McCarthy boldly has Packers vote for playoff captains
Packers play Tampa Bay Sunday
GREEN BAY, Wis. — What might be construed as braggadocio isn’t out of bounds for Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy.
Not unlike the night before the big game in North Texas to end the 2010 season when he had team personnel sized for Super Bowl rings, McCarthy pulled out all of the stops this week.
Perhaps sensing this season’s squad was feeling too comfortable with a postseason lot that has yet to be attained, the ninth-year head coach instructed his players Monday to vote for playoff captains.
Keep in mind there’s still two weeks left in the regular season and, in the wake of their stunning 21-13 loss at the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, the Packers aren’t assured of getting to the playoffs for the sixth straight season. Even with a 10-4 record that has them tied for first place in the NFC North.
“He trusts his gut instincts, and they haven’t let him down or let the team down,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said Wednesday, shortly after McCarthy came clean with the selection of the captains.
“I don’t think it’s anything other than a mindset for him,” Rodgers added. “He likes to kind of ooze confidence out of himself. It’s a toughness from his Pittsburgh roots, but it’s a confidence that he trusts the guys that we’re going to get it done. It just ups the urgency.”
By naming the captains now instead of after the conclusion of the regular season, when the in-house voting has typically been done, McCarthy is signaling how vital the next two games are for the Packers.
Their path to returning to the postseason starts by going back on the road to play the 2-12 Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.
“We’re really looking at this game as really the start of our playoff approach, playoff mindset,” McCarthy said. “This is a road game that we have to have. We clearly understand the importance of winning in December, but we feel like we need to take it up a notch as a football team to make sure that we improve not only as a team but most importantly in the win column. This is a playoff-type preparation.”
Green Bay can clinch a playoff spot Sunday. To do so, it must avoid its first losing streak of the season by bucking the upset bid from the Buccaneers, who Rodgers said is “a team that has nothing to lose … they’re trying to be the spoiler.” Also, the Packers will need a win or tie by the NFC East-leading Dallas Cowboys, or a loss or tie by the Philadelphia Eagles.
A harsh scenario for the Packers in the Florida warmth is losing a game it’s expected to win easily and having the Detroit Lions prevail at the Chicago Bears at the same time. That would clinch the NFC North title for the Lions and possibly make the teams’ regular-season finale in Green Bay on Dec. 28 irrelevant, depending on whether the Packers still would need to fight for a wild-card berth.
Not taking any chances, McCarthy went ahead and tossed his players a bone by having them vote on their leaders for the playoffs now instead of later.
Rodgers and receiver Jordy Nelson are the captains on offense. The captains on defense are safety Morgan Burnett and outside linebacker Julius Peppers, the 13th-year pro in his first season with Green Bay. The special-teams captains are punt returner Randall Cobb and coverage ace Jarrett Bush.
“I felt the need to give these men a chance to stand up front and take the responsibility that their teammates have placed upon ’em,” McCarthy said. “That’s the way we’re approaching it. It’s time to ramp it up and make sure we’re playing our best football this time of year.”
Just like the 2010 team’s ringing endorsement of McCarthy’s bold move when it went out and won Super Bowl XLV over the Pittsburgh Steelers, this season’s squad can prove its highly confident coach right again.
–This is the 53rd regular-season meeting between the Packers and Buccaneers. The Packers lead the series, 30-21-1. The former NFC Central rivals are meeting for the first time since 2011, when the Packers snapped a three-game losing streak to Tampa Bay with a 35-26 victory at Lambeau Field. The Buccaneers have won the last two games they have hosted and seven of the past eight games played in Florida going back to 1998, when Raymond James Stadium opened. The most recent road trips for Green Bay resulted in losses of 30-21 in 2008 and 38-28 in ’09. The Packers’ last road win over the Bucs was 20-13 in 2003.