GREEN BAY — Aaron Rodgers and Matt LaFleur are acutely aware just how much scrutiny their working relationship has been under and will continue to be under.
The Green Bay Packers veteran quarterback and first-year head coach don’t watch the hot-takey sports television debate shows, read what Rodgers not-so-affectionately calls the clickbait headlines, or spend much time scrolling through their Twitter mentions.
But they know that when moments like the one that happened just before halftime of Sunday’s 21-16 victory over the Minnesota Vikings — when FOX Sports’ cameras caught Rodgers and LaFleur mid-disagreement following a third-down incompletion — people will be paying attention.
Here’s the thing, though: When such animated discussions occur — and they happen all over the NFL each week, even if those other ones don’t draw the same attention — it’s what happens afterward that matters most. And on Sunday, instead of their barking at one another leading to festering issues or passive-aggressive post-game press conferences, the two worked through the issue and moved on.
“It actually wasn’t a big deal,” said Rodgers, who was seen on camera saying something to the effect of “What do you want me to do?” while gesturing toward the field as he walked toward the sideline and LaFleur. “We’re a little animated at times. I can’t say we were yelling how much we love each other, but we definitely weren’t MF-ing each other or anything.
“I was actually kind of surprised that he was coming over to talk about that, but we got it all sorted out over there on the sideline.”
The play in question came with 30 seconds left in the first half, after Rodgers threw incomplete to tight end Jimmy Graham on third-and-10 from Green Bay’s 19-yard line, forcing a punt. LaFleur came off the sideline displeased with the play, and he initiated the conversation. Rodgers then responded.
“That’s just two competitive guys. And I’m sure it’s not going to be the last one we have,” LaFleur said. “Just competitors. Heat of the moment.”
Asked if he was OK with Rodgers’ reaction to him, LaFleur replied, “Yeah. I would much rather have that than anything else, because you want guys that are extreme competitors. And that’s what he is.”
Rodgers’ relationship with LaFleur’s predecessor, Mike McCarthy, drew similar attention during their time together, especially in the weeks leading up to McCarthy’s firing last December. The dysfunction that their relationship sometimes showed only fueled interest in how Rodgers and LaFleur would get along.
What TV viewers at home didn’t see after Rodgers and LaFleur’s on-field exchange was what happened after tempers had cooled. During the Vikings’ second offensive possession of the second half, LaFleur left the sideline and came to the Packers’ bench area, plopping down right next to Rodgers with his play-sheet in hand.
Rodgers said the only head coach who has ever done that with him was interim head coach Joe Philbin, who took over for McCarthy with four games left last season. While he said he and McCarthy would talk through issues on the sideline while the defense was on the field, he said McCarthy had never actually sat down on the bench with him.
“Yeah, this is kind of new,” Rodgers said. “He came over and sat next to me on the bench. We (usually) spend time — sometimes when the defense is out there or during the TV timeouts — talking about what happened the previous possession or what we like moving forward.
“(But) it’s different. (And) it’s definitely helpful, when he’s bouncing stuff off — ‘Do you like this? Do you like that? Do you want to start with this? You want to get to this?’ It doesn’t have to be (sitting together on the bench). Obviously, I did that with Mike a bunch. I’d kind of go to over where he was at. But Matt likes to get cozy on the bench.”
LaFleur said his confidence in having defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, a former head coach himself, on the sideline with him allows him to sit with Rodgers if he wants. Other coaches, including LaFleur’s former boss with the Los Angeles Rams, Sean McVay, do the same thing.
“I just want to make sure that he and I are on the same page and that we’re calling things that he feels comfortable with. Because I know this, if he feels confident in it, it's got a lot better chance of working,” LaFleur said.
“There’s no question with Mike and (special-teams coordinator) Shawn (Mennenga), I’ve got all the confidence in the world in those guys. … It certainly helps having Mike Pettine, him having been a head coach before. That affords me that ability to go sit there with Aaron in those situations.”