“That’s kind of how I had an idea that maybe I was in the running for it,” LaFleur said.
Now, his job is to get Rodgers back to playing like a two-time MVP and former Super Bowl champion.
That was the focus of much of LaFleur’s public introduction Wednesday at Lambeau Field. From a 42-minute introductory news conference to a 33-minute side session with beat writers to a one-on-one on-camera interview with ESPN, much of the talk was about how the 39-year-old first-time coach would work with the 35-year-old quarterback to put the Packers back in the playoffs after a two-year drought.
In fact, just before team president Mark Murphy turned the microphone over to his new hire, Murphy said: “All right Matt, it’s been two long years here in Green Bay, we are ready to get back winning.”
While Rodgers did not take part interviews with any of the 10 candidates, it’s believed the only phone call he made to a candidate during the process was to LaFleur.
“The conversation went great,” LaFleur said. “I can tell he’s a passionate guy, and he wants to win. And I think that holds true for me as well. So I think we’re in alignment there because, like I said before, this game is about winning. I know that he wants to add to his legacy, and the only way we’re going to accomplish that is to win a world championship.”
Rodgers and eight other players met with Murphy before he hit the road with general manager Brian Gutekunst and director of football operations Russ Ball for the final seven interviews. Before that, they had met with Chuck Pagano, Jim Caldwell and Packers interim coach Joe Philbin.
“I think they wanted somebody that would hold players accountable,” Murphy said. “And the other thing that, and Brian can speak to this as well, he was there, [the players] talked a little bit about how they felt a complacency had set in among some players and coaches. So in my mind, that was something that as we went through the process, was kind of in the back of my mind, is there something we can do that can kind of shake people up so we don’t have the complacency.”
After the initial three interviews, the Packers talked to Patriots offensive and defensive coordinators Josh McDaniels and Brian Flores, Saints offensive assistants Dan Campbell and Pete Carmichael, Buccaneers offensive coordinator Todd Monken and former Dolphins head coach Adam Gase.
“Went through the nine, and quite honestly, no one really stood out,” Murphy said. “There were a lot of strong candidates, but there wasn’t one that just jumped out at us.”
And then came LaFleur, who had just finished his first year as the Titans’ playcalling offensive coordinator after previously working under Sean McVay as the Rams’ non-playcalling offensive coordinator and under Kyle Shanahan as the Falcons’ quarterbacks coach.
LaFleur’s connection with two of the NFL’s most highly thought of offensive minds intrigued Murphy for how it could revive Rodgers, who just completed his least productive season as a starter. LaFleur not only will coordinate the offense in Green Bay but also will call plays.
“Anytime you’re the play-caller, you want that collaboration with your quarterback,” LaFleur said after his news conference. “Certainly we’re going to have a foundation in place of how we run our system. I think it’s a system that’s really predicated on building the run game with the pass game. We like to have plays, we like to say plays that start off looking the same but are different, plays that play off of plays. It lessens the predictability of what you’re trying to do, and it keeps a defense more off-balance. And if there’s one thing I can say in regards to a guy like Aaron, if you give Aaron time and you are unpredictable, he’s going to excel, because we all know the talent he has. That’s how we’re going to build this thing.”
“The one thing I’ll lean on is going back to Atlanta and coming in when you’re dealing with a guy in Matt Ryan who had had eight years in the league. So I’m going to draw back on that experience. Again, it comes down to developing that relationship, that trust, especially with the quarterback. Honestly, I’m not going to have any preconceived notions moving forward. I’m just want to try to develop the best relationship with Aaron because he is a key piece to the puzzle and a key reason why we’re going to get to where we want to go.”
Shortly after the phone call ended with Rodgers, LaFleur’s phone rang again. It was Murphy and Gutekunst.
Murphy offered him the job.
“It went kind of quiet [and Murphy though] ‘Oh, geez, did the connection break?'” Murphy said. “The first thing Matt said was, ‘I’m speechless.’ I knew then that this was genuine excitement. I’m really, really excited. I think we have found a gem in Matt and really excited about the future under his leadership.
LaFleur was in the car at the time. His wife, BreAnne, was driving, and they were on their way to pick up their two young sons, Luke and Ty, from school.
“I thought we were going to get in a car accident,” LaFleur said. “She was at the wheel. It was incredible. When I tell you I was speechless, I was speechless because there’s just so much tradition here and I can’t think of a greater place to be a head coach in this league, and really in all of sports. This is a dream come true for me.”
Marcus Peters, Sean Payton talk gumbo before Los Angeles Rams, New Orleans Saints
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Sean McVay couldn’t help himself. Marcus Peters was addressing what had become the dominant storyline heading into the NFC Championship Game, and the Los Angeles Rams‘ young, exuberant head coach tried to play along.
“Let me get some of that soup!” McVay shouted from a hallway that resides roughly 50 feet from the lectern behind which Peters stood Wednesday afternoon, drawing a chuckle from the All-Pro cornerback.
