Packers: Into the mind of Matt LaFleur’s decision against Bucs
By David Ruiz
By now the dust has settled on what was once a promising 2020 NFL season for the Green Bay Packers that ended abruptly at the hands of Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Championship Game.
Matt LaFleur’s decision to settle for three in the waning moments instead of trying to tie the game will be one of many questions asked all year long.
However, now that emotions have (somewhat) cooled off heading into the offseason, let’s take a look at possibly why LaFleur did what he did.
Matt LaFleur decided on sending out Mason Crosby on fourth-and-goal
Firstly, let’s take a look at what we know actually happened in the game before the world of what-ifs. Trailing Tampa Bay by eight points with only minutes to spare, Aaron Rodgers marched down the field looking for the tie.
Facing a goal-to-go series at the TB 8-yard line, Rodgers would fire an errant pass to Davante Adams instead of running to his right for extra yardage to either beat defenders to the end zone, or setting up fourth-and-goal from inside the three-yard line.
Instead, LaFleur sent out Mason Crosby for a chip-shot field goal to cut the deficit to five just outside of the two-minute warning.
The thinking here?
LaFleur wanted to erase some of the pressure of needing both a touchdown and a two-point conversion to tie the game. At least with trailing by five points, a touchdown would be the go-ahead score and not leaving the chance of two plays to get six and two points with under two minutes remaining.
But we know now that a methodical Brady sensing blood in the water and a chance to close this one out, Brady put a dagger in the heart of Green Bay, and that was all she wrote.
But, perhaps, a different scenario at least poses the question of what-if?
LaFleur decides to go for it on fourth down
This hypothetical scenario — which is most likely the one everybody expected to see — sees LaFleur send Rodgers back out on to the field to try to tie the game.
The obvious best-case scenario is Rodgers heroically getting both the touchdown and two-point conversion to tie the game at 31-all.
But a fourth-down stop at the TB 8-yard line wouldn’t have necessarily played out the same way the ending of the game did. Most likely, Brady could’ve kept going to the ground game with perhaps a third-down play akin to Chris Godwin ran.
But a three-and-out deep in their own territory could’ve led to a punt giving Rodgers the ball around midfield with at least one more crack at it.
Punting the ball has been somewhat of a self-induced dagger in these playoffs. The Cleveland Browns punted with under five minutes against Kansas City and never saw the ball again, Buffalo punted down double-digits and would fail to get back into their game against Kansas City, and obviously, settling for a Crosby field goal never got the ball back to Rodgers.
LaFleur knew his defense had to make a stop
With either scenario being a possibility, LaFleur knew his defense had to stop Brady and Co. regardless of what the score looked like. Whether down five or eight, the Packers’ defense had to get home one more time.
And it wasn’t entirely a given that Tampa Bay would convert a first down to end the game. Brady had been picked off on three-straight possessions to allow Green Bay back into the game.
Tampa Bay’s offense had only put up 10 points during Green Bay’s attempted comeback, but, as we now know, it just wasn’t meant to be.
LaFleur was putting the game solely in the hands of Mike Pettine’s group and it will forever be a question without an answer anyone will like. One scenario could’ve had the defense out there preventing a game-winning drive by Brady and one was to prevent the end of the game period.
If you’re a believer in “defenses win championships” then there was one defense that lived up to that title … but it wasn’t anyone wearing green and yellow.
We now know the regret explained by LaFleur after the game, and Rodgers mentioning it wasn’t his call, but at least we can understand a little bit better on the thinking. in the final moments of the Packers’ 2020 season.