GREEN BAY – Matt LaFleur was trying to stay as even-keeled and focused as possible this past week leading up to his first game as an NFL head coach.
He didn’t talk about the emotions of the event, or allow himself to get distracted by them.
But the first time he took a deep breath and let it soak in might have been when Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers briefly interrupted his postgame locker room speech to give him the game ball from his first victory Thursday night at Soldier Field. However brief, it was meaningful and emotional, even if LaFleur didn’t show it.
“It was a special moment,” LaFleur said Friday afternoon. “I think a lot of these guys, man. What’s so special to me, I can tell these guys are coming together as a team. I think they care about each other. It was more special just to enjoy that moment with our team and our players and our coaches.”
At some point during that postgame locker room celebration, Rodgers also told LaFleur he’d play better moving forward, after the 10-3 triumph over the Bears was an offensive struggle. LaFleur reciprocated the sentiment and certainly appreciated the game-ball gesture.
“Heck yeah, it always means something to me,” LaFleur said of connecting in that way with Rodgers. “I have such a high regard for him not only as a football player but as a person. I could sit up here and talk all day about how much I enjoy working with him.
“That really shows our relationship, how it is. I told him I need to be better for him, too, not only for him but all our guys.”
Getting the offense going will be the top priority heading into Week 2. Soldier Field was raucous and the Bears continue to sport one of the league’s top defenses, but LaFleur continues to say the standards and expectations “don’t change,” and the offensive performance didn’t meet them in the opener.
A greater commitment to the run game, which started to find some creases later in the evening, and harping on the urgency to get in and out of the huddle are two starting points for LaFleur. Too often the play clock was running down, resulting in a last-second snap, timeout or delay-of-game penalty.
“It speaks to the fact that we want to be able to operate at the line of scrimmage, and that’s why it’s important to get out of the huddle,” he said.
The Packers’ other two phases were on point pretty much the entire game. After reviewing the film, LaFleur felt the defense was “fast and aggressive,” with sound tackling and players “flying around.”
Navigating the game with Blake Martinez as the lone inside linebacker worked with the Packers playing a five-man front much of the game. Rather than categorize Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith as outside linebackers, LaFleur considers them pass rushers and therefore “bigs” in the defensive front, mitigating the need for another traditional linebacker next to Martinez.
The special teams star was punter JK Scott, whose game was labeled both outstanding and consistent. Scott put five of nine punts inside the 20-yard line and averaged a robust 43.6-yard net, topping Chicago veteran Pat O’Donnell’s strong night of his own (3-of-8 inside the 20, 42.5 net).
Look inside the Packers locker room after Thursday's opening win over the Chicago Bears.
But it’s the offense under the biggest microscope heading into Week 2. The unit overcame an awful first quarter to put together a touchdown drive and later twice work its way out when backed up near the goal line, the second of those efforts producing a field goal.
That’s not as robust an offensive foundation as LaFleur was hoping for, but moving forward now is all that matters.
“We used a lot of plays from our get-back-on-track menu, which is not a good thing,” LaFleur said, able to crack a bit of a joke given the victory in hand. “We’ll look at everything.
“I’ll tell you this, I do think the effort is there from our guys. We just have to continue to grind and work together to figure this thing out.”