McVay’s quip aside, Peters and New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton both downplayed their rematch and potential “bowl of gumbo” heading into Sunday’s highly anticipated contest at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Peters chided the media for “trying to make it something that it’s not” and praised Payton’s competitiveness. Payton noted that the Saints wanted to draft Peters with one of their first-round picks less than four years ago, adding that he has “great respect for him.”
That did not appear to be the case in early November. The Saints handed the Rams their first loss in that Week 9 game, and the decisive score occurred when Michael Thomas zipped past Peters for a 72-yard touchdown in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, part of a 211-yard game for the Saints’ All-Pro wide receiver. Afterward, Payton said the following: “They were going to travel Marcus to [Thomas], and that was fine by us. We thought we liked that matchup — a lot.”
Four days later, Peters shot back.
“Tell Sean Payton to keep talking that s—,” he said. “We’re going to see him soon, you feel me? Because I like what he was saying on the sidelines, too. So tell him to keep talking that s—, and I hope you see me soon. We’re going to have a nice little bowl of gumbo together.”
In recognition of this turn of events, Peters tweeted, then deleted, a post proclaiming this “gumbo week.”
He then tried to downplay it all.
“I see y’all trying to make it something that it’s not, man,” Peters said. “Just all respect to Sean Payton and what he does. During the game, things was happening. But I just love the fact that he’s a competitor. When I was coming out of the draft, it was the same way — fiery, energy — when I was meeting with him and things like that. It wasn’t nothing to be disrespectful. Shoot, I was pissed off. I didn’t have the game that I wanted to have.”
Despite the loss that afternoon, the Rams went on to win the NFC West with relative ease, then earned a bye and physically dominated the Dallas Cowboys in the divisional round. The Saints finished with the same 13-3 record as the Rams, but earned the No. 1 seed by virtue of that victory and put themselves one win away from the Super Bowl by sneaking past the defending-champion Philadelphia Eagles last weekend.
Now, Peters and Payton will match up once more.
Saints reporters approached Payton about the subject by asking whether he preferred chicken and andouille over seafood gumbo.
“Next question,” Payton said, smiling. “I don’t like seafood. I know where you’re going.”
Asked a follow-up on Peters, Payton identified him as “someone that we grew real close to” in the evaluation process heading into the 2015 draft, which saw Peters go to the Kansas City Chiefs with the No. 18 overall pick. Payton used to recruit the Bay Area, where Peters attended high school. And the Saints’ plan heading into that year’s draft was to select both Peters and offensive lineman Andrus Peat.
“That’s the truth,” said Payton, who ultimately drafted Peat and missed out on Peters. “I have great respect for him, and it’s all good.”
Peters can now benefit from the emergence of another All-Pro cornerback in Aqib Talib, who was still recovering from ankle surgery during the Rams’ first game against the Saints. Talib’s presence means neither he nor Peters will travel and instead stick to one side of the field, allowing them to potentially alternate against Thomas.
“You got two dawgs,” Peters said when asked about the significance of Talib joining him in the backfield.
“It gives you some flexibility,” McVay added, citing Talib’s “command” and “ability to communicate.”
Peters experienced what appeared to be a down season in his first year in L.A., coming up with only three interceptions while being graded 100th among 119 qualified corners by Pro Football Focus. His response, when asked about how 2018 played out: “We ain’t done yet.”
Peters has a chance to ensure that by redeeming himself.
“You look forward to those rematches and stuff like that,” Peters said, “but s—, I didn’t know it was going to turn out like this. Y’all didn’t know it was going to turn out like this. It just happened. Y’all have fun spinning the gumbo thing all week.”
Marquise Goodwin, Morgan Goodwin-Snow discuss loss of unborn twin boys
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin hadn’t discussed why he stepped away from the San Francisco 49ers for two games during the season to tend to a personal matter. As it turned out, that personal matter was another devastating loss for him and his family.
On Wednesday, Goodwin and his wife, former University of Texas track star Morgan Goodwin-Snow, released a video on their YouTube channel explaining that they again had gone through the anguish of losing unborn children.
This time, Goodwin-Snow explained, more pregnancy complications led to the loss of the twin baby boys they had been expecting.
“November obviously would be tough since we lost our kid last year during the season the week of the Giants,” Goodwin said in the video. “So it was tough for us this November just dealing with that but had a lot of strength and we made it through that week and another thing happened. This November, I had to miss two games. We experienced another traumatic event in our life that we had to overcome and it was tough at that point in the season, but I’ll let Morgan go into detail on that.”
According to Goodwin-Snow, she was about 19 weeks pregnant when she went into pre-term labor in November. She began having contractions, had been in and out of the hospital and was placed on bed rest in the days before the 49ers headed to Tampa Bay for a Nov. 25 game against the Buccaneers. She ended up back in the hospital again after waking up at 3 a.m. with painful contractions.
At the hospital, Goodwin-Snow’s water broke and complications led to her losing both of the babies.
“We knew that this was a possibility, obviously, because they’re sticking me with stuff in my stomach underneath anesthesia,” Goodwin-Snow said in the video. “So that happened in November, which is why [Goodwin] missed two games and we’re trying to make it, praying and going through that. But we’re just taking it day by day.”
