Mike McCarthy finally broke the Packers. All it took was a three-point loss to one of the NFL’s worst teams.
The Cardinals hadn’t won in Green Bay since 1949 before Sunday’s 20-17 upset win over the foundering Pack. With Aaron Rodgers stuck in neutral and the franchise’s playoff hopes all but dissipated, the team made the decision to relieve McCarthy of his duties with four games remaining in the season. Joe Philbin will call the shots while the Packers play out their string, making 2018 the first season since 1953 where a coach who started the season in Green Bay didn’t finish it.
But while McCarthy joined Hue Jackson on the list of coaches to be unceremoniously dumped this fall, he won’t be the last established leader to earn his walking papers this season. Here’s a breakdown of this week’s least inspiring coaches. While some of them aren’t on the hot seat yet, they didn’t exactly add to their highlight reels in Week 13.
One last note on Mike McCarthy
McCarthy knew he was on the hot seat. He knew Sunday’s showdown against the Cardinals was a must-win game. He knew he was getting roasted for his lack of creativity on the offensive side of the ball and his inability to push Aaron Rodgers’ to his full potential.
And despite knowing all this, here’s the first third-and-long play he ran against Arizona Sunday.
Mike McCarthy is trying to get fired pic.twitter.com/rcRIvR74kj— Christian D'Andrea (@TrainIsland) December 2, 2018
F—-ing beautiful. Good night, you prince of Ashwaubenon. You king of Brown County.
Ron Rivera is a lesser god of inconsistency
The Panthers are spiraling out of control. Week 13’s loss to the Buccaneers was Carolina’s fourth straight, taking it from 6-2 with a line to a playoff bye to 6-6 and a spot on the outside of the postseason race looking in.
That puts plenty of pressure on Rivera, the veteran coach who brought all the consistency of poorly made gravy with him to Charlotte. On Monday, he made a sacrifice at the altar of the football gods, firing two assistant coaches and effectively demoting defensive coordinator Eric Washington. Rivera will now be in charge of calling the team’s defense, a move he hopes will improve a unit that’s given up 31.5 points per contest in that four-game slump.
It’s a move that lays some of the damage at the feet of the Panthers’ since-fired positional coaches and pushes Rivera into the spotlight. He’s got four games to prove he can get his club back to the dizzying high of his 2015 season or, barring that, the underappreciated competence of his 2017. But consistency has never been his strong suit — he’s alternated winning and losing seasons each year since 2012, and 2018 is scheduled to be a down year.
If new owner David Tepper, a man with a literal set of brass balls on his desk, feels like making a splash this offseason, Rivera could be looking for a new job. Or he can just wait until 2019, when history suggests the Panthers will be a playoff team again.
Dan Quinn had nothing to offer the Ravens
Atlanta, like Green Bay, faced a must-win home game Sunday. Unlike Green Bay, the Falcons had a stiff challenge: the Baltimore Ravens and their top-ranked defense. But if the Ravens were a puzzle for 2016 MVP Matt Ryan to solve, they were a 1,000-piece set donated to Goodwill after the family dog had digested several pieces. Quinn had no answers for the Ravens, who held the home team to 131 total yards and a meager 2.9 yards per play.
The Falcons were forced to get creative when Baltimore took away the dual threat of Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, who combined for a season-low five catches and 40 yards. The best Quinn could come up with was a trick-play pass for Mohamed Sanu (leading to his first incompletion in seven career attempts) and a handful of ineffective carries for Tevin Coleman and Ito Smith.
With a defense decimated by injuries, Atlanta needed its offense to carry the club to the postseason. What Quinn got instead was a borderline unwatchable performance against a team that could take away its top two receiving threats.
Gregg Williams was NOT ready for a good defense
Williams had made a case for a promotion from interim head coach to potential full-timer in his first three games with the Browns — an understandable loss to the Chiefs and wins against the Falcons and Bengals. He and offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens had unlocked Baker Mayfield’s potential, pushing him to MVP-level heights against three of the league’s lesser defenses.
