GREEN BAY, Wis. – Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur minced few words.
The New Orleans Saints “absolutely embarrassed” his Packers 38-3 in Sunday’s season-opening game in Jacksonville, Fla.
The 35-margin was the third-worst opener in franchise history and the worst in more than a half-century, dating to a 40-0 loss to Detroit to start the 1970 season.
“It’s very humbling, to say the least,” LaFleur said.
Maybe the piece of humble pie is just what the team needed on the heels of back-to-back appearances in the NFC Championship Game and a lot of talk about getting over the hump and winning this year’s Super Bowl.
“I think there’s probably some of that,” MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “We probably felt like we were going to go up and down the field on whoever they had out there, and that obviously wasn’t the case today.”
He added, "This is a good kick in the you-know-where."
Last season, Green Bay’s offense led the NFL in scoring, had probably the best red-zone performance in NFL history and finished second in third-down percentage. On Sunday, the Packers managed a feeble three points, had two red-zone turnovers and didn’t convert a third down until Rodgers’ day was over.
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With new coordinator Joe Barry, there was a lot of internal optimism surrounding the defense. Instead, six of the Saints’ first seven possessions resulted in points. Jameis Winston looked like Drew Brees on steroids. He threw five touchdown passes vs. six incompletions.
“Turnovers, penalties, lack of execution, can’t get off the grass on defense,” LaFleur said. “I think before that 2-minute drive [before halftime], we had 12 plays on offense. They were up 17-0 and we go down and you’re feeling good getting three points to make it a two-possession game, and then you start out the second half and you move the ball and you get down there and we had the turnover. You can’t do that, and then it just snowballs. It was just an all-around poor performance that starts with myself. I obviously didn’t get these guys ready to play.”
Considering the total domination, it’s fair to wonder if the Saints were more ready to play because many of their top players broke a sweat during the preseason. In the finale against Jacksonville, for instance, New Orleans’ No. 1 offensive line played 16 snaps and half the starting 11 on defense played more than 20 snaps. By contrast, most of Green Bay’s starters and key players spent the preseason hamming it up in street clothes.
While Rodgers didn’t see any correlation, saying preseason lacked “a lot of real football,” LaFleur wasn’t so quick to dismiss the second-guessing of his approach.
“Hindsight is 20/20,” he said. “You can look at a million different things that went on. I think those are all justified, how we approach the preseason. You feel good going into a game having the majority of your guys healthy and available, and then you go out there and put a performance like that together. I think you’re right to question everything that we decided to do.”
With a 26-6 record in his first two seasons, both of which reached NFC title games, there’s been little to second-guess on LaFleur’s resume beyond the final moments of last year’s championship game vs. Tampa Bay. His .813 winning percentage was the highest among all coaches with at least 25 games in NFL history. Only George Seifert won more games by any coach in his first two seasons.
Including playoffs, LaFleur’s record is 28-9. However, this is the third loss by 28-plus points and the fifth by 15-plus points. So, when LaFleur’s team is bad, it stinks.
Adding insult to insult, these are two heavyweights who could meet again in the playoffs. The Packers blew a golden opportunity to win a “road” game in front of thousands of their own fans and against a team without premier receiver Michael Thomas.
“We haven’t had too many of those,” LaFleur said. “I think offensively a couple years ago, one in Chicago [LaFleur’s debut in 2019] comes to mind, but our defense absolutely dominated and we stayed in the ballgame. Today, when you get both sides of the ball that are doing it, you get your ass whipped 38-3. So, that’s just what happened.”