Before losing their twins, the Goodwins had just hit the one-year anniversary of the loss of their previous child, whom they planned to name Marquise Jr., on Nov. 12, 2017. Goodwin-Snow was nearly halfway through that pregnancy when the baby was delivered stillborn. At the time, Goodwin-Snow encouraged her husband to play against the New York Giants later that day.
Goodwin not only played but scored an 83-yard touchdown that ended with him blowing a kiss to the sky, dropping to his knees and saying a prayer in the end zone.
After that loss, the Goodwins said they wanted to share their story in hopes it could help someone else going through something similar. They continued to spread their message of hope and faith in public settings and to those who reached out for help. For this year’s “My Cause, My Cleats” initiative, which allows players to show support for the cause of their choice, Goodwin chose the March of Dimes, a nonprofit that works to improve the health of mothers and babies to prevent birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality.
The outpouring of support the Goodwins received last time as well as the stories they heard from others going through their own struggles spurred the release of Wednesday’s video and another heart-wrenching story of loss.
“It helped last time just move past it and kind of finding our way,” Goodwin said. “A lot of people reached out, and that was cool. A lot of people sent us things last time, and it just helped to know how much we were loved by the people we’ve come in contact with and even the people that we haven’t physically met. Just to see how much you guys love and support us, we definitely appreciate that.”
After explaining their family trauma, the Goodwins added video of the private gender reveal video they had shot in which they found out both babies were boys. Because of their previous experience, the Goodwins intended to keep the pregnancy a secret until they felt comfortable with the health of all involved.
“I was afraid of another loss, so I was gonna hold out until I reached a certain point to where I really couldn’t hide it anymore,” Goodwin-Snow said.
At the end of the nearly 14-minute video, the Goodwins teased another forthcoming video documenting the travels they have planned this offseason. Last year, they ventured to the Maldives and Thailand, using travel as an escape. They did not reveal where they plan to head next but made it clear that, with all they have been through in the past couple of years, they can still lean on each other to get through some of life’s most crushing blows.
“[We’re] taking it day to day and just comforting each other and doing different things to keep our minds busy and each other busy,” Goodwin said. “The dogs definitely keep our hands full. Traveling, we’ve got a lot of news to tell you all about that and just showing each other love any time that we can. We appreciate y’all for supporting us so much through this time.”
New England Patriots embracing rare role as underdog heading into AFC Championship game
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Bet Against Us. Most weeks, that slogan would be appropriate for the New England Patriots‘ opponents. This week, however, it’s what wide receiver Julian Edelman is rolling with as the Patriots enter the AFC Championship Game as underdogs against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Edelman and the Patriots are consensus 3-point underdogs against the top-seeded Chiefs — the first time that New England, with quarterback Tom Brady, has been an underdog since Week 2 of the 2015 season against the Buffalo Bills.
The last time the Patriots were underdogs entering a playoff game was January 2014, when they went to Denver and lost to Peyton Manning and the Broncos.
The Patriots have apparently noticed the anomaly. And they’re jumping on the opportunity to use it to their advantage.
Edelman posted a hype video Wednesday on his Twitter account with the accompanying hashtag #BETAGAINSTUS. He followed with a link selling T-shirts that say “Bet Against Us” in a silhouette of the Patriots logo.
Edelman was unavailable for comment Wednesday during an open locker room.
Calling the Patriots underdogs almost seems like an oxymoron considering the team’s overwhelming success in recent years. This is their eighth straight AFC Championship Game appearance, and they are looking to reach their third straight Super Bowl and fourth in five years.
Brady was asked Wednesday about what it feels like to be underdogs several days after saying “everybody thinks we suck and can’t win any games” following a 41-28 divisional-round demolition of the Los Angeles Chargers.
He began with a shoulder shrug and a smile.
“Doesn’t change much for us,” Brady said. “It shows you, kind of, what people would think of what our chances are. That is about it.
“No more added comments,” he added with a big smile.
Does it at least provide added motivation for a team so used to being the hunted?
“If you’re not motivated this week, you’ve got major problems,” Brady said. “This is the week where you shouldn’t have to put everything extra in. This is what it’s all about. You sign up any chance you get to play in an AFC Championship Game. I don’t care where, when, time, cold, weather, rain, blood. Don’t matter.”
The latter part of the response mirrored the message of coach Bill Belichick earlier in the day.
Chiefs edge rusher Justin Houston laughed at the notion of the Patriots sucking or being looked at as underdogs.
“Yes, I think [Brady’s] just trying to get himself and everybody else over there fired up,” Houston told reporters Wednesday. “Everybody knows it’s the Patriots. It’s their eighth year of winning, making it to the AFC Championship. I think it’s for himself and the Patriots.”
Regardless, it’s not going to earn them any extra points Sunday or special treatment this week. It’s business as usual in Foxborough.
“Bill doesn’t treat us any different if we’re underdogs or favorites or any of that,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty said. “It’s all about just being ready to go out there and win a football game.”
Only this time if they win it can be viewed as an upset. But as Edelman’s T-shirts note, doubt them at your own peril.
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