Packers coach Matt LaFleur explains thought process on kicking late field goal

The Green Bay Packers had a chance to tie the game with a touchdown and two-point conversion late in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s NFC Championship Game, but coach Matt LaFleur decided to kick a field goal on fourth down inside the 10-yard line and trust his defense to get a stop with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.

The three points cut the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lead to 31-26 with 2:05 left, but the Packers never got the ball back.

“Yeah, anytime it doesn’t work out, you always regret it, right?” LaFleur said postgame.

The Packers coach explained his thought process for kicking the field goal.

“The circumstances of having three shots and coming away with no yards, and knowing you need the touchdown and the two-point. The way I was looking at it, we essentially had four timeouts with the two-minute warning. We knew we needed to get a stop,” LaFleur said.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw incomplete passes on three straight plays from the 8-yard line to set up fourth down. With the Packers defense delivering interceptions of Tom Brady on three of the previous four possessions, LaFleur decided to roll the dice, take the three points and bank on the defense to get one more stop and give Rodgers one more chance.

“We’re always going to be process-driven here. The way our defense was battling, the way our defense was playing, it felt like the right decision to do. It just didn’t work out,” LaFleur said.

The Buccaneers got a penalty on Kevin King to essentially end the game. Without the pass interference, Rodgers would have gotten a chance with about 90 seconds and one timeout left, down five points.

Afterward, Rodgers expressed a level of surprise about LaFleur’s decision to kick the field goal. The presumptive MVP asked for a specific play on third down not knowing LaFleur was thinking about kicking the field goal on fourth down.

An earlier sequence in the red zone likely influenced LaFleur’s thinking. In the first half, the Packers marched the ball to the 6-yard line but Rodgers threw incomplete on three straight passes – including a narrow miss on a back-shoulder throw to Davante Adams in the end zone – forcing LaFleur to settle for the field goal. Faced with the same situation, he kicked again.

The decision was both defensible and highly debatable.

If everything had gone right, the Packers could have delivered a stop on defense and then scored a touchdown to win the game. No ties, no overtime. The Packers defense had stopped the run all game on early downs and was starting to pressure Brady consistently. So LaFleur’s idea that the defense could get a big stop wasn’t completely fantasy.

But the specific winning path after deciding to kick the field goal was nothing if not narrow. The Packers needed the Bucs to go three-and-out, and even if the defense did deliver a quick stop while using timeouts appropriately, Rodgers and the offense likely would have needed to cover at least 70 yards in about 100 seconds and put the ball in the end zone against a good defense to win.

Had the Packers gone for it and failed on fourth down, the Bucs still would have been pinned deep in their own territory, with the Packers still possessing three timeouts and a chance to get the ball back to Rodgers.

And there’s something off about not trusting the league’s MVP with the league’s most capable red-zone receiver from eight yards out and a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. The Packers were the best red-zone offense in football. All year, LaFleur had devised clever ways of getting his best guys open and delivering easy throws for Rodgers. He didn’t trust a strength.

Ben Baldwin’s fourth down decision bot suggested the Packers should have gone for it instead of kicking the field, although the win probability of either decision still put the Packers in a likely to lose scenario.

Either way, the Packers were in big trouble. No option was a good one. Converting scores on back-to-back plays (touchdown, two-point) against the Bucs defense wasn’t going to be easy. Stopping Tom Brady and the Bucs and then driving down the field for a touchdown wasn’t going to be easy.

Matt LaFleur picked what he felt was the best of two bad options. As he said, it didn’t work out.

The tough part: Because of the decision, the MVP quarterback watched the finish from the sideline. The next opportunity never came. And now Packers fans will always wonder if Aaron Rodgers could have converted on fourth down and the two-point conversion.

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