Are the Green Bay Packers on the Verge of an Implosion?

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistOctober 30, 2018

Green Bay Packers running back Ty Montgomery (88) fumbles the ball, recovered by Los Angeles Rams linebacker Ramik Wilson (52) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

By deciding to return a kickoff that never should have been returned, and then by fumbling on said return, Ty Montgomery might have cost the Green Bay Packers an important victory Sunday.

With his team trailing the Los Angeles Rams by two points just ahead of the two-minute warning, Montgomery's controversial return seemingly defied both his coaching staff and common sense, and the resulting fumble robbed the team's future Hall of Fame quarterback of a chance to try to set up what would have been the game-winning field goal.

That, however, is not the end of the story.

Not only did the double mistake perhaps deprive Green Bay of just its third win since Week 2, but it also might indicate there are deeper issues with this Packers team.

"The plan there is to stay in the end zone," Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said, per ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky.

And it certainly didn't appear as though the fourth-year veteran simply misheard his coaches.

"They took him out [the previous drive] for a play, and he slammed his helmet and threw a fit," an unnamed Packers player told NFL.com's Michael Silver. "Then [before the kickoff] they told him to take a knee, and he ran it out anyway. You know what that was? That was him saying, 'I'm gonna do me.' It's a f--king joke.

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"I mean, what the f--k are you doing? We've got Aaron Rodgers, the best I've ever seen, and you're gonna take that risk? I mean, it's '12'! All you gotta do is give him the ball, and you know what's gonna happen."

Silver noted "more than a half-dozen Packers players and coaches" witnessed Montgomery's "tantrum."

It's an emotional game, and players throw fits from time to time. It's also a difficult game, and players make crucial errors every Sunday. But in this case, a player's own teammate reportedly suggested that player's mistake might have been the direct result of his own disobedience.

Now, Montgomery on Monday told the media he's "never been a guy to completely disobey what I'm being told," according to Jim Owczarski of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He said he "got a little frustrated" when he was pulled from the game on second down midway through the fourth quarter but insisted that had no bearing on his decision to return Greg Zuerlein's final kickoff.

"At that point in time, I stood where I always stood. I had a returnable ball," he said, per Owczarski. "So I made a split-second decision—I don't know if this is going to land on the goal line. So I'm not going to take a knee on the goal line, at the half-yard line and take a chance at putting the game in the ref's hands."

But if there was no splashy tantrum and there was no correlation between the incident in question and the decision to take the kick back, it's even more concerning that some of Montgomery's teammates anonymously threw him under the bus.

"We talk about being brothers," he said, per Owczarski. "We talk about being family and keeping things in-house—in-house this, that and the other. That's not what happened. I don't know. Maybe that's what they do in their family. That's not what I do in mine. No one ever said anything to me. No one ever came to me. So, I'm thoroughly disappointed in the speculation and just the backlash I have to deal with now. Because now, we're talking about my character. We're not even talking about the fumble anymore; we're talking about my character. We're talking about the reasons why I did what I did, and I'm not OK with that."

Does that sound like a healthy locker-room environment?

All of it is an indictment of the head coach, who may be losing the confidence of his players. After all, this isn't an isolated moment of strife. Rodgers himself has been publicly critical of McCarthy's offense.

He offered several thinly veiled criticisms of the game plan following a September victory over the Buffalo Bills. And following Sunday's game, Silver noted Rodgers "didn't shy away from the notion that a lack of aggressiveness had come back to burn the Packers."

"Our defense was playing really well and stopping them over and over again," the quarterback said, per Silver. "We've got to get more than 10 points while that's happening. And then to have it end the way it did, obviously, it's frustrating."

And let's not forget Rodgers was apparently frustrated with those in charge before this season even started. An April report by Yahoo's Charles Robinson suggested Rodgers was upset he wasn't consulted on major personnel moves, and in August he used the term "piss-poor" to describe the effort level displayed by several of the team's young players.

How many more straws before the camel collapses?

Winning cures all, but the Packers have won just six times in the last calendar year. Rodgers wasn't healthy for much of that period, but that doesn't change the fact a losing atmosphere has surrounded the team since last fall.

More broadly, it's inexcusable that a team with Rodgers has won just five playoff games in the seven seasons since it won Super Bowl XLV, which is why there's been oodles of speculation McCarthy could be running out of rope.

McCarthy's offense remains stale, unimaginative and antiquated. He told the media in the offseason he had taken "a scrub-brush approach" to overhauling the system. And while he and his staff have probably done a better job of scheming receivers open than in the past, the Packers rank only 13th in scoring with 25.0 points per game.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Earlier this month, The Ringer's Robert Mays bashed the supposedly revamped McCarthy offense for continuing to show "little schematic creativity." The passing game was built on isolation routes, and it remains too reliant on play designs that often require Rodgers and his pass-catchers to execute perfectly.

Sure, there's room for the players to become better at carrying out what McCarthy is giving them, but can you fault them for wondering if larger changes are necessary? This offense doesn't look boldly different from past versions, and McCarthy continues to display stubborn tendencies with his game plans as well as his play-calling (despite averaging 6.2 yards per carry, for example, Aaron Jones still hasn't carried the ball more than a dozen times in a game).

Eight teams in the NFC have better records than McCarthy's oft-penalized third-place squad. According to OddsShark, the Packers opened as six-point underdogs for a Week 9 road matchup with the New England Patriots. In two-plus weeks, they will travel to Seattle on three days' rest, and 10 days later they'll likely be underdogs again in Minnesota.

The Packers might be coming apart at the seams, and that winning cure might be out of their reach. They'll have several opportunities to come together, to salvage this season in the weeks to come, but if that doesn't happen, they could be looking for a new coach while pondering major personnel changes before the ball drops on New Year's Eve.

          

Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012.