I’m a little surprised I even needed to type that headline, but here we are.
Matt LaFleur took over a team that had won 13 games in the previous two years combined and, in his first two years, won 28 games and went to two NFC Championship Games – no other coach in the league can make that claim.
But now, because the Packers lost a game, he’s been called out as a fraud, an idiot, and other unbecoming names.
LaFleur is being called out by fans and clickbait chucklefaces alike for two things: kicking a field goal late in the NFCCG and getting away from the run in the second half of the same game.
Let’s dive into both of those.
KICKING THE FIELD GOAL
With 2:15 left in the 4th quarter, the Packers had 3 timeouts and faced a 4th and goal from the 8 yard line, facing an 8 point deficit.
The Packers could have went for it, tried for a touchdown and a two point conversion to tie it up or kicked a field goal and used the 4 clock stoppages to get the ball back with a chance to win.
Let’s look at points in favor of kicking a field goal and going for it.
In favor of kicking a field goal:
- Math: At best, the touchdown and two point conversion (both of which the Packers had failed at earlier in the game) would only result in a tie game – you weren’t going to win it here, either way, so there would always be two parts to the equation. It’s best to get the easy part out of the way first and keep the game alive.
- Matchup: The Buccaneers fast defense is really good in the red zone where space is compacted and the Packers struggled against it: Facing 1st and goal from the 6 in the 2nd quarter, the Packers got 0 yards and facing 1st and goal from the 2 in the 3rd quarter, the Packers needed 3 plays to get two yards. On the first 3 downs of this drive, on 1st and goal from the 8, the Packers gained 0 yards. That doesn’t bode well for banging your head against the wall again.
- Momentum: The Packers offense wasn’t hot. The previous two drives were both three and outs.
- Situation: The Packers defense, on the other hand, was hot. They’d surrendered only 3 points on the previous 4 Buccaneers drives and the Bucs only had the ball for 4 total minutes on the previous two drives combined. the stage was set for another stop.
- Refs: The refs had been letting the teams play all game and that favored the defense.
- Result: The Buccaneers were bailed out by the first pass interference call all game. But if they had been consistent, the Bucs would have been stopped, and the Packers would have got the ball back around their 30 yard line with 1:46 left and a timeout, down by only 5. That’s a favorable situation and – if the refs had stayed consistent (when no one had any reason to believe they wouldnt be), LaFleur would be looked at as a gutsy genius.
Factors in favor of going for it:
- “TrUsT yOuR qUaRtErBacK”
Look, I love Aaron Rodgers. He’s great and he was clearly the best quarterback on the field Sunday, but he’s not perfect and he can’t do it himself.
Football is a team sport. Davante Adams of all people dropped a touchdown early. Allen Lazard let a ball whiz by his head that drive.
And don’t forget that the Buccaneers defense is good. Like, really good.
Putting the game down to one play when there are other options isn’t always the best option.
At the end of the day, expecting to get a touchdown, get a two point conversion, get a stop, get the ball back in overtime, and score a touchdown is not any more likely than expecting to kick a chip shot field goal, get a stop, and get a touchdown in regulation.
Both are unlikely and in the end, LaFleur made a choice that would have worked out perfectly if the refs had stayed consistent.
But that doesn’t mean the decision was stupid.
GETTING AWAY FROM THE RUN
LaFleur is also getting blasted because, after Jaire Alexander gifted them two interceptions in the 4th quarter, the Packers attempted 6 passes, gained a total of -5 yards, and punted twice after consecutive three and outs.
“Why did he get away from the run!?”
Well, I’ll ignore how ridiculous it is that the people saying “trust your quarterback” on 4th and goal from the 8 are mad because they didn’t hand the ball off after momentum-swinging turnovers in the 4th quarter of a one score game. I won’t point out the ridiculous hypocrisy that springs up when you second guess everything with the benefit of hindsight. I’ll also ignore the fact that their Pro Bowl running back was out of the game with an injury.
Here’s the deal: the Packers were moving the ball through the air. They’d gained most of their 1st downs and all their touchdowns by passing.
On the previous drive, Aaron Rodgers was 8 of 10 for 51 yards and a touchdown. They ran 4 times for 10 yards.
The drive before that, they ran twice for 7 yards before passing on the next 6 plays and going 5 of 6 for 68 yards and a touchdown.
So after two drives where the passing game went 13 of 16 for 119 yards and 2 TDs, while the running game was plugging along at 2.9 yards per carry, you want to start handing the ball off!?
That’s hindsight revision at it’s finest.
If they would have handed the ball off for 2 or 3 yards a crack while Rodgers was red hot, the same chucklefaces who are complaining about not passing on 4th and 8 would have roasted LaFleur for trying to run when the MVP QB was red hot.
That means you’re complaining no matter what happens.
So what happened?
The Buccaneers pass rush got the better of the offensive line, that’s what happened. They attacked and won their one on ones. They played aggressive press coverage with a full box designed to stop the run or get to the quarterback.
And they did.
The Buccaneers played better.
This loss is because of player execution. Not one guy, but the whole team, in all three phases.
The playcalling was just fine, more than good enough to win.
The players lost the game. By dropping balls, blowing coverages, missing blocks, and generally not being as good as the competition.
The players lost this game.
That doesn’t make them failures or terrible, they just came in second place to a team bound for the Super Bowl.
There’s not shame in that and there’s no reason to overreact.
The Packers still have a great coach and we should have all the confidence in the world in his playcalling.
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