GREEN BAY – Packers Head Coach Matt LaFleur and General Manager Brian Gutekunst conducted their season-ending news conference via Zoom on Monday morning.
Here are five things learned from their calls:
1. The Packers Are Committed To Aaron Rodgers As Their Franchise Quarterback
In all likelihood, Rodgers will join an illustrious group of quarterbacks this weekend who have won three AP NFL MVP awards during their storied careers.
Yet, questions have swirled since the Packers’ loss to Tampa Bay in the NFC Championship Game about how the future Pro Football Hall of Famer fits into Green Bay’s long-term plans.
Both LaFleur and Gutekunst were asked that very same question Monday and were emphatic in their response to the organization’s commitment to Rodgers in 2021 and beyond.
“There’s no doubt about it,” LaFleur said. “You’re talking about the guy that’s going to win the MVP of the league. We’re not in this position without him. I couldn’t be happier with just not only his performance but how he led our football team, all the little things he does within that locker room to ensure that everybody is locked in, focused and ready to go. Absolutely he will be here for a long time.”
Rodgers started all 16 games and completed 372 of 526 passes for 4,299 yards and 48 touchdowns with five interceptions on his way to a ninth Pro Bowl team and fourth All-Pro selection.
Rodgers’ 121.5 passer rating was the second-best single-season mark in league history behind only his 122.5 rating in 2011, while his 48 TDs and 70.7 completion percentage established new single-season franchise records.
In the aftermath of the Packers’ loss to the Buccaneers, Rodgers spoke about needing time to recharge after a grueling year and acknowledged the uncertainty that follows the sudden end to a season.
Rodgers said during his weekly Tuesday appearance on “The Pat McAfee Show” his comments were centered more on there not being any absolutes in this business, adding he didn’t think there was “any reason why I wouldn’t be back.”
Gutekunst concurred, praising Rodgers as “arguably the best player that I’ve ever seen or been around” and emphasizing “he’s going to be part of our future and we look forward to all the runs we’re going to try to make here over the next few years.”
While the Packers drafted Utah State quarterback Jordan Love in the first round last April, Gutekunst and the organization have been steadfast in their assertion Rodgers is the franchise player they hope to build another Super Bowl team around.
That stance certainly hasn’t changed in the wake of Rodgers recording one of the greatest statistical seasons for an NFL quarterback and the Packers advancing to the NFC title game for the second consecutive year.
“What we’re trying to do as an organization and what we’re trying to accomplish we can’t do without Aaron Rodgers right now,” Gutekunst said. “He’s such a part of what we’ve done. He’s such a part of what we’re doing right now and certainly in the future.”
LaFleur ‘couldn’t be happier’ with Aaron Rodgers’ performance and leadership
2. The Packers’ Search for A New Defensive Coordinator Is Underway
The Packers will have a pair of new coordinators in 2021 after LaFleur announced Friday that Shawn Mennenga has been dismissed and Mike Pettine will not return after his contract expired.
LaFleur said he’s already tabbed assistant coach Maurice Drayton to replace Mennenga, believing Drayton’s energy and excellent communication skills will spur the turnaround the Packers are looking for on special teams.
On the defensive side, LaFleur plans to conduct a thorough search to find the right individual to elevate the league’s ninth-ranked total defense.
“I think if you look at the great defenses around the league, there’s a certain (aggressive) mentality that comes with that,” LaFleur said. “And it’s not necessarily what you’re calling, but how you’re playing every call. I do think that there’s some areas where we can continue to educate our players and be great in those situations so that if it’s a third down and short, that you’re not playing way off. You don’t want to give up any freebies. You want to make people earn every inch out there on grass.”
It should be an attractive job. The Packers have a good balance of established Pro Bowlers (Za’Darius Smith, Kenny Clark and Jaire Alexander) and up-and-coming talent (Darnell Savage, Rashan Gary and Kingsley Keke).
“I think we’ve steadily gotten better,” Gutekunst said. “We’re not there yet. I don’t think we’re where we want to be completely but I do have a lot of faith in a lot of the players that are on that side of the ball and being able to accomplish what we needed to do. … I think we’re moving in the right direction.”;
3. LaFleur stands by his decision to kick the field goal
While much has been made about the Packers opting to kick a field goal late against Tampa Bay, LaFleur stands by the decision and everything that went into it.
LaFleur said he spoke with one of his analysts in the press box when the Packers were down 31-23 and facing fourth-and-8, and believed it was a situation you could go either way.
Knowing the Buccaneers would still have a chance to play for the win even if Green Bay tied the game at 31, LaFleur sent out Mason Crosby because he felt “it was the best thing to do to give us the best opportunity to win the game.”
“Let’s say you score and get the two-point conversion, you still have to stop them regardless,” LaFleur said. “No matter how you cut it, you had to get a stop defensively. I felt our defense was playing at a really high level at that moment.”
The defense nearly got that stop, too, before back judge Perry Paganelli flagged cornerback Kevin King for defensive holding on Tyler Johnson on third-and-4 with 1:46 remaining to give Tampa Bay a fresh set of downs.
“I’m not sitting here making excuses. It didn’t work out. I’ll own it,” LaFleur said. “But if I had to do it again, if it’s fourth-and-goal from the 8-yard line, we’re kicking a field goal. If it’s fourth-and-goal from the 5, I think we have a different discussion. You’ve got to play the percentages.”
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4. Don’t bet against David Bakhtiari_
The Packers’ offense was dealt a heavy blow when five-time All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari was lost for the season with a significant injury sustained in practice prior to the regular-season finale against Chicago.
Gutekunst doesn’t want to put any timelines on when Bakhtiari will be able to return next season but is encouraged about the franchise left tackle making a full recovery after speaking to Bakhtiari, who has been rehabbing in Green Bay.
“The way he goes about his business and how hard he works, I don’t put anything past him,” Gutekunst said. “He’s a unique NFL football player that way. It’s a significant injury, obviously, and he’s such a big part of our franchise moving forward, long-term, that we’re not going to rush that one because he’s just too important to us. But I don’t put anything past him, that’s for sure.”
5. Green Bay excited to keep developing Jordan Love and other young quarterbacks
While the Packers have every expectation of Rodgers being their quarterback for years to come, Gutekunst and LaFleur are both bullish about Jordan Love’s potential and like the strides he made during his rookie season.
Gutekunst likens it to the route the Packers took under Hall of Fame GM Ron Wolf when they developed Mark Brunell, Matt Hasselback, and Aaron Brooks behind Favre for many years.
“I know that maybe that’s not the norm to have quarterbacks sit for a long time but we certainly believe in that,” Gutekunst said.– Gutekunst
“The way we developed those guys and always feeling good about having a guy that if something happened to Brett back in those days or even when we had Matt Flynn when Aaron was here that if we needed to go to somebody else because of injury or anything else that we were able to do that – we believe in that. This probably won’t be the first time we draft a quarterback and try to develop him because we just think it’s such an important part of the game.”