Packers must figure out how to avoid flameouts like Sunday's loss at Tampa

The Green Bay Packers don’t lose often with Matt LaFleur in charge, but when they do, it’s often in hideous fashion.

LaFleur has won 18 of 23 games, including playoffs, since he took over as coach in 2019.

His first loss, in Week 4 last year, went down to the final minute before the Philadelphia Eagles came up with a deflection in the end zone to preserve a seven-point win.

The next four losses have all followed the same map to blowout city.

Sunday’s 38-10 road loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers sent the same message: When things go haywire, there’s no one to get them under control before it’s too late. The 28-point loss was the second worst in LaFleur’s tenure behind the 29-point loss at the 49ers last November, which came three weeks after a 15-point loss at the Chargers. Then there was the 17-point loss at the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game in January.

“We gotta play better,” Packers safety Adrian Amos said. “As simple as that sounds, that’s what we gotta do. We just gotta play better. We gotta execute better, we gotta adjust to what they’re doing well and what we’re not doing well. We just got to get better with that.”

LaFleur’s average margin of victory in his 18 wins: 9.4 points.

LaFleur’s average margin of defeat in his five losses: 19.2.

So why can’t the Packers seem to get things under control before they get out of hand?

“That’s a great question, because you’re right: The games that we have lost, I think there’s only been one close game, and that was Philly last year,” LaFleur said Sunday in Tampa. “And every other game that we’ve lost has just been kind of a butt-whuppin’.”

And LaFleur and his staff couldn't stop that from happening. They trailed the Chargers 9-0 at halftime and 19-3 after three quarters. They fell behind the 49ers 23-0 in the first half of the first meeting and 27-0 in the first half of the playoff game.

Even when the Packers led 10-0 against Tom Brady and the Bucs, Aaron Rodgers sensed something was off.

The energy wasn’t high in the huddle, substitutions were late getting to the field, players weren’t always lined up right -- and all of that prevented Rodgers from working his pre-snap magic at the line of scrimmage.

“I just think we were just not quite moving at our normal pace,” Rodgers said.

And then everything turned on two throws by Rodgers: a pick-six (just the third of his career) and another interception two throws later that set up Brady for an easy touchdown. The Bucs' defense pressured Rodgers, and no one on the offense, which carried the Packers to a 4-0 start, could handle it.

Rodgers posted a 35.4 passer rating, the second lowest in his career (in games in which he started and didn't leave because of injury), going just 2-of-7 for 10 yards while under duress. The Packers had a net loss of 24 yards on the 12 dropbacks in which Rodgers was pressured. Sure they lost left tackle David Bakhtiari to a second-half chest injury, but the game already was out of hand.

It was reminiscent of the regular-season beatings they took at San Francisco and at Los Angeles last year. Like the 49ers game, Sunday’s loss followed the Packers’ bye week. Like the Chargers game, Rodgers didn’t like how the team handled the days leading up to it.

“I think that we just need to take a good look at our practice habits,” Rodgers said Sunday. “A lot of times, you know, we talk about how practice and preparation equals game reality. That’s something that Matt’s talked about since the first day he got here. And I don't think our week of practice was that great. Offensively, I didn't feel like we had a good rhythm. You know, we went outside, it was windy, it was colder and, you know, I don’t think we practiced our best this week and obviously didn't play our best tonight.”

LaFleur put it more directly.

“You practice like crap and then you go out and play like crap,” he said.

The offense didn’t get any help from the defense, either.

While the Buccaneers showed off their speed on that side of the ball, the Packers couldn’t touch the immobile Brady and let a tight end who has lost a step, Rob Gronkowski, catch five passes for 78 yards and his first touchdown in nearly two years.

“I won’t say that we haven’t handled adversity well, because over this year and last year, everything wasn’t always blowouts our way,” Amos said.

Still, the Packers are 4-1 with four impressive offensive performances and one "stinker," as Rodgers put this one. They had the same record at this point last year and parlayed that into a 13-3 regular season plus a playoff win over the Seahawks before the 49ers stomped them out of the postseason.

Even if the Packers come back with an expected win this Sunday at the one-win Texans, at some point they'll have to show they can keep a game against a good team from getting out of hand to give themselves a chance at the end rather than watching Tim Boyle and a bunch of backups play out meaningless snaps like they did on Sunday.

"We just didn’t have answers," LaFleur said. "And again, it starts with me. I have to do better for our football team, and our assistant coaches have to do better as well."