No coach in the Super Bowl era can match Matt LaFleur’s 33 wins in his first 40 games. Thursday night’s dramatic and impressive 24-21 win over the Arizona Cardinals improved LaFleur’s coaching record with the Packers to 33-7 and set a new record for excellence to start a coaching career.
LaFleur’s 33 wins beat both Chuck Knox and George Seifert, who were 32-8 in their first 40 games. He also passed Don Shula for the best win percentage in his first 40 games as coach. The record is now LaFleur’s at .825.
In the history of the game, only Guy Chamberlin – who coached the Canton Bulldogs in the 1920s – has more wins in his first 40 games as coach.
Thursday night’s win was the best of the bunch for LaFleur. In fact, it was his most impressive regular-season win as coach and there isn’t a close second. The Packers, without four All-Pro players and several other starters, marched into Arizona on a short week and beat the previously undefeated Cardinals, first overcoming a 7-0 deficit and then escaping with a dramatic end zone interception with 12 seconds left. Without three starting receivers and an All-Pro left tackle, LaFleur cooked up a terrific plan to mitigate the losses and dialed up clever play calls that consistently allowed the Packers to move the football with backups playing all over the field.
He was kicking himself after the game for a few calls in the red zone, and those calls can be examined at greater length at a later time. But the fact that the Packers scored 24 points – and really should have scored 31 points or more – against the fourth-ranked scoring defense in football without so many key pieces is something to be celebrated.
And what about the defense? No Joe Barry, no problem. The Packers defensive coordinator remained in Green Bay after testing positive for COVID-19, but Jerry Gray and Kirk Olivadotti did a terrific job communicating the calls and getting the Packers into the right looks. The Cardinals scored just 21 points, marking only the second time all season Kyle Murray and Arizona’s offense scored fewer than 30 points. And the Packers got three takeaways, including the game-sealing takeaway in the end zone.
Aaron Rodgers is a huge part of LaFleur’s success but he certainly isn’t the only part. His scheme revitalized a great talent at quarterback, lifting him to an MVP season in 2020. And on Thursday night, Rodgers threw 37 passes for only 184 yards, showcasing how the Packers can beat a great team despite not getting a Herculean effort from the quarterback.
LaFleur’s teams went 13-3 in each of his first two seasons as coach and are now 7-1 – with seven straight wins – to start 2021. This is a special coach leading a special team with a special quarterback. Can all these ingredients, from top to bottom, finally get over the last hurdle and play for a Super Bowl? Wins like Thursday night certainly make it seem possible.
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