CHICAGO — Aaron Rodgers wanted Matt LaFleur to have the game ball after the new Green Bay Packers coach’s first win, and he also wanted LaFleur to know something else after the quarterback and his offense struggled.
So after Rodgers kneeled on the final play of the Packers’ 10-3 victory over the Chicago Bears in Thursday’s NFL opener, he made sure he held on to the football.
He then gave LaFleur the ball and a message.
“It’s a big deal winning your first NFL game as a head coach, and I’m happy for him,” Rodgers said. “Obviously, it’s a lot of fun working with him. And I told him, ‘I’m going to be a lot better moving forward.'”
Rodgers cautioned in the days leading up to the opener that the offense would be a work in progress.
But it started worse than he thought.
After the first quarter, the Packers had minus-12 total yards — their worst single-quarter showing since 1994, which was Brett Favre’s third season in Green Bay.
When asked what he was thinking at that point, Rodgers said: “It can’t get any worse.”
It seemed like it might after he was forced to call a timeout before the first play of the next series. But then he hit Marquez Valdes-Scantling on a 47-yard deep ball to set up the only touchdown — an 8-yarder to Jimmy Graham.
Rodgers threw for just 203 yards on 18 of 30 passes and was sacked five times. Last year’s team-leading receiver, Davante Adams, caught just four passes for 36 yards, and the Packers gained just 47 yards rushing on 22 attempts (a 2.1-yard average).
“Really, the first quarter I think we had three drives, nine plays and negative yardage,” Rodgers said. “So, we came out in that next drive and hit Marquez and, you know, we had some opportunities for sure. We just had too many penalties tonight and just took off on a couple of plays. We’ve got to find ways to get the ball to Davante. I thought they had a good plan for him tonight. A lot of (coverage) on him and guys shading his direction. But the guys stepped up. Marques did a nice job. Jimmy did a nice job. Marcedes (Lewis) had some plays for us. Like we’ve talked about, we’ve got to keep getting that run game going because obviously that’s the catalyst. But they stuffed us really in the first 2½ quarters.”
Rodgers and the starting offense did not play at all in the preseason, but LaFleur wouldn’t go so far as to say it was a factor.
“Hindsight’s 20-20, and I knew if we didn’t come out and perform well, there were going to be questions asked,” LaFleur said. “We’ll evaluate everything going forward.”
Both LaFleur and Rodgers took blame for the struggles.
“That’s a really good defense, and they’re going to give a lot of people fits,” Rodgers said. “But I think from my standpoint, I can do a better job getting us out of the huddle, and obviously, I missed a couple throws.”
Said LaFleur: “There’s going to be a lot to learn tomorrow, and, you know, it starts with myself. Just can’t tell you how proud I am of the effort we gave, though, and to come out of here with a victory.”