GREEN BAY — Aaron Rodgers and Matt LaFleur both ticked off the plays, roughly 24 hours apart.
Both the Green Bay Packers quarterback, rattling them off in the immediate aftermath of the team’s 21-16 victory over the Minnesota Vikings, and the team’s first-year coach, going through the same routine Monday afternoon after watching the film, arrived at the same conclusion: The Packers offense clearly hasn’t hit its stride through two games, but it’s not as far off as it might seem.
“When you look at it, there were a lot of plays that we’re close on,” said LaFleur, who with Sunday’s victory became the first first-year Packers coach to win his first two games since Vince Lombardi in 1959. “I know it doesn’t count for much, but it does give our guys a little bit more confidence. It’s never quite as bad as it feels.”
After managing only 10 points, 213 total yards and a 2-for-12 third-down conversion rate in the season-opening win at Chicago, the Packers scored touchdowns on their first three possessions against the Vikings but then went their final 11 possessions without scoring. Those 11 series ended in eight punts, two turnovers and a turnover on downs when Rodgers was under the mistaken impression it was first down when it was actually fourth down.
For the game, the Packers finished with 335 net yards and a 5-for-15 third-down success rate, with 167 of those yards having come in the first quarter. The offense also converted all three of its third-down situations in the first quarter, meaning the Packers went 2-for-12 the rest of the game.
Rodgers took the blame for the offense petering out, saying while the run game was productive (32 carries, 144 yards, one touchdown by the running backs) the passing game didn’t pull its weight.
“We’ve just got to be a little more consistent in the pass game, I think. We ran the ball pretty well all day,” Rodgers said. “We started off really well throwing the ball and then we kind of went a little stagnant there. So we’ve got to find some better consistency in the passing game. I’ve obviously got to be more efficient there in quarters 2 through 4.”
It was during those quarters when Rodgers and LaFleur saw the same near-misses:
- On first-and-15 at Green Bay’s 30-yard line midway through the second quarter, Rodgers went downfield to Davante Adams, who would have reeled in a 32-yard completion if not for Vikings All-Pro safety Harrison Smith knocking the ball loose as Adams landed along the Vikings’ sideline.
- On third-and-6 from the Green Bay 20 at the end of the third quarter, Rodgers and Marquez Valdes-Scantling nearly connected on a high pass across the middle, but the play was broken up by safety Jayron Kearse.
- On back-to-back plays with 5 minutes left in regulation, on first- and second-and-10 at Green Bay’s 20, Rodgers hit Valdes-Scantling on a sideline route that was ruled incomplete when cornerback Trae Waynes rode Valdes-Scantling out of bounds before he could get his feet down, then Rodgers had running back Aaron Jones open on a wheel route down the sideline but underthrew him.
“We’ve got pretty high expectations. We have a high standard and we’re not going to deviate from that. (And) I’m trying to be realistic at the same time,” LaFleur said Monday. “But when you look at some plays that we had out there … Aaron made an unbelievable throw to Davante, but Harrison Smith made a great break on the play. We had the one to Marquez, it was a tough catch, and their defensive back did a heck of a job knocking that ball out. Those there were a couple plays that were just bang-bang plays. (And) the one to Aaron Jones down the sideline on the wheel route. You make those plays, you might feel a little bit different today.”
Despite those near-misses, LaFleur still had the confidence as the Packers were trying to run out the clock in the closing minutes to make an aggressive call on second-and-6 from the Packers’ 40-yard line. Instead of running the ball, he called a play-action roll-out for Rodgers, who hit Adams for 7 yards and a fresh set of downs. The Vikings didn’t get the ball back until there were 6 seconds left, and their long-shot lateral-fest ended with veteran cornerback Tramon Williams pouncing on a loose ball for the defense’s fourth takeaway.
“I think it’s trusting your players,” LaFleur replied when asked why he called that higher-risk play instead of running the ball. “I know everything hasn’t been (great). We haven’t done as well as we’d like to on the offensive side of the ball. But I still have a lot of confidence in the players that we have out there. So anytime you have confidence in those guys, I think you’re going to tend to be a little bit more aggressive.”