MINNEAPOLIS – Mike McCarthy made an emotional decision, and Aaron Rodgers had an emotional reaction. Only Jordy Nelson kept his cool throughout.
In the end, the Green Bay Packers head coach’s heave of the red challenge flag during what would turn out to be an 8-yard James Jones touchdown catch in Sunday’s 37-34 loss to the Minnesota Vikings didn’t cost his team. But it did make his quarterback mad, and it did show the intelligence of his wide receiver.
After referee Mike Carey’s crew ruled that Jones had fumbled at the goal line and the ball had been recovered for a touchback by the Vikings, McCarthy went ballistic and threw his red challenge flag. As anyone who watched the Detroit Lions’ Thanksgiving Day loss to the Houston Texans, that could’ve been curtains for the Packers. In that game, an angry Jim Schwartz threw his flag during Houston running back Justin Forsett’s 81-yard touchdown run which, as anyone could plainly see, should have been whistled dead when Forsett’s knees hit the ground.
By rule, when a coach throws his challenge flag on a scoring play or turnover play – both of which are automatically reviewed by the replay booth – the replay is nullified and the coach is assessed a 15-yard penalty. McCarthy made that mistake in preseason and learned the rule as a result, but in the heat of the moment, he lost his head.
“Emotional decision by me,” McCarthy said. “Shouldn’t have did it.”
Carey would later explain to a less-than-thrilled Metrodome crowd that because the replay official had already initiated the review, it would go forward, despite McCarthy’s challenge. The only penalty would be a 15-yard walk-off on the next play, which turned out to be the kickoff after Jones’ catch was correctly ruled a touchdown, pulling the Packers within 27-24 with 2:04 left in the third quarter.
After seeing McCarthy throw the flag, Nelson surreptitiously picked it up and hid it near his belt area. Although the officials had already seen it, it was a valiant effort by Nelson to steal the evidence. After the TD was called, Nelson and McCarthy were seen laughing together. What did the coach say?
“’Ah, thank you,’” Nelson relayed. “(I) knew the rule. I think there might’ve been miscommunication on if they called him down or called it a turnover or what, so once I heard it was a turnover I knew it’s automatically reviewed. I mean, everyone’s seen the Detroit play (on Thanksgiving against Houston). So we were able to prevent that.”
Rodgers, meanwhile, couldn’t keep his cool. FOX Sports replays clearly showed Rodgers, after Nelson picked up the challenge flag, bounding over toward McCarthy and screaming at him. McCarthy appeared to ignore it at the time, as fullback John Kuhn tried to calm Rodgers down after he passed the coach. McCarthy was not asked about Rodgers’ reaction and Rodgers skirted the issue when asked about it in the post-game press conference.
“I was real frustrated that the call was not a touchdown immediately. James obviously thought it was. That, to me, didn’t look like a turnover in live-speed,” Rodgers said. “I know they're erring on the side they of calling it a turnover because you can review the play, but that looked like a touchdown from my vantage point, from about the 7-yard line. I was just surprised that after a conference they decided to call it a touchback.”
In an earlier question about Rodgers being clearly angry when the Packers having to burn a pair of timeouts when there were problems getting the plays in near the goal line, Rodgers replied, “I’m just passionate about this game. I love it. We had some miscommunication about what the personnel was and that was after the timeout a couple plays before that. That’s frustrating to have two timeouts like that, but that stuff happens from time to time and you just have to move on.”
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