GREEN BAY – Mike McCarthy is never into rankings, but based on his comments Monday, the Packers' postgame locker room on Sunday at the LA Memorial Coliseum was one of the more emotional ones in quite some time.
And the head coach would rather see it that way after a tough loss than the other way around.
"If you want to know if it was emotional in that locker room, you're damn right it was, and it should have been. And I want it to be," McCarthy said a day after a gut-punch of a 29-27 loss to the unbeaten Rams. "It's a reflection of how much these guys care, it's a reflection on how much they want to win, and it clearly, directly reflects we had every intention to go out there and beat that team, and that's a damn good team."
A fair share of the emotion was obviously over the frustrating ending, when returner Ty Montgomery fumbled a kickoff return he had been instructed to keep in the end zone for a touchback. The turnover prevented quarterback Aaron Rodgers from getting one final possession with two minutes left for a shot at a game-winning score.
A report on NFL.com suggested Montgomery had been upset with a limited role on offense in the game and took it upon himself to make something happen. Montgomery, who spoke with the media on Monday for the first time about the play, denied he blatantly disobeyed the coaches and said he wasn't sure where the ball would land, so he made a "split-second decision" to run, not wanting there to be any question about where he was and "put the game in the ref's hands."
Montgomery admitted being frustrated with his role but expressed dismay at the questioning of his character and team commitment. McCarthy didn't go down that road, stressing his belief through a quarter century of coaching in this league that players care more than anything "about not disappointing their teammate."
"He made a mistake," McCarthy said. "As far as the drama, the nonsense about it, I have nothing to say.
"No one feels worse than the person that made the mistake, and we've all been there."
The worst feeling was losing a game in which the Packers did so many things well against the league's top team.
Defensively, Mike Pettine's various pressure packages knocked the high-flying Rams off-balance for a good portion of the game and produced five sacks. The star of the energetic defense was rookie cornerback Jaire Alexander, who broke up five passes and showed how dynamic a defender he can be.
McCarthy said Alexander's outing was graded an "alpha performance," and the decision to match him on speedy Brandin Cooks said a lot about Alexander's skills. Cooks was held to three catches, on eight targets, for 74 yards.
"I don't recall seeing a young man, particularly a rookie, play at that level," McCarthy said. "They tested him, and I thought he played lights out."
Offensively, Green Bay also hit its share of big plays, with Davante Adams hauling in a pair of 40-plus-yard passes, rookie Marquez Valdes-Scantling catching a go-ahead 40-yard TD in the fourth quarter, and Aaron Jones running 33 yards for a score on a picture-perfect draw play.
Penalties were kept to a minimum (two for 10 yards), and the Packers didn't turn the ball over until Montgomery's fateful fumble. McCarthy also felt the way the team responded to the momentum shifts – from 10 points up in the first half to 10 down in the second half to multiple lead changes in the fourth quarter – was a huge factor in nearly handing the Rams their first loss.
"When we talk about ebb and flow, it goes up and down and you have to embrace it," he said. "When the momentum swings the other way, you can't fight it, you have to embrace it. I think the adversity swings of emotion in a football game are something this team handles very well.
"We talked about the game coming down to a two-minute drill, and this particular team I'm coaching, I think it may be the best thing we do on both sides of the ball. Unfortunately, we didn't have that opportunity."
A pass-protection breakdown, a bad play against running back Todd Gurley, a poor punt, and the kickoff miscue all occurred in the game's final six minutes and represented the fine line between a potentially significant victory and another Monday of lesson-learning.
"There's a lot of things to build off of, but the situational awareness, execution, communication down the stretch there, that was our failure," McCarthy said. "We need to be better.
"There was frustration, disappointment, anger, all that in the locker room, because it was a game we expected to win, and felt like we may have had an opportunity to. That's where we are."