Defensively, an impressive year with regard to pressuring quarterbacks and turning the ball over was undone by an inability to stop the run in the NFC Championship Game in San Francisco.
LaFleur said he’s still working through all the post-mortem debriefing with his assistant coaches this week, and they’re looking for answers to what happened with both the scheme and the players.
“They definitely outcoached us,” he said. “I just didn’t feel like we played with the same urgency, the same tenacity, the same toughness. We didn’t set the edge the same as we had been earlier this season. It’s disappointing because it’s not like we didn’t know what they were going to try to do. We knew exactly what they were going to try to do. We knew they were going to run the football.”
The reason behind the lack of intensity and energy in the biggest game of the year, and on the verge of the Super Bowl, is a question that might nag at LaFleur the entire offseason.
“That’s something that I’m still trying to figure out right now as we speak,” he said. “I mean, I don’t understand that, because you’re there. You have an opportunity to go to play in a Super Bowl and for that to happen, it’s extremely…it’s bothersome.
“We have to look at ourselves, everybody. I’m gonna look inside of myself and see why weren’t our players playing with their hair on fire. I think everybody in our organization has to do that.”
On the whole, LaFleur has established the culture he wants – buy-in to the plan, players who care about one another, the 1-0 mentality. What he doesn’t know are the roadblocks and obstacles that are around the corner.
The 2019 Packers were extremely healthy, and they never experienced a losing streak. They also won a ton of close games, which is hard to do year after year, and there will be different expectations thrust upon them from the outside after getting as far as they did. He emphasized nothing will be easy.
“I do think next year is going to have its new set of challenges, and it’s going to be difficult,” LaFleur said.
“We’re gonna have to battle through some adversity that maybe we didn’t have to experience this first season. Like I said I am excited, I’m optimistic. But it’s gonna be done one day at a time.”
The closeness and chemistry in the locker room will be a challenge to replicate as well, with inevitable roster change afoot. Every team has its own dynamic, and LaFleur’s first one had a special one.
But as with any aspect under LaFleur’s leadership, the base has been built, and the players know what it feels like. The goal now is to make it the starting point for everything that follows.
“It was definitely one of the closest locker rooms I feel like I’ve been a part of,” LaFleur said. “That’s why it hurts so bad to go out that way, because these guys put everything they had into it. Listen, I know it wasn’t always pretty or whatever, but the fact of the matter is, as a team we found a way to win 14 games. Anytime that comes to an end, it’s tough, especially when you have a bunch of great guys, like we do.
“It’s not where we want to finish. We want to finish hoisting that trophy up. Until we do, we’re going to keep working. But I like the resiliency of everybody involved here, just the mindset, and we’re going to keep plugging away.”