It’s understandable that the NFL world is pointing to Matt LaFleur’s mind-boggling decision to take the ball out of Aaron Rodgers’ hands with 2:05 to play. But the Green Bay Packers lost the NFC championship game the moment that Tom Brady and Scotty Miller connected on a touchdown pass for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers one second before halftime.
The play that put the Packers two scores down, and even Brady’s three interceptions in the second half couldn’t stop the Bucs from reaching Super Bowl 55 on their home field.
It’ll make for an offseason full of second-guessing in the media and – more importantly – in the locker room, which is never the recipe for getting ready for next season. The Packers have problems ahead in their offseason.
Allowing Scotty Miller to score was inexcusable
With eight seconds left in the first half, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers should have been angling for a quick completion to set up a more manageable field-goal attempt for Ryan Succop. Instead, Tom Brady threw deep to the left for second-year receiver Scotty Miller, who blew past fourth-year cornerback Kevin King for a 39-yard touchdown. Succop’s extra point gave the Bucs a 21-10 lead.
King deserves the blame that comes his way, but the gaffe wasn’t all his fault. The Green Bay Packers had him in single coverage with the safeties nowhere to be seen. And, one play earlier, Green Bay let Leonard Fournette convert a fourth-and-4 with a short reception.
In trying to pressure Brady and keep Tampa Bay from scoring three points, the Packers surrendered seven and made Aaron Rodgers’ job tougher.
Twitter absolutely noticed:
With 26 starts in four seasons under his belt, King is one of the veterans of the secondary, eclipsed in experience there only by sixth-year safety Adrian Amos. Corner Jaire Alexander, selected this season for the first time, is their only defensive back to have made a Pro Bowl roster.
That’s a continuation of the mediocrity that’s been a trademark of the secondary since the Packers let starter Tramon Williams and backup Davon House leave after the 2014 season. That was followed by a disastrous 2015 draft that necessitated bring back House in 2017 and Williams in 2018.
The Green Bay Packers need to take a long look at themselves
The Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl following the 2010 season but have now lost their last four trips to the NFC championship game. The most soul-crushing came in the 2014 playoffs when they led 19-7 and picked off Russell Wilson with five minutes to go but still lost to the Seattle Seahawks in overtime.
In the 2016 playoffs, the Atlanta Falcons tacked up 31 points before Green Bay got on the board. Last season, the San Francisco 49ers exposed the Packers’ 13-3 record as a fraud by racing to a 27-0 lead at the half.
And now they’ve lost twice to Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers this season. The first time was in Week 6 when Aaron Rodgers had his worst game of the year, recording two of his five interceptions for the season. Rodgers wasn’t the problem in the playoff loss, however.
They have two months before the start of free agency and three before the NFL draft to reflect on what went wrong. And despite a 26-6 record in two seasons under Matt LaFleur, it sure feels like they have problems. Scotty Miller showed them as much with a single, devastating catch.
The Packers squandered one of Aaron Rodgers’ best seasons
The Green Bay Packers must know that they’re not going to get another season from quarterback Aaron Rodgers like the one he just had. Certainly, Rodgers isn’t going to fall apart. But he turns 38 years old next season. Expecting him to approach the career highs he set in 2020 in completion percentage and touchdown passes while posting a 121.5 passer rating is unrealistic.
Lest we forget, the Packers were worried enough at this time last year that they moved up in the 2020 draft to select Utah State quarterback Jordan Love.
The Packers can probably keep banking on the mediocre division they play in not getting appreciably better in 2021. But that’s not going to go much for them unless it secures Green Bay a first-round bye. Meanwhile, it’s up to the Packers to stay in proximity to the conference’s best to have a shot of going to one more Super Bowl with Rodgers.
That assumes that it is still Rodgers taking snaps next season. The Packers have one too many quarterbacks, and everyone knows it. Rodgers has said previously he doesn’t assume he will retire as a Packer.
Their odds of winning next year are better with than without him. But they’ll be coming off a loss that may haunt them for years.
“I don’t know,” Rodgers said when asked about what’s next for him. “I really don’t know. There’s a lot of unknowns going into this offseason now. I’m gonna have to take some time away, for sure, and just clear my head and just kinda see what’s going on with everything. It’s pretty tough right now, especially thinking about the guys that may or may not be here next year. That makes the finality of it all kind of you hit you like a ton of bricks.”