If his life becomes a Broadway play someday, Packers coach Mike McCarthy might choose to look away when it reaches the scene about Sept. 10, 2006.
“The home opener?” he said this week when asked if he still remembered his debut as an NFL head coach. “Yeah, I remember.”
Bears 26, Packers 0.
And it didn’t matter that the Bears had returned all 11 starters from the NFL’s No. 2-ranked defense. Or that the Bears would go on to play in the Super Bowl later that season. Or that McCarthy was teaching an old gunslinger — Brett Favre — a new offense with two rookie guards on a team that was 4-12 the year before.
The only thing that mattered was Green Bay getting shut out for the first time in 15 seasons with Favre at quarterback. For the record, the streak ended at 233 consecutive games. Not exactly an early endorsement for a new, offensive-minded head coach.
Today, McCarthy is mentioned in the same sentences with Vince Lombardi. But on the evening of Sept. 10, 2006, he was compared to Lombardi’s failed successor, Phil Bengtson, the Roseau, Minn., native. In the history of Lambeau Field, the only worse shutout than McCarthy’s was Bengtson’s 40-0 loss to open the 1970 season.
“I remember walking off the field through the tunnel and hearing some of the comments from the fans,” McCarthy said. “And I thought, ‘What the heck did I get myself into here?’ You always want to be a head coach, but it was a tough way to start your career.”
The Vikings hired Brad Childress on Jan. 6, 2006. Six days later, Packers General Manager Ted Thompson hired McCarthy.
Childress had gone to four consecutive NFC title games and a Super Bowl as Andy Reid’s offensive coordinator in Philadelphia. He was one of the NFL’s “hot” assistants even though the Eagles had missed the playoffs in 2005. In fact, the Eagles going 6-10 that year was considered a good thing since it meant Childress could be interviewed immediately by teams that coveted him.
McCarthy, meanwhile, was anything but a “hot” assistant. He was a 13-year NFL assistant who had been an offensive coordinator in New Orleans (2000-04) and San Francisco (2005). The Saints made the playoffs once in those five seasons. The 49ers went 4-12 with Alex Smith, the guy they drafted No. 1 overall instead of Aaron Rodgers, a decision that eventually would work out quite well for McCarthy.
Today, Childress works for Reid as his “spread-game analyst” in Kansas City. He hasn’t been a head coach since being fired by the Vikings on Nov. 22, 2010, a day after losing to McCarthy’s Packers 31-3 to fall to 3-7. Now, Childress’ successor, Leslie Frazier, is 2-8 and in danger of losing his job as he visits Green Bay for Sunday’s game with the 5-5 Packers.
As for McCarthy, yeah, he is going through a tough patch while Rodgers’ broken left collarbone heals. But he will be safe in Green Bay for a long, long time.
He is 85-47, a .644 winning percentage that’s fourth among active head coaches. McCarthy is 6-4 in the postseason, including a win in Super Bowl XLV.
A win Sunday would give McCarthy a 13-4 record against the Vikings, including last season’s playoff game. It also would give him his fifth season sweep of the Vikings and a 15-2 record in his past 17 NFC North games.
Heck, the folks in Green Bay are even trying to find the right time to name a street after the guy. Now that definitely wasn’t something anyone was thinking about on Sept. 10, 2006.
“I think you laugh at those things when you’re sitting on the porch,” McCarthy said. “Hopefully, I’m not sitting on the porch for a while.”
The Packers didn’t give up a sack in last week’s loss to the Giants. It was the first time that has happened since Week 4 of last season. Scott Tolzien, who started for injured Aaron Rodgers against the Giants last week, has been sacked only once, by Philadelphia when he was Seneca Wallace’s backup two weeks ago. The Packers gave up 10 sacks in their first three games, which was tied for the sixth-most in the league. But since then, they have allowed 13 sacks in their past seven games. The Packers rank 11th in sacks per pass play.
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What Vikings coach Leslie Frazier hasn’t been able to find in three quarterbacks, Bears coach Marc Trestman has found in one backup, Josh McCown. Frazier would love to have the next John Elway, but at this point he’d settle for a guy who doesn’t turn the ball over. Unfortunately for Frazier, his three QBs have combined for 17 turnovers. Trestman, meanwhile, has gotten turnover-free football with starter Jay Cutler battling injuries. McCown is 2-0 as a starter, with a 60.1 completion percentage and a 100.0 passer rating.
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It’s not quite Joe Namath guaranteeing victory in Super Bowl III. Then again, it might be harder to make come true now that attention has been drawn to it. After losing two fumbles in three games, Lions running back Reggie Bush has guaranteed that he will not fumble again this season. “It won’t happen again,” said Bush, who has three fumbles this season, two of them lost, and has never had more than three lost fumbles in a season. Of course, now that he’s made headlines about guaranteeing that he won’t fumble again, defenders will be even more motivated to rip the ball from his grasp. “Definitely, and they should,” said Bush, whose team faces the Buccaneers on Sunday. “That’s part of the job.”
Three observations …
• A year ago at this time, the Texans and Falcons were a combined 19-2. This year, they’re 4-17.
• A year ago, the Chiefs and Panthers were a combined 3-17. This year, they’re 16-4.
• This year, the Patriots are 7-3. It’s the fourth time in five years that they have been 7-3. The other year they were 8-2.
Two predictions …
• In another reminder that life in the NFL can be tough without Hall of Fame-bound quarterbacks, the Vikings will upset the Packers and Scott Tolzien in Green Bay.
• The Lions — yes, the Lions — will be in first place all alone in the NFC North after they beat the Bucs at home and the Bears lose at St. Louis.