Why Aaron Rodgers and Matt LaFleur’s brief spat could be good news for the Packers
Near the end of the first half at Lambeau Field on Sunday, Aaron Rodgers’ ire started to rise. And in that precise moment, a few other things began to happen.
As Rodgers started barking at Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur on the sideline, Cheeseheads everywhere watched nervously with gritted teeth. Around the league, everyone else grabbed their popcorn, intrigued as to whether this was a momentary blast of hot air or the start of something spicier.
NFL teams learned a while ago that the best way of slowing Rodgers down isn’t by design, scheme, or tactic — the quickest route to success is when arguably the top quarterback in the league is not on the same page as his coach. When Rodgers sounded off on first-year head coach LaFleur in the middle of the Packers’ Week 2 rivalry game against the Minnesota Vikings, it brought to mind Mike McCarthy, the Super Bowl-winning coach who fell out of favor with Rodgers and departed with the QB’s irate voice still ringing in his ears.
For a brief moment, it seemed like the Packers’ season would be, “New coach, same old Rodgers, same old tension.”
Until it wasn’t.
— Green Bay Packers (@packers) September 16, 2019
By the early part of the second half, Rodgers and LaFleur seemed very much back on the same page, sitting next to each other on the bench for a while talking plays. By the time the team had squeezed out a 21-16 victory to begin their season 2-0, Rodgers was adamant there was no issue between the pair.
“It was about the look on defense,” Rodgers said of the sideline shouting. “I was actually kind of surprised that he was coming over to talk about that, but we got it all sorted out over there on the sideline. It actually wasn’t a big deal. We’re a little animated at times. I can’t say we were yelling how much we love each other, but … It was talking about the look there and getting on the same page.”
The explanations football players give for such disagreements should always be taken with a pinch of salt, but this one appears to be genuine. Rodgers is a competitor and plays the game passionately, and that’s not something that can just be switched off in the middle of a game.
But the way that he took pains to explain that the matter was not the start of a divide between himself and LaFleur was significant. That wasn’t the case with McCarthy, as Rodgers wore his disdain and their fractured relationship as clearly as if it were emblazoned on his postgame hoodie last season. Through it all, the Packers staggered to a dismal 6-9-1 in 2018, tallied just one road win and got nowhere near the postseason.
LaFleur knows the Packers’ success this time around – and probably his own job security – hinges on how he manages Rodgers. This kind of scenario, showing they can be productive while having frank exchanges, might actually make the coach’s position stronger.
“It’s just two competitive guys, and I’m sure it’s not going to be the last one we have,” LaFleur told reporters. “But you know, just competitors, heat of the moment, and it is what it is. I would much rather have that than anything else because you want guys that are extreme competitors, and that’s what he is.”
"Aaron Rodgers is starting to look like a shell of that guy who was THE guy. He was transcendent, he was the greatest thrower of the football in history, and I'm not seeing that guy anymore." — @RealSkipBayless pic.twitter.com/IEaqs7ssrD
— UNDISPUTED (@undisputed) September 16, 2019
Rodgers’ career excellence makes it somewhat surprising he has just one trip to the Super Bowl (a triumph over the Steelers in 2010) to his name. He and LaFleur are working through some things that they hope will make for a return to the big game, including a play-calling wristband Rodgers is still getting accustomed to. It’s a work in progress.
And so be it. Rodgers still has an incredible arm and remarkable vision. If the Packers have worked through some early teething troubles in these first two games and still come away with wins, it could be a sign of big things to come – as long as he and LaFleur stay on track.
LaFleur is 39, and in his first NFL head coaching gig. Earning Rodgers’ trust has been a vital step. Retaining that trust will determine whether his potential has a ceiling.
Up next are two more home games against the struggling Denver Broncos and the banged-up Philadelphia Eagles, followed by a visit to the in-form Dallas Cowboys. If the Packers reach that point unscathed, optimism will understandably be soaring.
If Rodgers finds the relationship with LaFleur to his liking, Green Bay has enough talent on both sides of the ball to compete with anyone. At this early stage in the season, Rodgers appears to be on a mission to show he isn’t a difficult QB to work with – but just don’t expect him to do it quietly.
"Aaron Rodgers is still Aaron Rodgers. He's played two very very good defenses and won both of those games. I like what I'm seeing from the Packers… They're only going to get better." — @ShannonSharpe pic.twitter.com/atVNIRykhW
— UNDISPUTED (@undisputed) September 16, 2019