When the NFC Championship came to an end Sunday evening, one question was on the minds of many: Why didn’t Packers coach Matt LaFleur go for it on fourth-and-goal in the final minutes of the game?
With just over two minutes remaining, and his team trailing by 8, LaFleur elected to send kicker Mason Crosby out for a 26-yard field goal. Crosby drilled the ball through the uprights to bring Green Bay within 5.
That point differential, however, didn’t really do the Packers any good. Their defense now had to get a stop against six-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady, and then their offense still would have to find the end zone — all in just over two minutes.
So, why didn’t LaFleur trust MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers to go for it on fourth down from Tampa Bay’s 8-yard line? With a trip to the Super Bowl on the line?
LaFleur explained that the decision stemmed from the lack of production on the team’s previous three plays. The Packers had three straight passes fall incomplete leading up to the critical fourth down.
“It was just the circumstances of having three shots and coming away with no yards and knowing that you not only needed the touchdown but you also needed the 2-point [conversion],” LaFleur said after Green Bay’s 31-26 defeat.
“The way I was looking at it was we essentially had four timeouts with the two-minute warning. We knew we needed to get a stop. I thought we were going to have a stop there at the end.”
The Packers didn’t get a stop, however, and never got the ball back. For a moment, it appeared they would get another chance when a pass from Brady to wide receiver Tyler Johnson fell incomplete on third down. But a late flag for defensive pass interference bailed Tampa Bay out — and buried Green Bay’s hopes.
Asked if he regretted his decision not to go for it, LaFleur stood by his thinking while acknowledging hindsight is 20/20.
“It didn’t work out,” he said. “I think any time something doesn’t work out, do you regret it? Sure. But we’re always going to be process-driven here. The way our defense was battling, the way our defense was playing, it felt like it was the right decision. It just didn’t work out.”
Asked if he agreed with LaFleur’s decision, Rodgers noted he didn’t have a say.
“I didn’t have a decision on that one,” he said. “That wasn’t my decision. I understand the thinking with above two minutes and all of our timeouts, but that wasn’t my decision.”
Rodgers seemed to think the Packers were in four-down territory, though. He was given the reins to call the team’s third-down play that drive, and said he might have chosen something different had he known the plan was to kick a field goal on fourth down.
So, when he learned that was the case, did he have the power to persuade LaFleur otherwise?
“I don’t know,” Rodgers said. “That’s a tough one. I look over to the sideline, I see five big guys are on the field. There’s a lot of gymnastics that has to happen to get us to be able to go for it there. I don’t know. That decision was made and we moved on.”
Both LaFleur and Rodgers recognized Green Bay had multiple opportunities to put points on the board and win the game. After the Bucs went up, 28-10, Brady threw interceptions on three straight possessions, but the Packers went three-and-out on two of their ensuing drives.
The pair also pointed to Crosby’s first field goal of the game. In the second quarter, the Packers advanced to Tampa Bay’s 6-yard line on a 15-play, seven-minute drive and ended up settling for a 24-yard field goal.
“This is a game where we needed 7,” Rodgers said. “We didn’t come up with it a couple of times.”
The disappointment was palpable from both Rodgers and LaFleur, who offered nearly identical quotes during their separate postgame news conferences.
“This one definitely stings, and is going to for a long time,” Rodgers said.
“This one does sting,” LaFleur also said. “It’s going to take a long time to get over this one.”
It should be noted there was one successful fourth-down conversion in the game. Leading, 14-10, with 13 seconds to go in the first half, the Bucs looked like they were going to punt on fourth-and-4 at the Green Bay 45 before Brady and Tampa’s offense trotted back onto the field.
That decision paid off. The Bucs converted for a first down, and then Brady connected with receiver Scotty Miller for a 39-yard touchdown.
Bucs coach Bruce Arians’s explanation after the game likely stung if LaFleur heard it.
“We didn’t come here to not take chances to win the game,” Arians said.
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Nicole Yang can be reached at email@example.com.