GREEN BAY — First, Matt LaFleur wanted to make sure the person who’d asked the question understood how coin flips worked.
The Green Bay Packers coach was doing his usual day-after-the-game Q&A session with reporters Tuesday, roughly 16 hours removed from his team’s 35-17 victory over the Detroit Lions on “Monday Night Football” at Lambeau Field. And, he’d been asked, if he might consider taking the ball first in future games given how his team’s defense has struggled to find its footing in the first two games of the season.
“You do know,” LaFleur said, smirking, “that the Detroit Lions won the toss and took the ball, right?”
Yes, yes they did. But that wasn’t the point. LaFleur had no choice on Monday night, but he did a week earlier in the season opener, when the Packers won the toss and opted to defer to the second half, giving the New Orleans Saints the ball — as they have throughout LaFleur’s tenure.
“Shoot, I think every time we’ve won the toss here,” LaFleur said, “we’ve deferred.”
Right again. In the 38 games (including playoffs) that LaFleur has coached in Green Bay, the Packers have won the toss 18 times. Not once have they taken the ball.
Maybe they should start.
“I’ve always enjoyed the defer,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said after Monday night’s victory. “Obviously, you can’t always win the toss — but you can defer and have the double-up opportunity (to score) with the last drive of the first half and the first drive of the second half.
“That might be something that we might look at.”
That’s because new defensive coordinator Joe Barry’s unit has struggled in its first two games in his system, not only giving up early points but allowing the Saints and Lions to embark on long, time-consuming drives. While falling behind at halftime 17-3 to the Saints and 17-14 to the Lions, the Packers have watched their two opponents hold the ball for a combined 37 minutes, 47 seconds in the two first halves. The Packers offense has possessed the ball for a combined 22:13.
“That’s something we talk about before every game: What do we think is going to be the best for us to go win the football game? Whether it’s deferring or take the ball,” LaFleur said. “I would say traditionally, most teams defer.”
The Lions went against the grain on that Monday night, winning the toss, taking the ball and driving 75 yards in seven plays en route to a 5-yard Jared Goff-to-Quintez Cephus touchdown pass and a 7-0 lead. That put the Packers in the same place they’ve spent most of the season thus far: Trailing.
After never leading against the Saints, the Packers didn’t take their first lead on Monday night until Rodgers fired a 22-yard touchdown strike to tight end Robert Tonyan on the first series of the third quarter, 4:34 into the second half. The Packers never relinquished the lead, keeping it for the remaining 25:26.
“I haven’t found out if I like getting the ball yet. That’s a great question,” wide receiver Davante Adams said. “It’s been eight years now and I still don’t know what I personally like to do. I’m always pacing up and down the sideline just waiting to see what happens.
“I think that the idea is you want to be able to have your defense get out there first, so you can steal one and then get the ball back and ultimately end up with a 2-for-1 (chance to) score right before half and then get the ball back. So, I think I like that more.”
Whether LaFleur goes against his established modus operandi next Sunday night against the 2-0 San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium remains to be seen. But with a defense that, through two games, has shown a tendency to start slowly, even Rodgers acknowledged that it’s at least worth considering.
After all, last season, the Packers scored on their first offensive possession in 14 of the 18 games they played last year (including playoffs). And of the 10 games in which they lost the coin toss last year, the Packers wound up getting the ball first nine times. On those nine drives, they scored five touchdowns and a field goal.
“Every year’s definitely different. We’re learning about that,” Rodgers said. “Thinking back to 2016, when we went on that run, one thing that changed was we started taking the ball just to get the momentum going early in the game.”
Asked if he feels like this might be one of those years — like 2016, when the Packers won eight in a row following Rodgers’ run-the-table remark to reach the NFC title game — where the offense has to outscore opponents and win shootouts, Rodgers replied, “Maybe. You never know.
“We’ve got to start a little faster, for sure. We started slowly the first two games. (In a) hostile environment next week, we’ve got to start faster.”