Matt LaFleur has overseen lots of victories in his first two years as Green Bay Packers head coach, but his team's Sunday night loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Championship -- his second title-game defeat in as many seasons -- had an awful lot to do with his decision-making. With a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, LaFleur saw his Packers come back from a 21-10 first-half hole, driving inside the Buccaneers' 10-yard line for a potential game-tying score with just over two minutes to play. Opting to play it safe rather than trust Aaron Rodgers and one of 2020's top offenses, however, proved fatal, leading to Green Bay's 31-26 loss.
Sunday's loss was not all on LaFleur. Cornerback Kevin King was a repeat victim of Tom Brady's deep passes. Davante Adams had a crucial end-zone drop. A team loses because the team fails, not one guy. Some win-percentage models might even tell you that LaFleur was right to try a field goal to cap the Packers' final drive. But common sense screams otherwise, and LaFleur's conservative call -- to end a 58-yard series, with 2:09 on the clock, by cutting Tampa Bay's lead to five points rather than going for a potential tying touchdown -- will stand out as the anticlimactic finish to what had long been a blow-for-blow shootout.
LaFleur explained after the game that while he regrets the decision didn't pay off, he doesn't second-guess his initial reasoning.
"Anytime it doesn't work out, you always regret it, right?" he told reporters. "But it was just the circumstances of having three shots and coming away with no yards and knowing that you not only need the touchdown but you need the two-point (conversion). So the way I was looking at it was, we essentially had four timeouts with the two-minute warning and, you know, we knew we needed to get a stop. And I thought we were gonna have a stop at the end, but we got called for the PI. It didn't work out. But we're always gonna be process-driven here, and the way our defense was battling, the way our defense was playing, it felt like it was the right thing to do."
Trusting your defense is one thing. (And, hey, LaFleur had reason to believe in Mike Pettine's unit amid a three-interception day by Brady.) But taking the ball out of Aaron Rodgers' hands and counting on both a quick stop and future touchdown within two minutes? Those aren't exactly the dice you want to be rolling in the final minutes of the NFC Championship. However you feel about the analytics of the situation, it's just a disservice to Rodgers, his All-Pro No. 1 target in Davante Adams, and your entire offensive unit -- which spent all season dominating opponents up and down the field -- to substitute boldness for wishful thinking in crunch time.
Rodgers, for what it's worth, made it clear after the game that he had no hand in the decision.
"I didn't have a decision on that one," he said. "That wasn't my decision. (I) understand the thinking -- above two minutes with all of our timeouts -- but, yeah, that wasn't my decision."
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