the NFC championship game seemed within the Green Bay Packers’ grasp.
Down eight, 31-23, with 2:22 left in the game, the Packers stormed 58 yards down the field to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 8-yard line. There they had three opportunities on three downs; each were passing plays that fell incomplete.
But then there was the fourth opportunity.
Head coach Matt LaFleur, known for the “all gas, no brake” approach that propelled the Packers to a 13-3 record for a second straight season, pumped the brakes. Instead of taking another shot at the end zone on fourth down, LaFleur took his offense off the field, sent on kicker Mason Crosby and the field goal unit and settled for the three points.
The decision came as a shock to Buccaneers outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett.
“Hey, I couldn’t believe it, honestly,” Barrett said. “Because there’s no guarantee that they’re gonna make it back down there again, even if they was on fourth down. They might as well try.
“But I know if he could take it back, he probably wouldn’t do that next time. But I appreciate it.”
More importantly, the call surprised quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He didn’t know that LaFleur wanted to go for a field goal on fourth down. LaFleur granted Rodgers the liberty to call the play on third down, and he opted for an attempt to get the ball to wide receiver Davante Adams. It was a play design similar to one that the Packers ran in the second quarter that Adams caught out of the end zone.
But Adams crossed Rodgers’ face late and the Buccaneers collapsed the pocket, forcing Rodgers to throw on the move. Despite having some open field in front of him to run, Rodgers elected to throw the ball to Adams. When the pass fell incomplete, Rodgers was prepared to head right back to the huddle to prepare for fourth down.
“If I had known we were gonna kick it, if we had … get it, maybe something else would’ve been … maybe gone with some sort of crossing routes maybe there instead,” Rodgers said. “But I thought maybe we’re gonna have four chances to go.”
BRUTAL END:Disputed pass interference, not going on fourth down key plays in Packers’ loss to Bucs
KEY MOMENT:Buccaneers’ bold play call big reason why they are in Super Bowl LV
Rodgers said he understood the thought process behind the call to kick the field goal, but ultimately he acknowledged that he didn’t have a say in the decision to do so. The Packers still had the two-minute warning upcoming and all of their timeouts. LaFleur showed his confidence in the defense to make a stop and hand the ball back to the Packers offense.
Much to the Packers’ chagrin, their defense came close to a stop. A savvy decision by defensive coordinator Mike Pettine for the defensive front to jump across the line of scrimmage on second and 1 gave the Buccaneers’ offense a new set of downs but saved the Packers a timeout.