GREEN BAY – If Mike McCarthy mentioned it once in his news conference on Monday, he mentioned it a dozen times.
The fourth quarter.
“These last two weeks on the road, we’re not finishing games,” McCarthy said less than a full day after his team fell to 3-4-1 with a 31-17 loss at New England. “Our challenge has been the fourth quarter two weeks in a row.”
The opportunities have been there. A week ago in Los Angeles, a touchdown with 8:50 left gave the Packers the lead over the Rams, but that’s been the only fourth-quarter production of any value in the last two games. Green Bay got the ball back two minutes later but went three-and-out, and following an L.A. field goal plus a fumbled kickoff, the offense never saw the ball again.
Then Sunday night in Foxborough, a fumble by Aaron Jones to start the fourth quarter took away Green Bay’s chance to take the lead in a tie game. Instead, the defense faltered by allowing two TD drives, and the offense with two other chances went three-and-out and then barely got across midfield.
The Packers mustered just 22 yards of offense in the final period against the Patriots after racking up 346 over the first three quarters. Green Bay also allowed 177 yards in the final quarter after limiting New England and Tom Brady to a respectable 256 through the first three.
The reason for the late struggles? McCarthy emphasized it’s never just one thing
“We have to keep focused on the main thing, and that’s football,” McCarthy said. “We’re very transparent about self-improvement. It has to start with the head coach and the play-callers and the decision-makers, but at the end of the day it comes down to football. Players have to make plays and execute, and that’s not going to change.”
It’s not just the fourth quarter, either. Though they improved in New England, the Packers remain 16th in the league offensively on third downs and 20th in red-zone TD percentage. Green Bay has generated just nine takeaways through eight games as well and is minus-1 in differential for the season.
Efficiency on third downs and in the red zone, combined with a strong turnover margin, have been the hallmarks of McCarthy’s better teams. More practice periods for the offensive situations have been added, and the Packers did go 6-for-13 on third down and 2-for-3 in the red zone against the Patriots, but those conversion rates must continue.
The Packers also don’t have a takeaway in either of the last two games, which has contributed to their lone turnover each week in the fourth quarter being so costly.
“The numbers are not where we need to be in those areas,” McCarthy said.
Some health issues are starting to crop up, too.
McCarthy said receiver Geronimo Allison’s groin injury, which forced him to miss the Patriots game, is a “pretty big injury” and could sideline him for a while. Cornerback Kevin King (hamstring) will be “hard-pressed” to play this week vs. Miami, and linebacker Blake Martinez has a badly swollen ankle and is still being evaluated.
Right tackle Bryan Bulaga appears to have avoided anything “major” with his knee injury that caused him to exit Sunday night’s game, but his status won’t be known for a while this week.
Arguably the Packers’ two healthiest games of 2018 going in were the past two, but they let them get away, most frustratingly at crunch time. The one home game in this current five-week gauntlet, vs. Miami, is up next.
“We’re focused on win No. 4. That’s all we’re talking about,” McCarthy said. “We improved as a football team the last two weeks, but you have to play your best football coming down the stretch, and it was clearly evident the last two weeks we were not playing to that level in the fourth quarter.”