In past years, beating the Detroit Lions wasn’t an impressive achievement, even on Thanksgiving. But the Green Bay Packers’ recent win was their best of the season. Opening the game as -8.5 point underdogs, the Packers upset the Lions in front of a national audience thanks to Jordan Love‘s evolving play and success in all three phases.
The Lions are a good football team for once, even though their performance in the last few games hasn’t been spectacular. But what makes Green Bay’s victory even more impressive was just how shorthanded the Green and Gold were on a short week.
Green Bay was down Aaron Jones, Luke Musgrave, Dontayvion Wicks, Jaire Alexander, De’Vondre Campbell, and Rudy Ford, not to mention other players who had missed significant time this season. They still went into Detroit and upset one of the NFC’s best teams.
Matt LaFleur probably called his best game of the season, which is becoming a common pattern in his career. When he’s missing his most prolific playmakers and facing tough opponents, LaFleur finds a way to squeeze everything he can from what’s available and pull out a win. It’s an admirable trait that proves why he is so valuable to this organization.
The victory over the Lions still came down to the Packers needing to recover an onside kick to win. But for most of the game, the Green Bay ate Detroit’s lunch (on Thanksgiving, no less). The offense was creative and well-executed. The defense was aggressive and generated turnovers. Special teams had some savvy plays and nicely controlled the starting field position for the offense.
LaFleur is a great play-caller, but he can get too cute on some concepts or make things harder than they need to be. That was not the case on Thursday when some of his best playmakers were down. Something about making the most of limited resources brings out his best.
We famously saw it in 2021 against the then-undefeated Arizona Cardinals. The Packers had Aaron Rodgers and were one of the NFC’s best teams. However, the Cardinals were 6.5-point favorites thanks to the Packers being down Davante Adams, Allen Lazard, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling.
Aaron Jones led the group in receiving yards, with 66 yards on seven receptions, and no Packer wide receiver had more than 30 yards. But LaFleur used his running backs and tight ends to carry the burden. He did just enough to scheme his inexperienced WR corps to exit the game with a 24-21 victory.
That Cardinals game and the Thanksgiving victory over the Lions are two of LaFleur’s best career games, but we’ve also seen him excel in similar situations. When Adams missed time in 2020, LaFleur turned Lazard and Robert Tonyan into focal points, elevating them to household-name status. When Aaron Rodgers missed a game at Arrowhead with COVID, he came close to beating the Kansas City Chiefs with an unproven Jordan Love behind center.
LaFleur has done a lot more good than bad for the Packers since 2019. He’s had some fair criticism this season thanks to questionable offensive line personnel choices, his coordinator choices, and seeing other teams do more offensively with less. LaFleur has also gotten unfair criticism from trolls claiming he’s a soft coach who coaches soft players.
But this back-against-the-wall game shows just how creative and mentally tough LaFleur can be and why he’s the right man to lead the venerable Packers. LaFleur always preaches accountability; these games prove it isn’t just lip service.
Maybe being shorthanded forces LaFleur to stop overthinking things, or maybe being viewed as an underdog lights a fire under the coach. Mike McCarthy once said the Packers are no one’s underdogs, and Green Bay’s new coach shares that thought process.
The type of game is particularly impactful for this young core that is still learning to win. A victory like proves that this team can punch above their weight class and compete with anyone.
Matt LaFleur has had a tough season, but he called his best game this year when his back was to the wall. He seems to be at his best when the chips are down. Whether it’s desperation or not being able to overthink the plan when he’s missing so many core players, these types of games show why LaFleur is the guy in Green Bay.