At the time, it was a questionable decision. The Packers had, on the first drive of Sunday’s game against the Falcons, driven to the Atlanta 28-yard line. But a false start penalty on third down was followed by a horrendous delay of game on fourth down—with the Packers lined up for a field-goal try from the 33-yard line.
That pushed Green Bay back to the 38-yard line of Atlanta and a field-goal try at that point would have measured 55-56 yards. Instead of taking a crack at it with rookie kicker Anders Carlson, Packers coach Matt LaFleur opted to punt. It was questionable then, but s the Falcons came back against Green Bay in the final period, it looked downright controversial.
It did not help that the punt did not work out so well, either, as punter Daniel Whelan sent the ball into the end zone for a touchback. The net effect: The Packers passed on a chance at three points to instead move Atlanta to the 20-yard line, one minute into the game.
Oh, but 59 minutes later, those points would have been very, very valuable. That’s because, after taking a 24-12 lead into the fourth quarter, Green Bay coughed up 13 points to Atlanta and lost on a field goal in the last minute, 25-24.
As beat writer Matt Schneidman of The Athletic wrote on Twitter, “A reminder that Matt LaFleur chose to punt on the opening drive instead of try a 56-yard field goal indoors with his rookie kicker with a cannon of a right leg.”
Falcons Running Game Punished the Packers
In the postgame, LaFleur said it was too long a try for Carlson, despite the fact that the rookie hit multiple 50-yarders in college, made a 52-yarder with ease in Week 1 against Chicago, and made a 57-yard try in the preseason. Added incentive: He was kicking indoors in Atlanta.
“It was a really long field goal,” LaFleur said in his postgame press conference. “I mean, that was a silly penalty. We can’t have that. Those are penalties that get you beat and, obviously, when you lose a game by one point, that’s one of the critical points in the game.”
Speaking with Packers radio color man Larry McCarren after the game, LaFleur said, “You can look at everything. It just gets magnified in a one-possession game, a one-point game. Shot ourselves in the foot early, in too many key, critical situations and you just can’t do that if you want to play winning football.”
The real problem for LaFleur was that the Packers had no hope against the Falcons running game, which tallied 211 on 45 carries. Bijan Robinson hammered Green Bay for 124 yards on 19 carries, and Tyler Allgeier added 48 yards on 16 carries. Quarterback Desmond Ridder ran 10 times for 39 yards.
“We couldn’t stop them,” LaFleur told McCarren. “Give credit to them, they have a really good scheme. They do a really good job up front coming off the ball, but they have two of the best runners. We knew that was going to be a problem and we did not have enough answers for it.”
Jordan Love Excelled, Again
The dominance in the run game allowed the Falcons to chew up large sections of clock, limiting the Packers to 46 offensive plays, to a whopping 77 plays for Atlanta. Quarterback Jordan Love was very effective when he had the ball—14-for-25 passing for 151 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and just one sack taken—but he did not have the ball enough.
“I thought Jordan looked really poised, I thought he did a really nice job,” LaFleur said. “I thought he was doing exactly what we asked him to do. Unfortunately, you look at the stat sheet and you have 40-something plays on offense, you just limit your opportunities. We have to do a better job getting off the grass and giving the ball back to the offense a little bit.”
The failure to even try a field goal back on the opening possession is easy to second-guess now, in hindsight. LaFleur is not wasting much time on that, though—he’s focusing on getting this team to play better in Week 3.
“Gotta get back to work, that’s the only thing you can do,” he said. “Everybody has to look at themselves critically, gotta be hard on yourselves, but that’s life in this league. A lot of games come down to one possession, one point, and you have got to find a way to make the plays when they’re there for you to make. Win or lose, you’ve got to learn and grow. And that’s what we’ve got to do.”