“Let me tell you what you don’t want: Your hotel on the cover of TIME magazine…in a twisted heap of steel and glass, you and your customers are underneath it. Headline reads, “Who’s To Blame?”That’s what you don’t want.”
–Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) speaking to casino owner Willy Bank (Al Pacino) in Oceans 13
The Packers and their fans are the ones underneath the NFL version of the collapsed hotel hypothesized about in the final installment of the great Oceans trilogy. And the question “Who’s To Blame” for the Green Bay Packers loss is most definitely on everyone’s mind.
There are three scapegoats getting the bulk of the attention and one that I think has to be on the board more than he is. Here are the men currently being photographed from the front and side, as they’re ushered into the NFL version of prison, facing the sentence of a long summer:
Brandon Bostick: The lightning rod for the defeat for misplaying the onside kick that gave Seattle a chance at the winning touchdown. The later revelation that was simply supposed to block only adds fuel to the fire.
Mike McCarthy: Green Bay’s head coach seems to be the one taking the most heat nationally for game strategies so conservative that he seemed to be positioning himself to run in a Republican primary. McCarthy opted for a field goal from inside the 1-yard line and again from the 2. He took the air out of the ball in the fourth quarter.
Underneath the McCarthy umbrella, we’re going to include the decision by safety Morgan Burnett to safely slide down after an interception with less than five minutes to go, rather than running with open field.
It’s not that McCarthy is at fault for Burnett’s decision, but they can all fall under the general category of “playing not to lose.”
Ha-Ha Clinton Dix: On Seattle’s two-point conversion that extended their lead from 20-19 to 22-19, Dix watched a pass from Russell Wilson float high in the air and across the field and then simply stood behind the receiver and let him catch the ball.
Dix had played an outstanding game to that point, with two interceptions and in this regard his play is a metaphor for the team as a whole—great for 55 minutes and awful when it came time to close.
Aaron Rodgers: No one is mentioning the star quarterback. The obviously injured calf is the big reason, and McCarthy’s decision to run the ball down the stretch has absolved #12 from any blame. But whether you agree or disagree, Rodgers at least needs to be on the radar in this discussion.
His play was awful, and had it merely been mediocre Green Bay would be going to the Super Bowl. Honestly, I don’t even say that as a statement that can be reasonably disagreed with—the real debate is how much expectation can really be placed on a player who has to limp toward the first down marker, as Rodgers did in the fourth quarter on Sunday.
There’s the bill of indictment against the four particulars. Here’s how I’d hand out the blame…
Bostick: 50 percent—I hate to do this to the poor kid, and in the immediate aftermath of the game my gut reaction was to cut him a break. Even knowing he was supposed to block, I thought his instincts to get a ball heading directly for him in the chaos seemed understandable. Then I got more information and watched the play from another angle.
Bostick was supposed to block specifically for Jordy Nelson, to make sure no one on Seattle could get to the sure-handed receiver. If you look at the replay from behind the kicking team, you see Nelson in perfect position, right behind Bostick. It’s exactly like the coaching staff drew it up—hardly chaotic. All Bostick has to do is his job and Nelson almost certainly makes the play and free of duress.
This doesn’t justify the predictably hateful stuff that has poured out toward Bostick on Twitter. If you’re a praying person, say one for this kid, because lives get wrecked over plays like this. There’s obviously no reason for that. A big mistake in a big football game isn’t that big of a deal. But it doesn’t mean it’s not a big mistake in a big football game.
McCarthy: 20 percent—Maybe personal pride is getting in the way, but I thought the head coach did the right thing in taking the field goals down close. Normally I’m all for playing the percentages and going for the touchdown—leaving four points on the board over a yard or two just isn’t a good trade-off.
But this was different. It was early in the game, Rodgers had already thrown an interception in the end zone and there wasn’t any room in the running game. I felt like Green Bay simply had to get points, particularly on the first field goal. And the second field goal was from the two-yard line where the odds of converting where much less.
I also felt feeding Lacy was the right thing. Again, normally I wouldn’t say that, but Rodgers’ obvious discomfort and how well the defense was playing made it seem like the right thing to do.
So why any blame at all? Well, first off, James Starks ripped off a big run in the fourth quarter. He could have also gotten some carries along with Lacy. I would have also liked to have seen Green Bay throw some screen passes toward Seattle corner Richard Sherman. In spite of Sherman’s greatness he was obviously dealing with an arm injury. Just fling a quick screen out there and see if he can make a tackle. Green Bay didn’t. That’s on McCarthy.
Ha-Ha Clinton Dix: 20 percent—Again, this is a lot of blame to assign over one play, particularly when the rest of his game was so outstanding. But that two-point conversion was so big and Dix’s failure to go after the ball so inexplicable that he simply has to get some of the blame. It was like Dix was the only one who didn’t realize that Green Bay still had plenty of time to go get a field goal—something they obviously did—and stopping the two-point play could have allowed his team to win it in regulation.
Aaron Rodgers: 10 percent—Before Packer fans, who respond to even the mildest criticism of Rodgers as though someone insulted their spouse, get snippy, just consider this—if Rodgers would have played the kind of game he did on Sunday in perfect health, he’d get assigned about 90 percent of the blame and I don’t think anyone would disagree. Taking that share all the way down to 10 percent seems like more than a fair enough adjustment for the calf injury.
The blame comes from the interception in the end zone on the first possession, where Rodgers horribly underthrew his receiver and ended up hitting Sherman almost in stride on the inside. There were several other passes that were just off target. Rodgers inability to find a way to make even a couple plays in the fourth quarter to ice it has to count for at least a little something. And while I don’t know how much role he has in the playcalling, the failure to attack the wounded Sherman late in the game has to be a little bit on the quarterback. If nothing else, just audible to a screen.
That’s how I’d hand out the blame for the Green Bay Packers loss. A small amount to Rodgers, a little more to Dix and McCarthy and unfortunately, half of it, to a backup tight end that no one heard of before and no one will now ever forget.