The Green Bay Packers’ 2020 season came down to one decision. And it was the wrong decision. As time passes, more and more people inside and outside the organization will realize how wrong it was.
After landing in a 28-10 hole that created a clear sense that the game was over, the Packers clawed back. A pair of touchdowns (and a dropped two-point conversion) made it a five-point game, 28-23, with 24 seconds left in the third quarter.
The game then went Buccaneers interception, Packers punt, Buccaneers interception, Packers punt before an eight-play, 44-yard Tampa Bay drive ended in a 46-yard field goal, making the score 31-23.
The Packers got the ball with 4:42 to go. Six plays later, they had a first and goal at the Buccaneers’ eight. First down? Incomplete pass. Second down? Incomplete pass. Third down? Incomplete pass. Fourth down? Field goal.
Field goal? Yes, field goal. Field goal, despite having access to one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, a player on the brink of completing a comeback even more impressive than the one accomplished by the Seahawks against the Packers six years earlier in the NFC Championship. Field goal, despite giving the ball back to one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, a player who is good enough to ice the game under those circumstances (which he did).
Why not go for the touchdown? Quarterback Aaron Rodgers chose his words carefully when discussing the situation, pointing out that it wasn’t his decision and that he didn’t have much of a chance to push back on the call made by coach Matt LaFleur.
“I look over to the sideline, I see five big guys running on the field,” Rodgers said of the moments after the third-down play. “There’s a lot of gymnastics that has to happen to get us to be able to go for it there. But I don’t know. That decision was made, and we moved on.”
LaFleur surely will wonder whether he made the right decision. Rodgers surely will wonder whether he should have asserted himself more, even if it meant calling one of the team’s timeouts.
Yes, the Packers still needed to score from the eight, if they’d gone for it. Yes, they also had to convert a two-pointer. But kicking the field goal meant they had to get the ball back and then score another touchdown.
Failure on fourth and goal from the eight would have given the Buccaneers the ball on the eight, perhaps setting the stage for a more careful Tampa Bay drive and, in turn, a greater chance of getting possession again.
That said, they would have had to stop Brady. But they still had to stop Brady.
Basically, LaFleur’s decision to take the field goal underestimated two GOATS in one moment. He underestimate his own GOAT in Aaron Rodgers, and then he underestimated the other GOAT in Tom Brady.
Brady proved LaFleur wrong. Rodgers didn’t get a chance to.