GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Mike McCarthy knew the stat. He also knew about the second-guessing.
The Green Bay Packers are 8-7 all time in the playoffs under McCarthy, including their 2010 run to the Super Bowl XLV title. But of those seven losses, five have come on the final play of the game, including each of the team’s past three postseason defeats. The last two -- to Seattle in the 2014 NFC Championship Game and to Arizona in last year’s NFC divisional round -- have been particularly hard to take.
In the wake of those losses, McCarthy drew criticism for playing it too safe early on against the Seahawks and for not being bold enough to go for the two-point conversion and the win against the Cardinals after quarterback Aaron Rodgers' improbable last-second Hail Mary touchdown to Jeff Janis.
Right now, McCarthy is focused on his team’s game at Minnesota on Sunday night in sparkling-new U.S. Bank Stadium. But in a small session with beat writers recently, McCarthy opened up about those two playoff losses and the decisions he made in each of them.
“It’s about assessing risk,” McCarthy told the writers. “I don’t ever want to lose, but I don’t understand how the hell losing by three touchdowns is better than losing on the last play of the game."
For the record, McCarthy's other two playoff losses -- to the New York Giants in the 2011 postseason and to the San Francisco 49ers in the 2012 playoffs -- were blowouts. So he knows how those feel too.
But to him, a close loss "tells you that my team was prepared, they were in it, they believed they were in it, but they were one play away," McCarthy said. "That’s how I coach, and that’s how I want my team to play. But yes, it would be nice if we had five of those [playoff games] where we won by one play.
“I think it’s important to stay in touch with the reality of what happened and why it happened, because if you lose sight of that, then you start making changes and decisions for the wrong reasons. We could go through every one of those situations and I could tell you exactly what I was thinking and why I did it.”
Then, for the first time in-depth, McCarthy did just that.
The decision to kick the extra point and send January’s playoff game to overtime -- where the Cardinals won the toss and scored a touchdown on the opening possession, ending the Packers’ season while Rodgers stood helplessly on the sideline -- wasn’t a decision at all in McCarthy’s mind. Why? Because Janis suffered a back injury on the Hail Mary catch and wasn’t available for a two-point conversion attempt.
With Jordy Nelson out for the year, Davante Adams inactive with a knee injury, Randall Cobb in a Phoenix-area hospital with a punctured lung and Janis on the bench, the Packers had two healthy receivers left: James Jones and Jared Abbrederis. In McCarthy’s mind, that made the decision for him.
“I was talking about going for two. [But] I was down to three receivers [before the touchdown]," McCarthy said. "I don’t know if it was common knowledge, but Jeff Janis went off the field with [the trainers], and [they] said Janis was done. We didn’t have any two-point plays practiced in regular personnel [with only] two receivers.
“We had a play that I had great confidence in that I hadn’t run all year that we’d been working on in the three-wide receiver set. That would have been my call if I had gone for it. When I mentioned going for two points to Aaron, he was exhausted from running, but there was plenty of time [to catch his breath] because they were reviewing the catch.
“My point is, you go through the thought process and make an educated decision, and then the result is what it is. That’s the beauty of the game of football. I don’t think you become aggressive or conservative one play or one game. Anybody who knows me or has worked with me, I’m not a conservative coach. So I don’t buy that.”
Meanwhile, in the 2014 NFC Championship Game, McCarthy twice opted for field goals when facing fourth-and-goal from the 1 in the first 10 minutes of the game for a 6-0 lead. The Packers led 16-0 at halftime before one of the worst meltdowns in NFL history led to a 28-22 overtime loss -- one that again ended after the Seahawks won the coin toss and scored a touchdown.
“Why did you kick the field goal on the first drive in Seattle? Why don’t you go look at the [second- and third-down] plays before that, when [Seahawks defensive end] Michael Bennett is ripping through the line,” McCarthy recounted. “I’m looking at an offense on the first series that can’t hear in the end zone."
Undoubtedly, McCarthy will face more tough calls going forward. Each time, he promised, he'll think it through and make the decision -- and it won't always be to play it safe.
“When you go through the reasoning of why you did it, was it sound? What was the assessment of what was going on? Take the emotion out of it," McCarthy said. "Those are good decisions in my opinion. I’ve made bad decisions that turned out great, and I’ve made good decisions that didn’t turn out great. But that’s the beauty of the game of football. That’s the game we play.”