The Packers had everything they wanted.
They fought for home-field advantage and the No. 1 overall seed. They got it. They wanted to be the only team in the NFC with a bye. They earned it. Even mother nature played along with the Packers, providing a classic snowy evening in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
The Packers had everything going for them, and yet they failed.
Blame for this failure will have to be dolled out, but the only place to look is at the top of the organizational chart: Head coach and quarterback.
Matt LaFleur and the Green Bay Packers once again crumbled under pressure
There’s no doubting the fact that Matt LaFleur has been successful in his first three seasons as Green Bay’s head coach. He has an overall regular-season record of 39-10 and has proven to be one of the better offensive minds in the game.
With that said, a disturbing trend has emerged for LaFleur and Green Bay.
The Packers have made the postseason in each of his first three seasons but every run has ended in bitter disappointment. Even worse, in each of the losses, Green Bay just didn’t seem to have the answers. The Packers couldn’t respond to the pressure when the going got tough, and that’s almost always a problem with coaching.
The Packers got their doors blown off by the 49ers in the 2019 NFC Championship game. San Francisco unabashedly ran the football and Green Bay couldn’t adjust. The Packers picked off Tom Brady three times in last season’s NFC title game, but the offense ended up stalling when it mattered most, and big mistakes cost the Pack in a game in which they were likely the better team on the field that day.
Speaking of, Green Bay was the more talented overall team against San Francisco this time around, but the Packers couldn’t put it all together on the big stage.
It’s curious to note that they failed to deliver in yet another postseason in which the Packers came in with a talented team with high expectations. LaFleur, again, failed to get his team ready.
“I think it’s more to do with I didn’t put our guys in position to make enough plays,” he said after the loss, per the team website.
He was talking specifically about the offense, but his statement could apply to the team as a whole as well.
“I take that very personally,” he went on to say.
LaFleur is an energetic and young head coach, and he seems to be growing more comfortable in his role with every passing season. With or without Rodgers moving into the future, though, he’s going to have to figure out this fatal flaw.
This is not the first time he’s admitted to not putting the team in the best position to win the game. Of course, a lot of that is coach speak, but the Packers can’t expect to keep things the same in the future while hoping for different results.
Heading to his fourth year as an NFL head coach, LaFleur, more than anybody else, has to figure out how to get over the hump.
Special teams was a major issue but the buck stops with LaFleur
Special teams coordinator Maurice Drayton undoubtedly coached his last game in Green Bay.
The Packers’ special teams have been terrible all season, so much so that it was easy to predict that the unit would ultimately come back to haunt the team in the playoffs. With that said, things were so bad that Nostradamus himself wouldn’t have been able to see the disaster that unfolded on Saturday night coming. It was worse than what could have been imagined.
Mason Crosby had a field goal blocked heading into halftime. Blocks happen, but it’s inexcusable for a special teams unit to give up a field goal block over the middle. San Francisco’s Jimmie Ward practically pranced through the middle of Green Bay’s protection and stole three points from the Packers.
There was also the punt block that led to San Francisco’s only touchdown of the game. Again, the Packers’ protection let the rush come right up the middle, which led to an easy block and ultimately an easy scoop and score for the 49ers.
Drayton is the one who will get fired, and he deserves it, but LaFleur should shoulder much of the blame for the unit as well.
He’s known all season long that special teams have been a problem, but for him to allow that problem to continue festering only for it to rear its ugly head in the biggest game of the season is inexcusable as a head coach.
To add insult to injury, Green Bay trotted out just 10 players to defend Robbie Gould’s game-winning kick. There are high school teams with better on-field organization.
“That can’t happen. It’s unacceptable,” LaFleur said of the final play, according to NFL.com. “And, again, that’s on me.”
Special teams’ miscues doomed the Packers on Saturday night.
“These are things I’ve got to do a better job and be more involved to make sure those things don’t happen,” LaFleur said specifically of the disaster on special teams, per Ryan Wood.
Had he been more involved heading into this game, perhaps Green Bay would be playing in the NFC Championship instead of watching it next weekend.
Aaron Rodgers deserves blame for a terrible offensive showing
Rodgers is a three-time MVP, and he very likely could win his fourth for his play in the 2021 regular season. The fact that he’s the leader and quarterback of a unit that was only able to go out and score just 10 points is frankly ridiculous, though.
Scoring just 10 points is unacceptable for an offense led by a player with his talent. He, alone, should be worth 14, but he once again didn’t live up to his MVP billing in a playoff game. That has become a trend as well. Rodgers likes to talk a lot and he sure seems to like the attention, but he’s now 7-9 in playoff games since Green Bay’s last Super Bowl win, and that was over a decade ago.
Credit to San Francisco’s defense. The 49ers stepped up and made life tough on Rodgers outside of a relatively easy first drive. They knew he was eying Davante Adams on just about every drop back and did everything they could to take his favorite option away. San Francisco also made the Packers earn all they got on the ground. It was a physical contest, and though the Packers punched first and put the 49ers on the mat, San Francisco got up and hit back even harder.
Rodgers was 20-of-29 for 225 yards. He didn’t throw an interception, which is standard, but he also didn’t throw a touchdown. He had a QBR of just 19.3 in the contest. His average QBR in the regular season was 69.
He was nowhere near his typically sharp self. He was clearly trying to force the ball to Adams, and that completely ruined any offensive flow the Packers were trying to get into.
Green Bay was just 5-of-12 on third down, thanks to numerous forced throws by Rodgers.
“I definitely take my fair share of blame tonight,” he said after the game.
For a quarterback who has been cooly confident, if not cocky, all season, it must have been a humbling admission to make.
In the land of beer and cheese, humble pie is now on the menu.