I’ll say one thing about Matt LaFleur. When his teams lose, they lose.
Four of his five losses as Packers coach have been of the blowout variety. I have no idea how to explain this, but I think I’m ready to watch a heartbreaking, last second loss one of these days. It’s no fun watching your favorite team get pummeled on both sides of the ball for the better part of 60 minutes.
Just like last year, the Pack got embarrassed and outclassed in the game following their bye. After the game, LaFleur and Aaron Rodgers referenced a lousy week of practice leading up to the game. That’s an indictment of the coaches. Maybe the thing we should fear most is the Pack landing the top seed in the NFC. The bye week is probably the last thing this team would want.
After watching the Pack cruise past four hapless opponents to start the season, we knew this would be the first stiff test and they failed across the board. After jumping out to a 10-0 lead and moving the ball with relative ease early on, the script started dealing us surprises: a pick six by Rodgers (just the third in his career); a second pick soon after that which quickly put the Bucs in the lead for good, a complete inability to get any pressure on Tom Brady, a week after the Bears had him crumpled into the fetal position for most of the game; an ability to protect Rodgers (four sacks); and ultimately 38 unanswered points scored by Tampa Bay. 38.
After the game Rodgers gave the usual cliche answer about the beatdown, that maybe this is precisely what this team needed after the 4-0 start, that maybe they were listening to the noise outside the building about how good they were. Really? The combined record of the teams the Pack have beaten is 7-15. Yes, they were impressive in all four wins, but this game was a true litmus test.
The Bucs defense is precisely the kind of unit that this offense has struggled to figure out. Like San Francisco and the Chargers from a year ago, they combine a great pass rush with elite speed at the linebacker position–rendering the running game punchless and forcing Rodgers to play out of rhythm. I watch guys like Lavonte David and Devin White wreak havoc and wonder if the Pack will ever use high draft capital to find a linebacker that can cause that kind of damage.
For me, of all the problems the Packers had on Sunday, the one that surprised me the most was the inability to get to Brady. Zero sacks, hardly any pressures. What happened to the Smiths? Why didn’t Mike Pettine figure out a way to make some adjustments at halftime? To their credit, the Bucs played a near perfect game. Their DVOA of 97% was the highest recorded in decades. In their first four games, they were a penalty machine. They didn’t commit one on Sunday.
Their gift-wrapped loss to the Bears the previous week, along with Brady’s inability to count to four, clearly pissed them off and they rose up and delivered a spectacular performance, even getting Gronk to channel 2015 and look nothing like the washed up tight end he appeared to be in the first four games of the season.
The question is, how do the Packers respond? Their next two opponents (Texans and Vikes) have a combined record of 2-10 and if they take care of business and head to San Francisco for a Thursday night game at 6-1, this game will be remembered as a speed bump and a wake up call. But until they handle a good team, there will be questions as to how legit they really are.
Now we wait to hear about the seriousness of David Bakhtiari’s chest injury, as well as the prognosis for a number of banged up defensive players (Savage, Lancaster, Barnes and King). Dealing with Deshaun Watson and the Texans won’t be a walk in the park, despite their 1-5 record, though even the Vikings were able to beat them. If the Pack can’t bounce back, their perfect September will seem like a distant memory.