Free Head Exam: Green Bay Packers

After the Green Bay Packers' 14-12 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. I can't accept the "Packers have only themselves to blame" analysis of this defeat. There is no doubt they could have played better and less stubbornly clung to their offensive game plan. But in the end, they made what appeared to be the clinching play. According to ESPN's win probability model, built on 10 years of NFL play-by-play data, the Packers had a 96.4 percent chance of winning when they lined up for the final play. Since 2001, only two games have been won by a team facing a situation similar to the Seahawks: Fourth-and-five at the 24-yard line. Golden Tate's disputed touchdown carried the largest single-play shift in win probability in the past five years of NFL play. That's how good of a position the Packers had put themselves in. I can't come down on them for that, especially when you note how difficult it is historically to beat the Seahawks at home.

  2. Here's what I will come down on the Packers for, even though coach Mike McCarthy stole some of my steam by acknowledging the mistake immediately Monday night: The Packers waited far, far too long to adjust their offensive play-calling against a pass rush they couldn't handle. The obvious answer was to run the ball more frequently, but McCarthy called 24 pass plays and only three runs even as quarterback Aaron Rodgers took eight first-half sacks, one short of an NFL record. It was no coincidence that the Packers' offense started moving when McCarthy opened the third quarter with seven Cedric Benson runs in a 13-play scoring drive. It's really surprising that McCarthy, even in his seventh year as the Packers' play-caller, still gets carried away with the passing game sometimes.

  3. We could spend all day discussing some of the questionable calls from this game, including a fourth-quarter pass interference against Packers cornerback Sam Shields and a personal foul on linebacker Erik Walden that wiped out a fourth-quarter interception. But those are judgment calls, and I've been consistent in saying that all officials make errors of that kind. The difference with replacement officials has been the rampant errors of rule application, rule interpretation and game administration. A perfect example: According to Rodgers, officials mistakenly used a "K-ball" for the Packers' failed 2-point conversion attempt in the fourth quarter. "K-balls" are used only for kicks and are purposely slick. NFL rules prohibit them from being softened or otherwise conditioned the way regular balls are used, and they are much harder to throw. Rodgers' conversion pass attempt to receiver James Jones didn't look wobbly, but it did fall incomplete. He said on his ESPN 540 radio show that the ball didn't come off his hand the way he wanted it to. The Packers lost this game by two points. These are the kinds of inexcusable mistakes of basic game administration that has called into question the NFL's commitment to fair play.

And here is one issue I don't get:

On a relative scale, the Packers have a pretty laid-back locker room. They have some free thinkers and quirky personalities, but generally the drama level is pretty low. So it's worth noting how angry and outspoken their players have been as a group over the past 24 hours. Rodgers described an angry, profanity-laced scene in the locker room after players watched a replay of the Tate touchdown. Players had some choice words for the NFL official sent to retrieve them for the final extra point. They filled up Twitter for hours and then the airwaves for much of Tuesday. So was this all healthy venting in anticipation of turning the page on Wednesday? Or will this be the moment the Packers' season crashed and burned? I don't think it will be the latter, but there also isn't much precedent for what happened Monday night.