Be careful what you wish for, it might come true. That statement rings so true for a big section of Green Bay Packers fans after Saturday’s game. Leading up to the Packers Divisional Round game against the San Francisco 49ers, Packers fans on Twitter were full of confidence. “Bring on Jimmy Garoppolo, he won’t outduel Aaron Rodgers.” “The Packers at home, in sub-zero temperatures in the snow, the 49ers don’t have a chance.” “This is the Packers year, last dance, baby!” Those were all foolish statements busted out by Packers fans leading up to the Packers 13-10 loss to the 49ers. After the dust had settled, or in the Packers case, snow had fallen, fingers started to be pointed at a lot of people. Here is who deserves blame for the Packers Divisional Round loss.
Matt LaFleur Deserves the Blame for Green Bay Packers Divisional Round Loss
Before diving into the many reasons Matt LaFleur deserves the majority of the blame for the Packers Divisional Round loss Saturday night, Packers defensive coordinator Joe Barry and his unit deserve praise for their performance. Sure, they were playing against a hobbled Jimmy Garoppolo, but they did more than their share for the Packers to win that game. As was predicted, the Packers pass rush came to play on Saturday night. Outside linebacker Rashan Gary had a career night as he registered two sacks and was pretty much unblockable throughout the game. Fellow pass rusher Za’Darius Smith returned after missing most of the season and chipped in a sack. Kenny Clark, the Packers starting nose tackle, not only was a machine in the run defense, but he also chipped in a sack. The Packers secondary also had a strong game.
The Packers defense consistently faced criticism throughout the season but that unit is not the reason Green Bay lost Saturday night. Saturday night, at home, in sub-zero temperatures, with the snow falling, the defense carried this team and gave the Packers more than enough to win the game. The Packers offense and special teams units were the reason Green Bay lost to the 49ers. And both are units that head coach Matt LaFleur had a big part in leading.
After the completion of the 2020 season, then Packers special teams coordinator Shawn Mennenga was shown the door by Matt LaFleur. LaFleur believed, correctly, that the Packers needed a fresh start on special teams, because that unit, under Mennenga, was awful. His termination was more than deserved. Yes, Matt LaFleur made the right call by letting Mennenga go. But his biggest mistake, one that cost him a chance to advance in this year’s NFL playoffs, was the promotion of Maurice Drayton.
As if it was not bad enough that LaFleur promoted Mennenga’s right-hand man to the top spot. It was even worse when taking into account that Drayton was the assistant to Ron Zook, the special teams coordinator that was fired before hiring Mennenga. Drayton was not just a part of one bad special teams unit, but of two of them. The expectation that Drayton would bring anything new, after being Zook’s right-hand man in 2018 and then Mennenga’s top assistant from 2019-2020, was downright laughable. But LaFleur’s mistakes dif not just stop there.
During the 2021 season, as the special teams unit was swirling down the toilet, Matt LaFleur made it even worse and decided to keep Drayton in place as the coordinator. Apparently, LaFleur believed Drayton, the same guy who worked under Zook and Mennenga, could right the ship. He was wrong. The Packers special teams continued to perform at an all-time low. In Rick Gosselin’s 2021 special teams rankings, he had the Packers special teams dead last.
On Saturday night, in the Packers Divisional Round game, the failures of their special teams unit were on full display on one of the biggest stages. Not only did Mason Crosby have a line drive field goal blocked, but punter Corey Bojorquez had a punt blocked as well. Both blocks proved to be crucial in the Packers loss to the 49ers. Crosby’s blocked kick, which occurred at the end of the first half, cost the Packers three points, which would have come in quite handy at the end of the game. Instead of losing 13-10, it could have possibly been 13-13 and pushed the game into overtime. Bojorquez’s blocked punt led to the 49ers tying the game 10-10 late in the fourth quarter.
But Crosby and Bojorquez do not deserve all of the blame for the blocked field goal and punt. The blame should also be handed out equally to the protection, especially on field goals attempts. This season, Crosby had three field goals blocked. As ESPN Stats and Info tweeted out, he only had three blocked from 2015-2020. Still, while the protection was not good, Crosby had, overall, nine unsuccessful field goal attempts during the 2021 season.
Still, Drayton saved the best for the last. On Robbie Gould‘s game-winning kick, Drayton’s unit decided that they only needed ten players to block the attempted field goal. In his postgame press conference, Matt LaFleur took responsibility for only having 10 players on the field. The coach should take responsibility for that, as well as the whole special teams debacle.
Excluding the game-opening drive that resulted in a touchdown, the Packers offense was unacceptably bad on Saturday. Rodgers completed 20 of 29 passes, but none of them were for a touchdown. Davante Adams caught nine passes for 90 yards, but again, none of those receptions were for touchdowns. But it was not just the passing attack that struggled; the run game was not given much of a chance. Aaron Jones led the Packers rushing attack with 41 yards, on only 12 carries. On a snowy frigid night, Matt LaFleur failed to establish the ground game and the run game was the backbone of the Packers offense during the season.
LaFleur is not only the Packers head coach but also their offensive play-caller. The offense’s failures fall on his shoulders. But do not ignore Aaron Rodgers, who is likely to be named the league’s MVP for the 2021 season. For a long time, Rodgers has talked about how important it is to get home-field advantage in the playoffs, something Green Bay earned once again this season. He hoped for cold snowy weather, which happened. He has arguably the best wide receiver in the NFL in Adams, an offensive-minded head coach, a strong ground game, and an above-average offensive line. But with all of those things, he still failed to get the job done. Rodgers frequently discusses his “legacy” and how people will discuss his career once he is done playing football. At this point, his legacy will arguably be that of the most skilled quarterback to play the game, who was great in the regular season but failed to get it done in the playoffs.
The Packers, easily, were the more talented offense in Saturday night’s game, but they did not show up. The game plan was a failure and the execution was even worse.
A Long Off-Season
While LaFleur failed miserably on Saturday, by no means is this a call for him to lose his job. The sheer idea of parting ways with LaFleur is absurd. He has a 39-10 record and revitalized a team that had fallen on hard times under former head coach Mike McCarthy. He has proven that is one of the better head coaches in the NFL.
But with that said, the failures from Saturday’s loss fall squarely on his shoulders. He was credited for all of the Packers success in the regular season and he should take the blame, at least the majority of it, for their failures in the playoffs. He promoted and stuck with, Maurice Drayton, an assistant coach that had no right to hold the position of special teams coordinator. The Packers also failed on offense, a unit that LaFleur is in charge of and one that is led by possibly the league MVP, has the best wide receiver in the NFL, an excellent running back duo, and a highly effective offensive line.
LaFleur should expect a very long off-season, one that will consist of a lot of what if’s and long looks in the mirror, with a lot of second-guessing. If this truly was the “last dance,”not only will LaFleur be doing some major soul searching from Saturday night’s results, but he and the Packers will also be facing a lot of changes.