Packers sit starters, fall to Raiders on field shortened due to end-zone turf issues
WINNIPEG, Manitoba – Aaron Rodgers briefly looked at a removable piece of the north end zone during early pregame warmups and one Green Bay Packers player asked an observer “Are we going to play?” as for the better part of four hours the team’s front office, team doctor and training staff expressed concern with two patches of end zone Thursday night at IG Field.
Rodgers and the Packers came out onto the field in full pads to get in their normal routine less than hour before kickoff — but league and team staff remained in the end zones, reviewing the amended areas as the pregame clock ticked down.
A Packers official had their team photographer take photos of the troubled areas and then the team streamed back to the locker room with 30 minutes to go on the clock — followed quickly by team and league officials, who declined comment.
The ultimate decision was to modify the game with no kickoffs and the teams beginning with the ball at their own 25. The goal lines were then moved to the 10-yard lines to make it an 80-yard field.
The Packers lost to the Raiders 22-21 on a late field goal by Oakland's Daniel Carlson.
“It was definitely different,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. “It was definitely different. But, hey, it was the same conditions for both sides and you just deal with it.”
The Packers brain trust was clearly bothered by the surface in each end zone, and then LaFleur was informed that the Raiders did not travel many of their starters and would not play any that did. He then elected to not play Rodgers and many other key players — 33 in all.
“We were going to have all of our starters play,” LaFleur said. “We certainly have all played on much worse surfaces in our life, but it was just one of those deals where they weren’t playing their starters, and so we just decided to sit them.
“I can’t even get into (the decision) because I stayed out of all those conversations. I said, ‘Hey just let us know what we’re doing and we’ll adjust.’”
Raiders coach Jon Gruden had no complaints.
“I’m not going to make a big deal about the field," Gruden told reporters. "We like the field. We thought the field was perfectly ready to roll. You’d have to ask Green Bay about that."
Rodgers said on the local television broadcast that his not playing had "nothing to do with (a tight) back, it's more the field conditions that we had tonight."
Tim Boyle earned the start for the Packers at quarterback and had a 113.9 passer rating for the first half, going 16-for-25 with 191 yards and two scores.
Wide receiver Trevor Davis helped his case for a roster spot with a strong all-around performance, taking a punt 17 yards (before slipping), turning a jet sweep upfield for 18 yards, making a leaping, contested 23-yard touchdown catch and grabbing a 20-yard catch-and-run screen pass in the first half. In the opening 30 minutes, Davis caught four balls for 66 yards.
“The plan was for me to play after (Rodgers), so they just kind of moved me up and I was able to start, which was fun; I had my first start and did well in the first half,” said Boyle, who gave way to DeShone Kizer for the second half. “I want a couple plays back, just play-call wise. I need to be a little more efficient in the huddle and then correct that.”
By sitting so many players, LaFleur said the game provided an opportunity to evaluate those who normally wouldn’t have gotten as much playing time. One Packers player said it reminded him of a scrimmage, and the change in dimensions definitely was on the minds of the skill players and specialists whenever the ball advanced that far.
“You had to really know where you’re at on the field. It was challenging, for real. It really was,” Packers defensive back Will Redmond said.
Packers safety Adrian Amos, who was one of the 33 players held out after warmups, said, “That would’ve messed me up.”
Packers offensive lineman Justin McCray laughed — he said on Tra Carson’s two-yard touchdown run in the first half he wasn’t quite aware they were on the goal line because the line of scrimmage was the 12.
“It was interesting because, especially when you get down to the red zone, you’re built to play the whole field so you look in the end zone, and you have to train yourself,” Boyle said. “We were out there feeling out the 10 to the goal line as the end zone. It was kind of weird. Thankfully I was able to throw two touchdowns in those vicinities today and the receivers were obviously aware of where they were. It was definitely a little awkward.”
The Packers did suffer some troubling injuries, as first-round pick Rashan Gary was carted off the field after being bent back awkwardly making a tackle in the first half (his management group later tweeted he was OK). Second-year wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown (left ankle boot), linebacker Curtis Bolton (right knee brace) and wide receiver Allen Lazard also left the game early.
On Thursday morning, PackersNews.com confirmed through the NFL that the league had deemed the surface to be in compliance. But the biggest problem the Packers had, beginning with general manager Brian Gutekunst’s thorough walkthrough about four hours before kickoff, were the patches laid over the holes where the Canadian Football League goal posts were located.
According to a statement provided by the NFL just after the game began, “the field met the mandatory practices for the maintenance of surfaces for NFL games based on an inspection (Wednesday). Concerns arose (Thursday) surrounding the area where the Blue Bombers’ goal posts were previously located.”
At various points of his long pregame inspection, Gutekunst would reach down and pull up the patches. Over the hours, Gutekunst was joined by Packers’ trainers, team doctor Pat McKenzie, executive vice president/director of football operations Russ Ball and president/CEO Mark Murphy. Oakland general manager Mike Mayock and the Raiders training staff were also involved in the conversations.
The grounds crew eventually tried to glue the patches down, but ultimately it was determined the teams wouldn’t play into the end zone. There were also two removable cylinders in the end zone with turf on top of them that the Packers were not happy with.
This was not the first time the Packers, or the league, has dealt with playing-surface issues. In 2016, the Hall of Fame game between the Packers and Indianapolis Colts was canceled due to an unplayable field in Canton, Ohio. Last year, the league moved a regular-season game in Mexico City between the Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs back to L.A. once the field was ruled unplayable.