Mike McCarthy willing to believe in his players
By Tyler Dunne, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
~GREEN BAY – Every coach preaches accountability. The fear of failure – of losing your job – can be the single greatest motivator. Green Bay is no different. This is a Not For Long league, after all.
Yet in Green Bay, coach Mike McCarthy isn’t quite the fire-red high school basketball coach yanking his point guard off the court after one turnover.
Case in point, Jeremy Ross. The Packers don’t have much invested into this receiver called up from the practice squad. The average fan never heard of the guy. Then, thrown into the coliseum at Chicago, he nearly cost the Packers with a dropped lateral on a punt return.
Yet there he was in Green Bay’s 55-7 win over Tennessee, returning a punt 58 yards when Randall Cobb suffered an ankle injury. There were no hasty, make-an-example decisions made.
“It means a lot, it means a lot,” Ross said. “It definitely feels great when it feels like people believe in you – especially after a situation like that. It’s part of the game. Everybody makes mistakes.”
Sunday’s win was a cross-section of second chances. Mason Crosby was a (shaky) 2 of 2. Mike Neal continues to make each quarterback collision count. Tight end Jermichael Finley is producing.
Second chances don’t always work. The Packers probably won’t find out if sticking with Crosby is the right move until the postseason. But players in Green Bay realize they have the benefit of a second chance.
Within the veil of patience, of never panicking is a willingness by the Packers to give players another at-bat.
So let those 48-yarders bounce in off the goal post.
“Mason is our kicker,” McCarthy said. “I don’t know how long I have to keep saying this, but I thought he kicked well again today. His ball placement was good on the kickoffs. He’s hitting the ball very well. He’s seeing it.”
Recall the story of training camp. Under the lights, backup quarterback Graham Harrell struggled. It was strange and awkward to see and hear such tranquility from coaches and players when Harrell posted passer ratings of 26.4 and 49.3.
McCarthy vowed he saw progress. He saw things that fans and reporters apparently did not. It’s a stretch to say the situation is “resolved” by any means. But Harrell did respond to McCarthy’s public support by throwing for 223 yards and two scores on 13-of-15 passing in the exhibition finale.
McCarthy sticking with Harrell wasn’t pure football hubris, a quarterback guy standing by his quarterback. That’s how the Packers roll.
Nobody in Green Bay has missed as many kicks as Mason Crosby has – twelve – since Chester Marcol in 1973. Doesn’t matter. He’s the Packers’ kicker. McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson wouldn’t bring in anyone off the street. Like Harrell, Crosby is an extension of his coach, too.
After 12 misses, you’d expect Crosby to snap to some degree, to either be too high or too low after these games. He hasn’t cracked.
“Kicked a lot of balls today, so it was a good day,” Crosby said. “For me, it is something to carry forward and move forward with and to continue to be accountable and help this team win.”
The Packers have stayed patient with Mike Neal. Finally healthy, he’s giving the defense an interior pass rush. On Sunday, he had one of Green Bay’s seven sacks.
Maybe the team does part with Finley after this season. After a midseason funk – Finley was all but ignored in the offense for three, four weeks – he’s back contributing. He caught five passes for 70 yards against the Titans.
Then there’s Ross.
Ross couldn’t handle Cobb’s softball across the field one week, yet the next he’s fielding punts. Not only did Ross’ status as the No. 2 punt returner never change after the mistake in Chicago, McCarthy is now considering replacing Cobb from returns in general. After the game, he said the team would “potentially” make a change. Cobb’s ankle injury on a punt return is a cautionary tale.
Ross says he’s ready if the Packers need him. His confidence was back after the return against Tennessee.
“It was good to have that one to kind of push last week’s mistake to the back of my head – never forgetting it, though,” Ross said. “I’ll always use that one as motivation and always remember how quickly things can go south.”
Fumbling on such a big stage wasn’t easy for Ross. He didn’t care so much about the personal embarrassment. He said it was letting his teammates and coaches down that bothered him most.
Well, those same coaches are going to trust Ross again, Crosby again, anyone who may face-plant.
The possibility of Crosby kicking with the season on the line remains. For the Packers, it’s certainly a gamble. But steady with second chances, that’s the approach.
Said Ross, “It does feel great that they believe.”
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