The 2020 NFL playoffs abruptly ended for Matt LaFleur and the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game for a second consecutive season. Looking for someone to blame for the team’s latest failure to reach the Super Bowl, the organization made a dramatic move with the coaching staff, but is it a rash move or the right move?
Matt LaFleur leads Green Bay Packers in second season
The Green Bay Packers entered the 2020 season with high expectations after reaching the NFC championship in 2019. Matt LaFleur had Aaron Rodgers and a core group of players returning on both sides of the ball.
Rodgers and the Packers proved they were every bit as good as the 2019 squad, cruising through the regular-season schedule with a 13-3 record and winning the NFC North title for the seventh time in the last decade. For the first time since Rodgers commanded the offense, the Packers were the No. 1 seed in the NFC and held the home-field advantage. A trip to the Super Bowl went through Lambeau.
Matt LaFleur watched his Green Bay Packers host the LA Rams in the divisional round. Rodgers finished the contest, throwing 23-of-36 for 296 yards with a pair of touchdowns, and the Green Bay defense limited Jared Goff and the Rams offense to just 244 total yards, all resulting in a dominating 32-18 win for the Pack. With the win, they advanced to the NFC title game to host Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Aaron Rodgers and Packers lose NFC title again
The NFC championship was must-see TV with two of the game’s best quarterbacks in Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. Brady’s Bucs jumped out to an early lead with a nine-play 66-yard touchdown drive to open the game.
Rodgers and the Packers answered with a scoring drive of their own. Just before the half and the Bucs leading 14-10, Brady caught the Green Bay secondary inexplicably napping on a 39-yard touchdown toss to Scotty Miller, who beat Kevin King in single coverage. That lone play provided huge momentum to the visitors heading into the break.
Despite the Packers defense forcing three Tom Brady interceptions on consecutive possessions in the second half and Rodgers leading a spirited comeback, it wasn’t enough as the Pack came up short again in the NFC title tilt, falling to the Bucs 31-26.
Matt LaFleur points fingers at defense and coordinator is out
Following the game, Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur specifically called out the touchdown surrendered just before half and how it was a major turning point in the game.
“It was man coverage — definitely not the right call for the situation and you can’t do stuff like that against a good football team and expect to win,” LaFleur said.
On Friday, less than a week after the painful loss, LaFleur appeared to take action based on that defensive lapse before half when the team announced defensive coordinator Mike Pettine wouldn’t be returning in 2021.
Pettine was one of the few coaches Matt LaFleur retained from Mike McCarthy’s staff when he took over the job in 2019. This season under Pettine’s leadership, the Packers ranked No. 9 overall in total defense, including the NFL’s seventh-best unit against the pass, yielding 221.2 yards per contest.
Despite the unit’s overall impressive numbers for the season, LaFleur believed it was necessary to take the defense in a different direction. Firing himself wasn’t an option after his own egregious playcalling late in the contest where he opted to kick a field goal instead of going for it on fourth down and potentially tying the game.
Whether Matt LaFleur’s decision to move on from Pettine is the right one, Packers fans will have to wait and find out next season. One thing that is certain is if the team achieves anything less than the NFC title game, LaFleur can expect his own seat to get a lot hotter. That’s what happens when you set the bar high in your first two seasons but don’t have any hardware to show for it.