GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) -The NFL's most elusive group of wide receivers was supposed to take advantage of an injury-riddled secondary. The Pro Bowl cornerback was supposed to shut down a wide receiver who hadn't done much in his previous two games.
When a fumbled punt was bouncing around on the ground, for crying out loud, somebody on special teams was supposed to pounce on it.
But they didn't. And now the Green Bay Packers are staying home for the Super Bowl.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy knows his team didn't play to its potential in Sunday's overtime loss to the New York Giants in the NFC championship game. Now it's time to figure out why - and what changes the Packers can make to ensure that it doesn't happen again.
``We did not play our best football in a time when we needed to play our best football,'' McCarthy said in his season-ending news conference Wednesday. ``That's something our whole off-season will be based on.''
McCarthy said the Packers will try to learn lessons from three of the season's most critical games. They'll look at lapses in Sunday's loss to the Giants and the Nov. 29 loss at Dallas, and contrast them with a comeback victory over Seattle in the divisional round of the playoffs.
``Those will be three particular contests coming out of last year that I think our football team can learn from, as far as the environment we played in, the path that each game created and how you respond to the adversity and the opportunities within those games,'' McCarthy said. ``Those are lessons we need to learn from and apply to our future.''
If coaches determine that they can improve the way the team practices or prepares for games, changes will be made in the offseason.
``We've shown in the last two years we've been here we're not afraid to change if it's going to make our football team better,'' McCarthy said.
Just don't expect those changes to include holding late-season practices outdoors.
McCarthy believes practicing outside in cold weather does more to distract players than it does to help them get used to playing in the cold. Besides, McCarthy said he didn't think the subzero temperatures on Sunday factored into his team's subpar play.
Instead, McCarthy said it was all a matter of execution - from his receivers' inability to make big plays against the Giants secondary, to Packers cornerback Al Harris struggling against wide receiver Plaxico Burress and Jarrett Bush's failure to fall on a fumbled punt.
``I don't think anything (New York) did was a complete surprise,'' McCarthy said. ``It was more about execution.''
McCarthy still hadn't reviewed Sunday's game film as of early Wednesday afternoon. He has spent this week holding exit interviews with players and year-end meetings with assistant coaches.
He had a long talk with Brett Favre on Tuesday, before Favre headed back to his home in Mississippi to ponder his football future.
McCarthy advised Favre to take a few weeks to allow the emotions of Sunday's game and the season to fade, so Favre could make the best decision for himself and his family.
``We talked about all the reasons why to come back and some of the reasons why he wouldn't come back,'' McCarthy said. ``We ran through that gauntlet. He's always been very open and forthcoming with how he feels about every situation.''
McCarthy said he and Favre plan to talk every seven to 10 days in the offseason.
For now, McCarthy said he doesn't know if Favre will play in the Feb. 10 Pro Bowl. And McCarthy didn't seem to be too fired up about coaching in the game himself.
Coaching in the Pro Bowl is a consolation prize for the losing teams in conference championship games, but McCarthy would rather be coaching in a game that counts.
``Everybody goes through it when your season comes to an end,'' McCarthy said. ``You come in the next day and you've been on such a routine for months, it's Wednesday and you're supposed to be talking to your team today and practicing. You have a little bit of a lost feeling. Players probably laugh at this, but the coaches miss the players. You miss the interaction.''
McCarthy also didn't sound particularly enthusiastic about watching the Super Bowl. He'll be traveling that day - ``conveniently,'' he joked.
McCarthy will spend the rest of this week meeting with his assistants, but also expects to resume talks with the Packers about a contract extension. McCarthy is entering the final year of the three-year contract, and the team would like to lock him into a long-term deal.
Packers chairman Bob Harlan said last week that the team and McCarthy are getting closer to a deal, and one media report said the two sides had agreed in principle to a five-year extension.
McCarthy said no deal is in place, but is hopeful it will be done by the end of the week.
``We haven't had a whole lot of time to spend on it because it hasn't been the primary focus,'' McCarthy said. ``But I trust and believe it will be done in a timely fashion and it will be done the right way.''

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