11.12.17

LEARNING TO WIN.

The Green Bay Packers trailed the winless Cleveland Browns by two touchdowns at the turn to the fourth quarter.

The Green Bay Packers walked off the field with an overtime victory.  Second straight overtime win.
Somehow the Packers have managed to go 7-6 and stay in the playoff hunt with a second straight overtime victory, this one a 27-21 comeback against the winless Cleveland Browns on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.

[Packer head coach Mike] McCarthy was an unpredictable combination of daring and convention against the Browns and somehow it all worked out. He walked out of the stadium, still alive, needing in all likelihood three more victories to have a shot at reaching the playoffs for a ninth straight season.

“There were a lot of good things today,” McCarthy said after the game, trying to make people forget all the bad things that happened. “We’re finding different ways to win and that’s what you have to do.
Yes, the three wins in the past eight games came against last place teams (Bears, Buccaneers, Browns), and yes, the Steelers and Saints exposed weaknesses in the defense that will continue to occupy pundits both formal and informal.  But you have to play mixed strategies, and the Packers did a more effective job of mixing than did Cleveland.
“Probability, risk assessment,” McCarthy said of the call. “It’s all part of your game plan. (It) has other variables on when you’re going to call it. I didn’t jump up in the team meeting and say we were going to fake the first punt today.

“That was not the plan. Where we were on the field on fourth down, momentum, what he was giving me, it was more of a confidence thing.”

McCarthy stayed aggressive on the drive, dialing up a pass play from quarterback Brett Hundley to receiver Randall Cobb on fourth and 1 at the Cleveland 38.

The most controversial decision came midway through the third quarter with the Browns up, 14-7. Hundley had led the Packers from their own 19 all the way to the Cleveland 10, only to face a fourth and inches.

McCarthy would need two scores to win, so why not take the field goal? Last week against Tampa Bay, on fourth and 1 at the 5-yard line with 2 minutes 34 seconds left, he had Mason Crosby kick a 22-yard field goal to tie the game at 20-20.

This time, McCarthy called a misdirection play that turned into a disaster when Hundley went the wrong way and failed to pitch the ball to running back Aaron Jones.

“There are some plays leading up to that, that set that play up,” McCarthy said. “The execution wasn’t there. That’s football. There was a lot of time left. I was confident in the way we were moving the football.”
It appears that Cleveland concentrated on stopping the emergent Packer running game, and dared quarterback Brett Hundley to complete short passes and not be tempted to go for the long plays.
After Trevor Davis set up the Packers at the Cleveland 25 with a 65-yard punt return, McCarthy stayed aggressive, calling passes on five of the seven plays, including first and goal at the 1, when he called a run-pass option that allowed Hundley to throw a back-shoulder pass to Davante Adams for the tying touchdown.

In overtime, McCarthy kept the foot on the pedal and threw on four of six plays, including consecutive downs at the Cleveland 28 and 25. The last one took the game out of Crosby’s hands. Adams turned a short pass into a 25-yard touchdown to finish off the comeback.

“We were just trying to take advantage of the matchups we felt we had in the perimeter,” McCarthy said. “But hell, we’re trying to score.”
There's something about experiencing victories that affects a team's mind-set.  Here's the take from Cleveland about how the game ended.
7. From the moment the fourth quarter opened, the defense could not make a single, significant stop. You could feel the game slipping away. That's what happens when a team is 1-28 in the last two years.

8. In the overtime period, [quarterback DeShone] Kizer threw a horrible interception. The Packers still had the ball on the Cleveland 42-yard line. How about stopping them? At least make them try a field goal? Instead, the Packers roared into the end zone. Gregg Williams is a good defensive coordinator. His stats over a long career show it. But he seemed helpless to come up with anything to stop Green Bay when it mattered.

9. As for Kizer, he needed to throw his last pass of the day away. As Jackson mentioned, "the play fell apart." Josh Gordon was the original target, but he wasn't open. He actually was held by a defender, but no matter ... he was not a primary target.
Not that any of it matters, when Clay Matthews III remains in the running for the Pro Bowl.

The most-closely watched bone scan in Wisconsin football will be taking place sometime today or tomorrow.  The battle of attrition that is the National Football League 2017 season continues.

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