Green Bay Packers: 12 Quick Observations from Brutal NFC Championship Loss

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) is run down by Tampa Bay Buccaneers outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett (58) during the 2nd quarter of the Green Bay Packers game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC championship playoff game Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.Packers Packers25 Mjd 07505
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) is run down by Tampa Bay Buccaneers outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett (58) during the 2nd quarter of the Green Bay Packers game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC championship playoff game Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.Packers Packers25 Mjd 07505 /

Ouch. I won’t speak for you, but for me, this was the toughest loss since the 2014 NFC Championship Game. Sure, there were two other NFC Championship losses sandwiched in between that one and yesterday’s, but this was easily the Green Bay Packers’ best chance to reach the Super Bowl since the game in Seattle.

Call me twisted, or maybe I just like pain, but I’ve already gone back and rewatched the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And in the process, I came away with 12 quick observations — I know quite a few — from Green Bay’s performance.

Offensive line struggles

It wasn’t as bad pressure-wise as the last time these two teams met, but again, the Green Bay Packers’ offensive line struggled. By many metrics, this group was the best offensive line unit this season, dominant for much of the year, but the Bucs appear to by their kryptonite.

I’ll have to see what the Pro Football Focus’ numbers say, but even upon rewatch, it felt like Rodgers wasn’t pressured as often as he was in Week 6, and they handled the blitz much better. But with that said, he was still sacked five times–the same amount as Week 6. The Packers’ tackles — Billy Turner and Rick Wagner — particularly struggled with Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett.

No pressure on Tom Brady

On the flip side, the Packers’ pass-rush was non-existent for much of the game. I said multiple times this past week that getting pressure on Tom Brady was going to be the biggest key to this game, but they were unable to do so. Green Bay logged just one sack, and for the most part, Brady faced little pressure. One of the few pressures that the Packers did generate was on a Darnell Savage blitz that ended in an interception for Jaire Alexander.

Green Bay Packers’ run defense and early downs

These two go hand in hand because of how Tampa runs their offense, and Green Bay was able to find success in these areas. The Bucs are a very run-heavy team on early downs, but Green Bay was ready with heavy boxes and allowed Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones to average only 3.2 yards per rush on 22 combined carries. This created several third and longs for Tampa Bay — which is exactly what you want — however, that is where one of the biggest issues in this game would come from. Green Bay couldn’t get off the field.

Green Bay Packers’ third-down defense

Tampa finished the game 9 of 14 on third downs, which equates to a smooth 64.2 conversion rate. And this is actually much lower than where they were at for much of the game. As I just mentioned, Green Bay did a nice job on early downs to create third and longs, but it didn’t matter. For much of the first half, the Bucs were able to convert.

This included 3 third-down conversions on the opening drive that resulted in seven points, a third and 13, a third and nine, and of course, the fourth and four before half. Tampa began the day 6 of 7 on third downs.

Can’t capitalize off turnovers

Turnovers were a big storyline coming out of Week 6, turnovers are what got Tampa Bay passed New Orleans, and despite winning the turnover battle today, it wasn’t enough as the Green Bay Packers’ offense was unable to turn those opportunities into points.

The Bucs finished the day with two turnovers that resulted in 14 points. The Packers, on the other hand, came away with three turnovers — impressive considering they were down 0-2 early — but the offense was only able to put up seven points. Down by five, Jaire Alexander came away with interceptions on back-to-back possessions, yet Green Bay couldn’t take the lead.

Marquez Valdes-Scantling

It was an up and down year for Marquez Valdes-Scantling, to say the least, but in a tough loss, let’s take the time to acknowledge his play today. From the opening snap to the last, MVS came to play. He finished the game with four receptions on six targets for 115 yards, at a whopping 28.8 yards per catch, with a beautiful 50-yard touchdown grab.

Maybe a performance like this on a huge stage is what catapults him to new heights in 2021.

Green Bay Packers’ 4th quarter offense

The rhythm of this Green Bay Packers’ offense was on and off all day. In the second quarter, we saw them move the ball with a good run/pass mix and utilizing the quick passing game. Then it went away. However, after the Adrian Amos interception, they were able to put together a long scoring drive playing Packers’ football. But then it went away.

I just mentioned how Green Bay was unable to capitalize off two Alexander interceptions as the offense did not look like the offense that we had seen for much of the year. Matt LaFleur and Aaron Rodgers went away from the running game and quick passing game to straight dropback, relying on Rodgers to make a play. The few times this has happened this season, it hasn’t worked, and it didn’t work in the NFC Championship game either.

Just too many mistakes to overcome

Despite being down by 18 at one point, this game was there for the Green Bay Packers to win. But ultimately, they just made too many mistakes to overcome. There was the Rodgers interception before half and the inability to score off turnovers. There was the 4th down touchdown that the defense gave up — I’ll get to that shortly — a dropped touchdown by Davante Adams, a dropped two-point conversion by Equanimeous St. Brown, and inefficiency in the red zone–I’ll also still be getting to this as well.

I’m sure there are other things that I’ve missed, but you get my point. Green Bay just made it far too hard on themselves, something that you can’t do against a Tom Brady-led team.

What the heck happened before half?

It’s really quite ironic, isn’t it? Mike Pettine, who was the ire of many fans this season for his soft zone defenses, went with man coverage on fourth and four in a fairly obvious shot play situation. Even the safety was shaded over to the other side of the field on that play, leaving Kevin King all alone, and Brady found Scotty Miller for an incredibly easy touchdown.

Now, given the situation, the play call was bad, even LaFleur said so after the game, but King is on the hook here as well for not being prepared for a deep route. This single play isn’t the sole reason why Pettine and King won’t be back in 2021, but it’s hard to envision either returning.

Red zone offense issues

The Green Bay Packers’ red zone offense was the best in the NFL during the regular season, scoring a touchdown over 80 percent of the time–an incredible rate. However, they were a bit off against the Rams in the Divisional Round, and it cost them on Sunday. Green Bay made four trips to the red zone but left with a touchdown only two times. As LaFleur mentioned in the tweet above, they “got away” from their offense in the red zone.

Choosing a field goal late in the 4th quarter

Hindsight is always 20/20, but I promise you, in the moment, I was dumbfounded that LaFleur decided to kick a field goal rather than go for the touchdown with just over two minutes remaining in the game. Sure, they had three timeouts and the two-minute warning, but with the game on the line, would you rather have Rodgers on 4th down from the nine-yard line or Tom Brady a first down away from icing the game? And even if the Packers did stop him, they’d still have to drive the length of the field to score a touchdown.

I know what I’d choose, I’m guessing most of you are with me, and even after the game, LaFleur admitted that he regretted the decision to kick the field goal. But, of course, hindsight is 20/20.

Rodgers will the Green Bay Packers’ QB in 2021

I can’t believe we are talking about this, but a few comments from Rodgers post-game now have some thinking he won’t be back in 2021. So I’ll say the same thing here that I said on Twitter: I’ve been wrong before, but Rodgers is under contract in 2021, moving on from him after this season would be so incredibly foolish, and do you really think he’s going to retire? He’s going to be the Green Bay Packers’ quarterback in 2021.

To put a bow on it and to hopefully end the discussion — I know it won’t — I thought Ryan Wood of Packers News summed things up quite well.