The Green Bay Packers got what they asked for: an NFC Championship game on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field. The only thing they did not get: a favorable result. A crushing 31-26 defeat to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, adds to a painful history for Green Bay in the title game.
There are many moments to point to in any loss. Some you can charge to the game, others, like in this game, you are left puzzled.
Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, calls Cover 3, with Kevin King (who was burnt toast all game) playing inside technique and no safety help. Bucs quarterback Tom Brady saw Scotty Miller (yeah, who?) one-on-one, took the shot outside, and connected for a 39-yard touchdown. This pushed the lead going into the half, to 21-10 Tampa. This, however, was not what cost the Packers the game, but it was pretty damn bad.
Let me be clear: It was 3rd & Goal and 4th & Goal decisions, late in the 4th quarter, that doomed the Packers.
Green Bay, who’d been other worldly in the “gold” zone all season, were held in check by Tampa’s stellar defense. The Packers found themselves in that zone late in the fourth with a chance to tie the game. After missing connections with Davante Adams on the first two downs, Rodgers locks onto him again and misses. Despite having Allen Lazard wide open. Puzzling decision.
Rodgers also could have run the football on that down and made a much closer 4th & Goal situation. Another puzzling decision.
Conventional wisdom would tell you it’s four down territory. Goal-to-go situation, in a championship game, where a touchdown and 2-point conversion are needed to tie the game. Then came the most puzzling decision of all.
Packers head coach Matt LaFleur opted not to go for it on 4th & Goal, and kicked a field goal with just over 2 minutes remaining in the game. LaFleur bet on his defense to get the ball back from Tom Brady, a bet that would prove unfruitful. A horrendous pass interference call against Kevin King (of course) sealed the Packers’ fate and sent the Buccaneers to Super Bowl LV.
The most painful part of this, at least for me, is how a great team won’t be playing for a World Championship.
This was a great team that is now left with the pain of questionable decisions. An offseason to let it stew. Another offseason of healing from the wounds of a self inflicted, crushing defeat.