By Amy Tennery
(Reuters) - Green Bay head coach Matt LaFleur infuriated fans and baffled analysts after deciding to go for a field goal with just over two minutes left in Sunday's NFC Championship game, despite the Packers on fourth and goal and trailing Tampa Bay by eight.
Instead of giving league MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers another shot, LaFleur sent on kicker Mason Crosby to narrow the deficit to five, betting that with three time-outs and the two-minute warning to come his defense would get the ball back.
He was wrong.
Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady ran out the clock to wrap up the game 31-26 and take his team to the Super Bowl, leaving LaFleur with nothing but regret.
"Anytime it doesn't work out, you always regret it," he told reporters. "It was just the circumstances of having three shots and coming away with no yards and knowing that you not only need the touchdown but you need the two-point.
"The way I was looking at it was we essentially had four time-outs with the two-minute warning and we knew we needed to get a stop," added LaFleur, who joined the team as head coach in 2019.
The Packers trailed 21-10 at the end of the second quarter but seized the momentum after halftime, intercepting Brady three times and putting up two touchdowns.
Quarterback Rodgers, who finished with 346 passing yards, three touchdowns and an interception, was "gutted" by the defeat and made it clear he did not make the call on the kick.
"I didn't have a decision on that one," said Rodgers, 37, whose sole Super Bowl victory was a decade ago. "I understand the thinking, above two minutes with all of our timeouts - but it wasn't my decision."
ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith could not believe what he was seeing, tweeting: "What the hell is LaFleur doing?"
Buccaneers linebacker Shaq Barrett was also bewildered.
"I couldn't believe it, honestly, because there's no guarantee that they're going to make it back down there again," he told reporters.
"I know if he could take it back he probably wouldn't do that, next time."
(Reporting by Amy Tennery; Editing by Peter Rutherford)