was at. The 2012 team opened the year 2-3 before going on a five-game winning streak, and last year’s team opened 1-2 before stringing together four consecutive victories. Each time, McCarthy was less than thrilled with how the team came out of its offseason program, which then carried over into a substandard training camp, which then affected the start of the regular season.
And so, when McCarthy strode to the podium after his team’s backups – 16 starters were healthy scratches from the game, including quarterback Aaron Rodgers – he definitely had something to say.
“I don’t know if I’ve felt this good coming out of the preseason as I do tonight,” McCarthy said before taking questions.
That statement, though, had very little to do with the Packers’ 3-1 preseason record – their best since 2011, when they opened the season 13-0 and finished 15-1. It had very little to do with the fact that Matt Flynn threw touchdown passes to Davante Adams and LaDarius Perkins and Scott Tolzien tossed touchdowns to Jeff Janis and Myles White. It had very little to do with undrafted rookie free agent outside linebacker Jayrone Elliott, the latest wunderkind at the position, had another sack, running his NFL-best preseason total to five, or that Janis continued doing his Cris Carter impersonation (“All he does is catch touchdown passes”).
No, this was about feel, about seeing the seeds planted in spring germinate, cultivating roster depth, staying (relatively) healthy and, most important, getting front-line players ready for action. With most of those front-line players sitting out, the Rodgers-led No. 1 offense played eight series over two games and led an almost exclusively no-huddle offense to four touchdowns, a field goal and three punts. Rodgers finished preseason having completed 20 of 33 passes for 267 yards with three TDs, no INTs and a 116.6 passer rating. Running back Eddie Lacy, who also didn’t suit up Thursday night, carried 11 times for 61 yards (5.5-yard average) and a touchdown and catching two passes for 22 yards in his two preseason appearances.
“We’re an up-tempo team,” Rodgers said at midweek. “We might be able to be a little bit more balanced, but we’re still going to attack people with our timing in the pass game and be able to do things in the run game that we haven’t done maybe in the last four or five years, but we’re [still] going to be slightly more pass than run.”
On defense, the first unit forced back-to-back punts in Tennessee in the opener, although a special-teams turnover led to a touchdown following that second punt. Against St. Louis, the starters gave up one touchdown and forced one punt. And against the Raiders, the starters allowed Maurice Jones-Drew’s 40-yard touchdown last week before forcing three-and-out punts on the ensuing four series.
“I’m always going to have a positive outlook on our defense. But this year, especially, when you look around at guys, they kind of exude kind of a certain type of energy and a certain prowess about them,” said outside linebacker Clay Matthews, who also did not dress for Thursday night’s game, along with running mate Julius Peppers and cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Sam Shields, plus others..
“Everyone up and down the board – it just seems like a team that’s been together for a while [and] really has something to prove, and I think you’re going to see that. So, I’m excited about that.”
And so is McCarthy. While this game was spent on the 55 mostly non-starters who were trying to secure roster spots or practice-squad invitations with one final closing performance, and the team must make 22 roster moves in advance of Saturday’s 3 p.m. deadline to trim the roster to 53 players, McCarthy’s already thinking about the defending Super Bowl champs – and the team he’ll take to the Pacific Northwest with designs on beating them.
“I haven’t felt that way in … it’s been awhile,” McCarthy said. “I feel good about the growth we’ve made since the first day we went down on Hinkle Field, from that day to today, and I feel good about the rhythm and timing. A lot of this game of football is about flow, gaining rhythm, timing, coordination of people on the field and in the locker room. All those things.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.