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LaFleur vows Packers will be 'relentless in that pursuit to get us over the hump'

Head coach discusses QB Aaron Rodgers, special teams, coaching staff in season-ending media session

Head Coach Matt LaFleur
Head Coach Matt LaFleur

GREEN BAY – The profound disappointment remained fresh and Head Coach Matt LaFleur admitted to still being a little numb Monday while discussing the end of the Packers' 2021 season with the media.

A surprise exit in the divisional playoff round was not what anybody had in mind for a team that had the No. 1 seed and a raucous Lambeau Field behind it while chasing a Super Bowl after multiple close calls in recent years.

But the end is as real as it is difficult – hard enough that LaFleur had "a pit in my stomach" just seeing the other down-to-the-wire playoff games on TV Sunday – but soon enough the Packers have to turn the page to the 2022 season.

"You've got to keep moving forward because like I told our team, nobody's feeling sorry for us," LaFleur said. "So you've got to pick yourself up from a tough loss and you've got to try to learn from it, whatever nugget you can take away from this, and just keep on marching on. That's the mentality. That's the only way at least I know how to go about our business here.

"We've got to keep searching for whatever it is to help us get over the hump, because obviously we haven't found it yet. And my commitment to this organization, to the players, our coaches, our fans, everybody is we are going to be relentless in that pursuit to get us over the hump."

After conducting meetings with his coaching staff and the team Monday morning and then meeting individually with players, LaFleur hit on a number of pertinent topics to wrap up the season.

LaFleur met with the soon-to-be four-time MVP quarterback on Monday but did not divulge any details of their conversation. Rodgers said after the loss to San Francisco he would begin contemplating his future soon – whether to keep playing and if so, if that would be in Green Bay – and indicated previously his decision(s) would not be drawn out deep into the offseason.

From the Packers' perspective, LaFleur said there's "no debate" amongst anyone in the front office that the desire is for Rodgers to return.

"I want to be respectful of his process, whatever he needs to go through to make the best decision for himself," LaFleur said. "Certainly we would love for him to be a Packer and be a Packer to the day he decides to retire."

Rodgers said Saturday night if he does continue playing, he doesn't want to be part of any rebuilding effort, and LaFleur stressed "there's no plan for a rebuild" despite numerous contract and salary cap challenges for 2022 that General Manager Brian Gutekunst and Executive VP/Director of Football Operations Russ Ball must work through.

"There's ways to move money and to make sure that we get the bulk of our key contributors back," LaFleur said. "Are there absolutely going to be some tough decisions? No doubt about it. But I'm really confident in Russ' ability and Gutey's ability and us collectively to figure out a way to do this thing."

Special teams

Season-long problems in the game's third phase showed up in a damaging way in the playoff defeat, and LaFleur went over the details on the miscues.

On the blocked field goal, the wing blocker mistakenly blocked the furthest outside rusher instead of the inside defender, safety Jimmie Ward, who stuffed the kick.

On the blocked punt, long snapper Steven Wirtel "should've gotten some help" as he was being knocked backwards by defensive lineman Jordan Willis, who deflected Corey Bojorquez's punt straight up in the air.

As for only having 10 defenders on the field for Robbie Gould's walk-off field goal, the coaches upstairs miscounted the Packers' number of players, and a player who wanted to go into the game was erroneously pulled off.

"Critical mistakes at inopportune times," LaFleur said in general, adding it was "embarrassing" for the season to end without 11 players on the field.

Looking ahead, LaFleur plans to examine everything, including studying how many teams use starters, such as the 49ers, rather than backup players on their units. He also acknowledged the inherent injury risk, though, which cost the Packers running back AJ Dillon for the second half Saturday night when he broke a rib on kickoff coverage.

"I don't think it's ever just one thing but certainly that will be a big-time priority I think for us moving forward, is to not allow something like this to happen again," he said.

"I've just got to make sure that we're all pushing to find every advantage we can – players, coaches, everybody involved, to be at their best, to give us the best chance to win because the margin for error in this league is so miniscule. There's not a lot that separates a lot of these teams, and that was so evident by the games (Sunday), evident in our game. You've got to find every advantage you can."

Coaching staff

The special-teams issues have naturally drawn questions about the future of coordinator Maurice Drayton, who replaced Shawn Mennenga this year after last season's special teams struggled. Drayton had been Mennenga's assistant.

LaFleur said the process of reviewing and evaluating his staff has not begun but he will "look at everything."

In addition, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett is a finalist to be the head coach for the Denver Broncos. If he lands that job, LaFleur indicated an internal promotion would be made to replace him, presumably either QB coach/pass game coordinator Luke Getsy or offensive line coach/run game coordinator Adam Stenavich.

"We've got so many good guys," LaFleur said. "It's not going to be an easy decision."