GREEN BAY, Wis. (WLAX/WEUX) – “I’m just pretty gutted. It’s a long season. You put so much into it to get to this point. We had our chances,” said Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Green Bay – Aaron Rodgers’ emotions were on his sleeve as he spoke to media in his post-game Zoom press conference after the Packers 31-26 loss to Tampa Bay in the NFC Championship.
A trip to Super Bowl LV in Tampa Bay slipped through NFC No. 1-seeded Green Bay’s fingers Sunday afternoon. They won the turnover battle, but Tom Brady and the Buccaneers scored 14 points off two turnovers while the Packers could only muster six points off three turnovers.
“We (were in a) different position than the last couple of these where we got blown out and you have a chance,” They went up three scores and we got them back a couple scores. The defense came up with some big turnovers. Yeah, we had a lot of chances, but yeah overall (I’m) just pretty gutted.”
So were the approximately 7,772 fans at Lambeau Field. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers celebrated becoming the first NFL team to play in a Super Bowl on their home field and accepted the George Halas Trophy as NFC Championships in a post-game on-field ceremony near the North end zone.
Quarterback Tom Brady, who will make his unprecedented 10th Super Bowl appearance, jogged to the edge of the Lambeau Field stands and politely asked a game-day staffer if he could speak to his son. Father and son shared a hug and conversation, with Brady stating, “We did it.”
Tampa Bay did it despite future hall of famer Brady throwing interceptions on three consecutive series beginning at the end of the third quarter. The Packers and Rodgers gamely rallied from a 28-10 halftime deficit to close with 28-23 with 7:30 left in the game on Rodgers’ 2-yard touchdown pass to Davante Adams.
A decision that will be debated all offseason cam after Ryan Succop’s 46-yard field gave Tampa an 8-point cushion, 31-23, with 4:42 left. Rodgers drove the Packers to the Tampa 8, but after three incomplete passes, head coach Matt La Fleur decided to kick a field goal and close the gap to 31-26 with 2:05 left.
Rodgers, the league MVP to come, said, “I didn’t have a decision on that one. That wasn’t my decision but I understand the thinking, above two minutes with all of our timeouts, but yeah, it wasn’t my decision.”
“They have a really good defense. That’s where some of the credit has to go, but we had some chances, we had some opportunities. We had a couple mental errors on some of those plays, which hurts, but we had some chances too. I felt good about the plays that were called and the opportunities. We just didn’t execute.”
Marquez Valdes-Scantling continued his rise this season and came up big in game that Tampa Bay was blanketing Adams.
The St. Petersburg native who starred at South Florida in Tampa had a stellar performance against his home-state team. Valdes-Scantling caught four of six targets for 115 yards (28.8 average) with one touchdown. In the first minute of the second quarter, he beat Bucs cornerback Carlton Davis III in one-on-one coverage down the right sideline for a 50-yard touchdown play to tie the game 7-7.
Linebackers Devin White and Shaquil Barrett spearheaded the Buccaneers defense that twice stopped the top-ranked Green Bay offense inside the 8-yard line and forced field goals and recorded five sacks and two turnovers.
White registered a game-high 15 total tackles and one fumble recovery. Barrett led Tampa Bay with three sacks, two tackles for loss, and four quarterback hits along with five total tackles. Not many defensive players can say they picked off Tom Brady in a single game.
Jaire Alexander accomplished that on the NFC’s biggest stage, intercepting Brady on consecutive possessions to start the fourth quarter. Alas, the Packers could not capitalize, going three-and-out after both turnovers. “We had our chances,” Rodgers said in his post-game press conference.
LaFleur post-game comments:
-“It hurts right now. I hurt for everybody involved. There’s a lot of effort to even get to this point throughout the course of the season. So many people, but mostly our players just being able to be resilient and deal with all the Covid stuff and everything else that is going on in the world. For them to be able to focus and bring great energy and effort each and every day and continue to get better, to buy into the team concept, that’s not always easy to do. That’s a special locker room. I love those guys. I love everything they bring. Like I said, I really hurt for those guys. You know, hurt for our fans, especially everybody that showed up today. You could feel the energy. But, just a resilient group to be down like that, to be able to battle back being down 28-10 and have multiple opportunities to go win a football game, I think that’s rare. I think that speaks to the character of that locker room, just how tough minded these guys are. When bad things happen, they don’t blink, they stick together. There was no finger pointing going on. But this one does sting. It’s going to take a long time getting over this one.”
-(regrets going for a field goal on fourth and eight) “Yeah, anytime it doesn’t work out you always regret it, right? But it was just the circumstances of having three shots and coming away with no yards and knowing that you not only need the touchdown, but you need the two-point. The way I was looking at it was we essentially had four timeouts with the two-minute warning, and we knew we needed to get a stop. I thought we were going to have a stop there at the end but we got called for the PI. And it didn’t work out, so I think anytime something doesn’t work out, do you regret it? Sure. But we’re always going to be process driven here. The way our defense was battling, the way our defense was playing, it felt like it was the right decision to do and it just didn’t work out.”
-(on Packers coverage on Tampa Bay’s touchdown going into halftime) “Yeah, it was man coverage. Definitely not the right call for the situation and you can’t do stuff like that against a good football team and expect to win. When you look at it, there was one hundred-and I don’t know twenty some-odd plays on both sides of the ball plus all the special teams. There were a lot of plays in that game that could have been made, that could have changed the outcome of the game. But the ones that really hurt us the most were that play and then to come out to start the second half, had the fumble and they score to make it 28-10, that really was the big difference in the football game. You just can’t do that stuff. I blame us as coaches for putting our guys in that situation. That’s inexcusable. That should not have happened. So we’ve got to take a look at it, do some self-reflection and try to figure out ways on how that can’t happen again.”
-(on if he thinks he’ll get another chance to work with QB Aaron Rodgers again next season) “I sure as hell hope so. I mean, the guy’s the MVP of this league. He’s the heart and soul of our football team. So, hell yeah, he better be back here. He’s our leader. Just so appreciative of him buying into what we’re trying to get done around here and leading that group. His voice carries a lot of weight in that locker room. And just you know, I feel for him, to be in this situation and for us not get it done, man, that hurts.”
-(on the offense’s play inside the red zone today) “You know, I just talked to (Nathaniel) Hackett about this right before we came in here and a lot of times when we got down there we did a really good job running the football and having actions off of it and then you look at it today and I think we probably had a little too much drop back. They did a nice job. They came out with a little different plan than what we were anticipating so you’ve got to give them credit. But I put that on myself, just not calling the right plays, the stuff that we did so well all season long. We kind of got away from it. And really that second half, specifically the fourth quarter, we just got out of our offense and that’s on me.”