GREEN BAY, Wis. — Matt LaFleur said that while he did end up regretting his decision to take the ball out of Aaron Rodgers’ hands and kick a field goal with 2:09 left in the Green Bay Packers’ 31-26 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday, he trusted the thinking behind the move.
Down eight points (31-23) at the time and facing fourth-and-goal at the 8-yard line, LaFleur sent Mason Crosby in for a 26-yard field goal instead of giving Rodgers one more shot at the end zone (and then a 2-point-conversation attempt) to tie the score.
Crosby converted, but Rodgers never got the ball back thanks to Tom Brady and a pass interference call on Packers cornerback Kevin King that allowed the Bucs to run out the clock.
“Yeah, anytime it doesn’t work out, you always regret it, right?” LaFleur said after the game. “It was just the circumstances of having three shots and coming away with no yards and knowing that you not only need the touchdown, but you need the 2-point [conversion]. The way I was looking at it was, we essentially had four timeouts with the two-minute warning.
“We knew we needed to get a stop, and I thought we were going to have a stop there at the end, but we got called for [defensive pass interference] and it didn’t work out. I think anytime something doesn’t work out, do you regret it? Sure, but we’re always going to be process-driven here, and the way our defense was battling, the way our defense was playing, it felt like it was the right decision to do. It just didn’t work out.”
Rodgers understood the thinking but after the game said, “It wasn’t my decision.” He said LaFleur gave him the option to call the previous play on third down — a play that resulted in a scramble and a throwaway when Rodgers might have been able to run it.
Rodgers said he might have called a different play if he knew LaFleur was going to opt for a field goal.
“I thought maybe we were gonna have four chances to go,” Rodgers said.
According to ESPN’s Win Probability model, the Packers had a 10% chance of winning by going for it on fourth down and a 9.5% chance of winning by kicking a field goal.
The model also suggested the Packers needed a 21% chance of converting to justify going for the touchdown there, with a league-average conversion rate in that spot at 23%. The Packers were the No. 1 scoring offense this season.
Earlier, LaFleur opted for a 2-point conversation after Rodgers’ 2-yard touchdown pass to Davante Adams with 24 seconds left in the third quarter made it 28-23. Packers receiver Equanimeous St. Brown dropped Rodgers’ pass in the end zone. According to ESPN’s model, the failed 2-point try was the correct decision from an analytics standpoint.
However, by losing out on the one point they would have gotten for a made extra point, the Packers later found themselves in the position of being down eight and thus needing a touchdown and a 2-point conversation in the final minutes before their last field goal.
Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians said he thought the decision was the right one — “I thought that they had a lot of confidence in their defense at that point in time,” he said — but linebacker Shaq Barrett said he was surprised by what unfolded.
“I couldn’t believe it honestly, because there was no guarantee that they gonna make it back down there again, even if they was on fourth down — they might as well try,” Barrett said. “I know our offense — they’ve been amazing in the four-minute offense this year, not giving the team the ball — so I had the utmost confidence in them. But, I know if he could take it back, he probably wouldn’t do that next time.”
Although LaFleur wasn’t necessarily talking about the field goal decision, he said near the end of his news conference that he wasn’t on top of his game.
“I felt like we had plenty of opportunities tonight to take advantage of and get the job done,” LaFleur said. “We didn’t do it, and that falls on me, and that’s a tough pill to swallow when you’re responsible for everybody in this organization to make sure that you’re on your A-game, and I don’t feel like I was tonight. I’m just pretty disappointed that [I] let a lot of people down.”
ESPN’s Jenna Laine contributed to this story.