Head coach Mike McCarthy conducted a 32 minute, season ending news conference in the Lambeau Field auditorium today. He's confident the organization is pointed back up after an 11-5 regular season and NFC Playoff berth. A complete evaluation of the 2009 season is next on the agenda before McCarthy, General Manager Ted Thompson and the coaching staff begins laying the groundwork for personel evaluations, free agent considerations, draft planning and the off-season programs. McCarthy covered a lot of ground and I'll recap the major topics beginning with the 51-45 overtime loss to the Arizona Cardinals last Sunday.
McCarthy said the sudden knockout is still difficult to deal with and in time, he'll review the game tape. It took him weeks to look over the NFC Championship game loss to the Giants two years ago. He disagreed with Charles Woodson's assessment that the team's mentality wasn't right In accepting the Defensive player of the year award Tuesday, Woodson felt a lot of the players thought they could just show up and get it done after convincingly beating Arizona in the pre-season and the regular season finale a week ago. McCarthy said the team was well aware it was going to be a much more difficult game against the still reigning conference champs and it really boiled down to fundamental mistakes. Two turnovers on the first three snaps from a team that led the league in fewest giveaways all year, along with poor tackling, little pass rush and coverage breakdowns had far more to do with the loss than the team's mentality. McCarthy had no interest in continuing the debate over missed penalty calls, saying it would discredit the Cardinals performance and sound more like excuse making. In the end, it was a painful lesson a still young team must learn from.
On the medical front...the Packers finished the season with 10 players on the injured reserve list and no players are scheduled for off-season surgeries. Linebacker Jeremy Thompson will seek 2 or 3 more opinions about his neck injury that occured late in the year on the practice field. Justin Harrell will remain in Green Bay through the off-season to continue rehabilitating his back. McCarthy said Aaron Kampman is "lights-out" on his rehab from knee surgery and the prognosis for Jason Spitz and his back issues look good. Defensive backs Al Harris, Will Blackmon and Pat Lee, all recovering from knee injuries, will hopefully be ready in time for next year's training camp although Harris, injured against the 49ers November 22, might need more time.
Last year, McCarthy cleaned house with his defensive and special teams staffs and is very pleased with the results. He'll review this year's staff in the coming weeks and doesn't anticipate anymore changes. Assistant head coach Winston Moss has been mentioned as a potential head coaching candidate and quarterbacks coach Tom Clements was reportedly denied permission from the Chicago Bears to be interviewed for the vacant offensive coordinator's job. McCarthy said it's an indication the rest of the NFL feels the Packers staff is doing a good job at preparing players and getting results on the field.
On the personel front, McCarthy said he and Thompson constantly talk about the depth chart and ways to improve the team's talent level. On offense, he said Aaron Rodgers had a very good season and during exit interviews with players, many spoke of Aaron's leadership on the field and in the locker room. McCarthy said it's a clear sign Rodgers is taking ownership of the team. Both Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher remain in the plans to return as the starting tackles. McCarthy said Tauscher came along very well the more he played and it looks like his second serious knee surgery is behind him. Complicating matters considerably this off-season is the NFL's ongoing labor unrest and collective bargaining agreement negotiations. If a deal isn't reached by March, the NFL will head into the final year of the CBA without a salary cap. It will also greatly reduce the number of eligible unrestricted free agents, who will now need 6 years of service, rather than 4, to hit the open market. That will take over 200 players out of the mix. McCarthy said he and Thompson have to consider both senarios. A host of players, Kampman, Ryan Pickett, Nick Collins, Jason Spitz, Atari Bigby, John Kuhn, Tramon Williams, Will Blackmon, Johnny Jolly, Derrick Martin and DeShawn Wynn have contracts expiring at the end of February. Only Kampman and Pickett would be eligible for unrestricted free agency if there's no cap.
In the end, the team experienced growing pains defensively early under a new system, leaks had to be plugged in the offensive line and it took a shocking loss to the previously winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers to finally get the team's attention but from that point on, the Packers played solid, exciting football right up until the end. A young team got essential playoff experience and if the lessons learned are applied when 2010 arrives, there's no reason to think the upward mobility will continue to create a conference title, if not Super Bowl contender this fall.
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