LANDOVER, Md. – Mike McCarthy has often referred to the 10-win mark as the playoff barrier.
"Six losses puts your ass against the wall," he said after the Packers dropped to 4-6 with a 42-24 defeat to the Redskins on Sunday night at FedExField. "That's where we are."
There's no mistaking that. Mathematically, the Packers still have hope in 2016, but they'd realistically have more if this losing streak hadn't reached four games.
This team's margin for error is thin enough in any given week. Defensive penalties on third down almost always lead to points for the opposition, and they did again Sunday. Every missed opportunity on offense – be it settling for a field goal with second-and-3 on the Washington 6 or getting no points at all after driving from their own 2 to the opposing red zone – becomes a deflating setback.
Now, the margin for error on the season is basically gone as well.
Green Bay is two games back in the NFC North with six to play, and either Minnesota or Detroit will be 7-4 after Thanksgiving Day. In the wild-card race, with two NFC East teams in Washington and New York sitting at only three losses apiece, running the table won't even guarantee a postseason berth.
How much fight will the Packers have in them down the stretch? Plenty, but the backs-against-the-wall mentality only helps if one thing happens.
"If you bounce back and win," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "We've put ourselves in a tough spot. We have to find a way to get a win next week, and approach it one week at a time.
"That's all we've got right now."
It's the most trying time for the Packers since Rodgers' first year as a starter in 2008. That year, a 5-5 mark turned into 5-10 when the defense collapsed.
The current Green Bay defense is in a similar tailspin, allowing 40-plus points the last two games and 153 during the four-game skid.
Two tenets of McCarthy football have gotten away from the Packers this season – turnover margin and big-play production. McCarthy talks about both as fundamentals of football, in the same category as blocking, tackling, and catching the ball.
Green Bay's defense hasn't taken the ball away at all in three of the four straight losses, and the team's turnover margin for the season is now minus-6, likely somewhere in the bottom quartile of the league. On a day the NFC North's division leaders each returned an interception for a touchdown to help win close games, the Packers came up empty in the all-important turnover category again. That's not McCarthy's Packers.
Neither is losing the big-play battle. The offense posted pass plays of 47, 22, 29, 31 (TD), 47 and 37 yards Sunday night. But when the opponent matches the number of 20-plus gains at six (26, 28, 44 TD 70 TD, 53, 66) and wins the yardage equation by 74 yards (287-213) on those big plays, another element the Packers have traditionally hung their hat on is missing its hook, too.
Rodgers said he's "optimistic" the team can turn it around, and McCarthy is not questioning the dedication or effort of his players, calling them "a great group of men." The results have to start changing, though.
"I love these guys," McCarthy said. "This is not the time for personnel evaluations, coaching evaluations, those types of things. This is our football team, the 2016 Packers. We're in a rough stretch right now. We've lost four in a row and have a tough one Monday night in Philadelphia.
"We're going to rally and stick together. We saw our response with five losses, and we clearly understand (the situation) isn't any better at six losses."
No, it's not. In fact, it's considerably worse. The urgency needed to kick in on Sunday night, but three straight three-and-outs to start the game on offense and a hemorrhaging of big plays on defense left another winnable game out there in 2016.
The Packers need a win as badly as they've needed one for eight years. Throw out the math and the standings and the scenarios now. Just get that win, somehow, some way, and see where things go from there.
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