Packers abandon offensive identity during key moments in loss to Bucs

Brandon Carwile
·4 min read

Before losing to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Championship Game, the Green Bay Packers’ commitment to running the football was a common denominator in their seven-game win streak. However, Matt LaFleur’s team abandoned the run late in the game after coming away with two rare interceptions of Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady. In the end, it was a coaching decision that contributed to their demise.

Aaron Jones exited the game with a chest injury following a big hit by Tampa Bay safety Jordan Whitehead at the start of the second half. The hit not only knocked Jones out for the rest of the game, but he also fumbled the ball to set up a scoring drive for the Buccaneers. His day was finished at six carries for 27 yards.

But even with their stater sidelined, the Packers had two viable running backs in the form of Jamaal Williams and A.J. Dillon. According to LaFleur, he considers both to be quality starters. However, for whatever reason, he chose not to give them the ball.

Momentum suddenly shifted when a fourth-quarter interception landed in the hands of Jaire Alexander. After trailing by as much as 18, Green Bay had a chance to take the lead down only five points.

The first play of the ensuing drive was an incompletion to Davante Adams. Analytics will tell you that running the ball on 2nd and 10 is unwise, so the Packers hit Williams in the flat for a 5-yard gain. On 3rd-and-5, however, Shaquil Barrett beat offensive tackle Rick Wagner for a drive-ending sack.

Opportunity wasted.

As if two Brady interceptions aren’t enough, another miracle happened when Brady threw his third interception on the very next drive. Again, it was Alexander, who had arguably one of the best games of his career under dire circumstances. Surely, Green Bay’s offense wouldn’t let another Brady pick result in no points. Think again.

Three straight dropbacks for Rodgers and no first down.

So, after being gifted the rarest of opportunities in Brady throwing three straight interceptions in the playoffs, Green Bay called six straight pass plays and punted on back-to-back drives. In the moment, maybe LaFleur lost sight of how much the run game had done for this team all year, or maybe, he had too much faith in the golden arm of his quarterback.

It’s also worth noting that the Packers threw incompletions on three straight plays from inside the 10-yard line on two different drives. Each time, LaFleur settled for a field goal without giving his run game a chance to get the ball into the end zone.

We’ve seen Rodgers lead insurmountable comebacks before, but at some point, it won’t always be feasible for him to do it all himself. After the game, LaFleur was asked if he put too much trust into Rodgers on those two drives.

“I don’t think it has anything with the trust in our quarterback, I totally trust him,” LaFleur said. “You just got to go back and be critical of yourself in terms of what you’re calling. Obviously, anytime it doesn’t work out, you know, it’s pretty disappointing.”

“All I know is this – what’s done is done. We got to go back, we look at it, and we got to learn from it – I’m talking about myself.”

For the game, the Packers ran the ball 16 times for 67 yards. After a season in which Green Bay was highly successful at using the run to open up the pass, they completely got away from their identity one game away from the Super Bowl.

During their seven-game win streak, which spanned from Week 12 to the divisional round win against the Los Angeles Rams, the Packers averaged over 30 carries and over 163 yards per game. Running the ball made this offense click.

Now LaFleur and Green Bay have to own the fact that they somehow squandered the NFC Championship by getting just seven points off of three turnovers. Looking back, LaFleur will definitely have a lot of regrets about this game, but abandoning what got the Packers there is probably high on the list.

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