GREEN BAY – Mike McCarthy pretty much saw this performance coming from Aaron Rodgers.
Rodgers had his best game of the season on Sunday, throwing for four touchdowns and posting a 125.5 passer rating in the 33-32 loss in Atlanta.
"Thursday's practice was his best practice of the year, in my opinion," McCarthy said on Monday. "I talked about that Friday morning with him."
Rodgers carried that over to the field, putting together four scoring drives for 24 points in the first half at the Georgia Dome. Things stalled in the third quarter when the Falcons switched from zone to man coverage, McCarthy said, but then Rodgers directed a 14-play, 86-yard drive for the go-ahead TD in the fourth.
It's the kind of work the Packers need from Rodgers as they navigate a slew of injuries on both sides of the ball. It wasn't enough in this particular game, but he was his two-time MVP self in a season full of adjustments that might be pointing toward how this team will succeed moving ahead.
"I can't compliment him enough," McCarthy said. "We're a different offense than in Week 1 in Jacksonville, and he controls those changes as well as anybody I've been around. I thought he played exceptionally well yesterday."
Rodgers also led the team in rushing with 60 yards in scrambles, including 26 on the go-ahead drive, but McCarthy stressed some semblance of a traditional ground attack must be established.
"We're not going to make a living with Aaron Rodgers running the football," he said. "We're going to throw the ball, but we need to get our run game going. We're not going back to last year. We're going to play to our quarterback."
As for the injuries on offense, McCarthy said the team took the "high side of caution" with Ty Montgomery's illness, and tight end Jared Cook "took a big step" in his rehab last week but remains questionable to return to the practice field this week.
On the defensive side, McCarthy lamented the two Falcons runs that leaked out on their third-quarter TD drive, a 26-yarder by Terron Ward and, two snaps later, a 7-yarder by Devonta Freeman on second-and-7 to move the chains.
On Atlanta's game-winning drive, it came down to a lack of disruption of QB Matt Ryan, who was 9-of-11 without once leaving the pocket.
"He was able to stay in rhythm," McCarthy said. "All of us felt we never really got Matt out of his rhythm and his numbers reflected that. It was obviously a key that last series."
Ryan's game-winning 11-yard TD pass to Mohamed Sanu in the back of the end zone exploited a hole in the Packers' coverage. McCarthy wasn't going to call anybody out publicly but said there were adjustments to the coverage call that weren't made.
"Every opportunity is a building block, a growing opportunity, that's the most important thing," McCarthy said. "There's definitely a lot of pain in losing. To me that's the description of growing pains in a season."
McCarthy emphasized that the only way past those growing pains is to keep working to improve, because no quick fix exists for how to pull out a close game like Sunday's the next time one presents itself.
"We just stick to the grind and the path that we're on," he said. "This is a fun football team to coach. They have great energy, a great attitude. Their work ethic is exceptional, but frankly, we have a lot of work to do.
"You can see it in practice. It's not a lack of effort or lack of detail. With the combination of injuries and youth, that's kind of where we are."