GREEN BAY – Every new step Matt LaFleur takes as the Green Bay Packers’ head coach is for the first time. His first practice. His first road trip. His first win and loss.
He has spent a decade in the league learning, watching. This is his first time doing.
So when LaFleur decided to fly his team to the West Coast a day early last week, he played his first cross-country road trip by the book. It’s a schedule predecessor Mike McCarthy employed many times.
How the Packers lost in their listless, 26-11 defeat at the Los Angeles Chargers invites open season on second guessing.
LaFleur’s team was outplayed in every phase against a team it was favored to beat in an environment where the majority of fans boisterously supported his team. Given how thoroughly it was dominated, how easily their four-game winning streak ended without a fight, the loss was stunning.
Maybe a more seasoned coach could have better read the tea leaves. That the Packers were a team brimming with confidence with their 7-1 start. That they had developed a sort of invincible feeling after winning four games without Davante Adams. That they were getting their top receiver back.
And, perhaps most of all, that they were taking the party out of Green Bay and placing it in the middle of downtown Los Angeles, and getting an extra day to enjoy that southern California atmosphere.
“I think anytime you go out and you put a performance like that,” LaFleur said, “that’s the first thing that comes to mind was, were we into it? We talked about it all week, that this game was going to take laser focus. When you’re sitting at 7-1 and you’re playing a team that’s 3-5, I don’t care, that was a good football team. And that’s what I told our guys.
“I don’t think I did a good enough job of preparing our players for what type of team they were about to play.”
The Chargers were a playoff team one year ago, their 12-4 record tied with the Kansas City Chiefs for the AFC’s best. Each of their five losses this season had come by one possession. Two came after turnovers inside the final 90 seconds when the Chargers were in range to tie the game.
All reasons that laser focus LaFleur referenced – the laser focus that was clearly missing Sunday – was so necessary.
After the game, quarterback Aaron Rodgers said it was important for everyone on offense to reevaluate how they used the extra day in California – the 48 hours before kickoff – to prepare for a game. Lack of preparation, as well as overconfidence, was a common refrain in the locker room, and not just from the offense.
“It was a wake-up call for us, man,” outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith said. “Because we went 7-1. And I don’t feel like it – but some people probably got comfortable in their situations. To lose a game shows a lot and brings us back to earth to where we need to be at work each and every day.”
LaFleur said Monday that nobody missed curfew Friday or Saturday nights. He did not say how late curfew was set, or if he loosened restrictions on how his players spent their time.
That’s not to say LaFleur held back in his postmortem. He said the defense needs to figure out its gap-integrity issues, a common problem this season. Same for the explosive plays it continues to allow. He said the offensive line didn’t play up to its potential. He said receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling needs to be put “in better spots” to produce.
LaFleur was hard on himself too, especially with the offense’s inability to find a rhythm.
“There’s no doubt,” LaFleur said, “I was not patient enough with the game plan.”
What’s unclear is whether LaFleur will tweak his team’s game-week schedule, especially the next time it travels west. The Packers make a trip to the San Francisco 49ers, the NFL’s last remaining undefeated team, in three weeks.
LaFleur said he’ll meet with his staff to determine whether the schedule should be changed.
“I think any time you go out there and you have a game like that,” LaFleur said, “you kind of look at everything you did. I think all of us coaches, players, have to look inward and make sure we were doing the right things and really learn from that experience so we don’t have another one of those moving forward. Because we have another West Coast trip here coming up in a couple weeks and just want to make sure we’re doing the right things to get both mentally and physically prepared for a game like that.”
The 2019 Packers Schedule as of Nov. 4, With Scores Milwaukee Journal Sentinel