A lot went into Packers’ game-clinching first down

Packers RB Aaron Jones
Packers RB Aaron Jones

GREEN BAY – The first down that sealed the Packers’ victory over the Vikings on Sunday was not as simple as it looked.

It also showed the trust Head Coach Matt LaFleur has in his team.

It came on second-and-6 from the Green Bay 40-yard line, the first snap after the two-minute warning. Minnesota still had two timeouts, so LaFleur made an aggressive call with a play-action bootleg to quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ left.

The body control and footwork required under pressure to connect with receiver Davante Adams on the crossing route were tricky, but Rodgers and his top target pulled it off to get the Packers to 2-0.

“I can’t say enough about the execution level,” LaFleur said on Monday. “The defensive end, Anthony Barr, was straight up the field in his face. He had to flip his hips and hit Davante going to his left. That’s not easy to do. There aren’t too many guys who can make that throw. That was a great job by those players.”

The Green Bay Packers won 21-16 against the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field.

The first down was the second in a row for the offense after taking over possession with 3:14 to play and protecting a 21-16 lead. The first came a 13-yard gain by running back Aaron Jones on a well-blocked zone run to the right on which Jones found a huge cut-back lane to his left.

Jones then picked up four yards on first down before LaFleur decided to change it up with the play-action, saying the bold call was about “trusting your players.” He showed he had faith in his unit despite it producing just four first downs in the second half before that drive and going three-and-out on its previous two series.

The Packers had run a second-down pass in similar circumstances in Week 1 at Chicago, trying to run out the clock, but it was incomplete. It allowed the Bears to still have one timeout left when they got the ball back one last time.

But LaFleur was undeterred.

“I know everything hasn’t been … we haven’t done as well as we’d like to on the offensive side of the ball, but I still have a lot of confidence in the players we have out there,” he said. “Anytime you have confidence in those guys you’re going to tend to be more aggressive.”

That said, there’s certainly plenty of work to do on offense after the Packers were shut out over the final 44 minutes of Sunday’s game. LaFleur still has high expectations for the group while being “realistic” about the early-season growing pains.

Multiple failed short-yardage situations were frustrating, where one missed block stalled a drive. LaFleur referred to those as under the team’s control to get better.

He also noted there were a few throws that were close to jump-starting things, but the Vikings just made good plays on the ball. Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling both had passes batted out of their hands at the last second by defensive backs, and Valdes-Scantling also made an airborne grab near the sideline but got shoved out of bounds before he could land.

“When you look at it, there are a lot of plays that we were close on,” he said. “I know it doesn’t count for much, but it does give our guys a little more confidence. It’s never as bad as it feels.

“You make those plays and you might feel a little different today.”

As for the injuries from the game, safety Raven Greene left the field on a cart with an ankle injury, and LaFleur would only say that he won’t play this week vs. Denver. (Later Monday, the Packers placed Greene on injured reserve, meaning he's out a minimum of six weeks of practice and eight weeks of games.) Also, he did not indicate whether inside linebacker Oren Burks (chest) is ready to return to practice this week or not. Burks has been out since the first preseason game on Aug. 8.

He did lend insight into the biggest special-teams play of the game, which was a result of LaFleur being keenly observant.

After the Vikings scored on Stefon Diggs 45-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter to get within 21-16, Diggs was flagged for removing his helmet. LaFleur had the option of taking the 15-yard personal foul on the ensuing kickoff or on the PAT, and he chose the latter because he saw the Vikings were leaving their offensive personnel on the field to go for two points.

“I wanted to take that away from them,” LaFleur said. “I’d much rather take that on the kickoff, but just that situation, with the potential to make it a three-point game, I said I don’t want to risk that.”

If the Vikings had still wanted to go for two, the penalty would have moved them back from the 2-yard line to the 17. Instead, the kick was moved back from a 33-yard try to a 48-yarder, and Packers cornerback Tony Brown blocked it.

“I’m glad we took the penalty,” LaFleur said.

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