But when Mayfield was forced to battle the Texans and their third-ranked scoring defense, that momentum came to an abrupt stop. Houston picked off Mayfield three times in the first half to effectively end this game after 30 minutes. While the Browns rallied to turn a 23-0 deficit into a 29-13 loss, it was still a depressing venture back into Browns-town for a team that had some slim playoff hopes coming into Week 13.
Cleveland wasn’t expected to win that game, but it also wasn’t expected to run face-first into a brick wall. Williams, despite his self-reported past overtures of head coaching positions, needed to end 2018 on a heater to keep his name in consideration for the Browns’ permanent job next spring. The Texans just doused him in cold water.
Frank Reich outsmarted himself on fourth down
Reich started slowly in Indianapolis, but a soft November schedule gave his Colts a chance to sneak into the playoff race behind a five-game winning streak. On Sunday, they faced the suddenly awful Jaguars with the chance to improve to 7-5 and into a tie with the Ravens for the AFC’s final Wild Card spot. This is not what the Colts did.
Instead, Indianapolis failed to get out of its own way, scoring zero points against a Jaguars offense that only managed a pair of field goals on the afternoon. Along the way, the Colts were stonewalled on three different fourth-down scenarios that snuffed out Indy scoring opportunities.
First came a fourth-and-goal from the Jacksonville 2 that saw a Jordan Wilkins shovel pass go absolutely nowhere. One drive later, fourth-and-1 brought an off-tackle carry for Eric Ebron that ended with a loss of one yard, a fumble, and a hit that briefly turned the tight end into a helicopter blade.
Finally, trailing by six and with 2:19 to play, Andrew Luck dropped back on fourth-and-1 from the Jacksonville 19 and wound up being sacked for a loss of nine.
So, three fourth-down calls in situations what would have been reasonable field goals for even an 80 percent Adam Vinatieri. Instead, Reich’s outside-the-box playcalling resulted in -10 yards, one fumble, and zero points.
Reich’s only in his first year in Indianapolis, and he’s not getting fired after helping restore Andrew Luck from “guy who hasn’t thrown a football in 400 days” to “MVP candidate.” But he was also hired to bring some of the creative magic that turned Nick Foles into a Super Bowl champion to the Midwest. The creativity was there in spades Sunday — it just didn’t work.
Honorable mention: Jon Gruden, who swears he knows how challenges work
Gruden, with nine (NINE) years and $90 million (NINETY MILLION) remaining on his contract, isn’t getting fired anytime soon. His mission with the Raiders is to build a rising team for their 2020 move to Las Vegas, and 2018 isn’t anything near a priority for owner Mark Davis.
That’s good, because Gruden appears to need some time to remember how the NFL’s rules work. Not only is he the brain behind a 2-10 team, but he seemingly can’t go a week without embarrassing himself. Sometimes that’s making comments about the scarcity of quality pass rushers months after trading away one of the league’s best. On Sunday, he followed up on his desire to throw the game back to 1998 by having some fuzzy ideas about how the league’s replay system works.
Gruden tried to challenge a Travis Kelce touchdown catch right before halftime, a play that wasn’t reviewable because:
a) it was a touchdown, and all scoring plays are automatically reviewed, and
b) it came with less than two minutes to go in the half, when replays can only be initiated by league officials.
the Raiders were charged with a timeout after Jon Gruden tried throwing a challenge flag inside of 2 minutes ... pic.twitter.com/xhyVrNCLZM— SB Nation (@SBNation) December 2, 2018
So Gruden threw a challenge that couldn’t possibly succeed. He says it was to make a point about the officiating and buy a little time for the replay crew in New York to make a move. But this is 2018 Jon Gruden, so it’s also entirely possible he just forgot — you know, like he constantly forgets he traded away a former defensive player of the year before the season began. The burned timeout didn’t matter — there were only seven seconds left in the second quarter when he tossed his flag — but it was another potentially embarrassing moment in a comeback season filled with them.
On the plus side, his Raiders only lost by seven Sunday, which ... seems like progress!