GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Every year, Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy nips any playoff talk in the bud by saying it’s not a topic of conversation until the team wins 10 games.
The Packers hit the season’s midpoint with a 3-4-1 record, meaning there is little margin for error after back-to-back losses to two of the NFL’s powerhouses.
To reach double-digits in victories, the Packers will have to win seven of their final eight games. That quest begins with a return home to face the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
“We’re focused on winning No. 4. That’s all we’re talking about right now,” McCarthy said on Monday, a day after a 31-17 loss to the New England Patriots.
“We improved as a football team the last two weeks, but you have to play your best football coming down the stretch. We’re not playing to the level we need to play in the fourth quarter.”
In the final seven minutes of last week’s 29-27 loss at the Los Angeles Rams, the Packers failed to extend a 27-26 lead, had a bad punt, gave up the go-ahead field goal and fumbled the ensuing kickoff.
On the first play of the fourth quarter against the Patriots, the Packers were driving into scoring position when running back Aaron Jones fumbled.
The Patriots used a pass from receiver Julian Edelman to running back James White to set up the go-ahead touchdown, forced the Packers to punt, then added an insurance touchdown.
Not only did the Packers lose the game, but they lost ground in the NFC North to Chicago (5-3), which routed Buffalo for its second consecutive win, and Minnesota (5-3-1), which beat Detroit for its fourth win in five games.
After hosting Miami (5-4), Green Bay goes back on the road to face Seattle (4-4) and Minnesota.
“The games in November are really where teams historically start to separate one way or the other,” McCarthy said. “Our focus is really on our self-scout and things we’ve been working on. The last two weeks, we’re not finishing games.”
The problems run across all three phases. Defensively, the Packers have failed to get a takeaway the past two weeks.
On special teams, there was Ty Montgomery’s fumble on the kickoff return against the Rams and two penalties against the Patriots.
On offense, Green Bay has run a total of 22 plays in the fourth quarter the past two weeks. Against the Patriots, the fourth quarter started with a fumble, continued with a three-and-out and ended with a fourth-down failure.
“We’re not hitting on all cylinders,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “We’re hurting ourselves with negative-yardage plays and missed throws and turnovers at the wrong time and not being on the same page too many times, whether I’m missing a throw or we’re not in the spot I think we’re going to be at, it’s happening in the worst times. When we have to play our best in those crunch times, we haven’t been playing our best.”
To get on track, the Packers are going to have to play through some injuries. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga (knee), safety Kentrell Brice (knee), cornerback Kevin King (hamstring) and linebacker Blake Martinez (ankle) were knocked out of the game by injuries.
Martinez, who was injured when he stepped on the ankle of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, returned for the final couple of series.
“I pride myself on being a tough guy and I didn’t want to leave my team,” Martinez said.
“I knew if I could run straight and do certain things, I could go out there and finish the game.”
According to McCarthy, King will be “hard pressed” to be ready to face the Dolphins. Bulaga, who’s suffered major injuries to both knees, avoided a significant injury and could be back for Sunday. Receiver Geronimo Allison might need surgery after suffering a groin injury at Thursday’s practice.