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GREEN BAY, Wis. — He stood on the sideline biting down amid the bitter winter cold, the outcome of his first playoff game as an NFL head coach hanging in the balance. At that tense moment, as 40-year-old Matt LaFleur waited for center Corey Linsley to flip a shotgun snap into the hands of his 36-year-old quarterback on a frigid Sunday night at Lambeau Field, the rookie coach of the Green Bay Packers was anything but chill.
The Pack had withstood a furious Seattle Seahawks second-half rally fueled by the improvisational majesty of quarterback Russell Wilson, and now, with Green Bay clinging to a five-point lead and facing a third-and-8 from its own 22-yard-line with 2:19 remaining, LaFleur had no intention of being passive; the thought of giving Wilson another shot at a game-winning drive was not appealing. He was going to put the Packers’ fate in this Divisional Round playoff game in the sublime right hand of Aaron Rodgers, and that was that.
As LaFleur watched, Rodgers receive the snap and look briefly to his left, the coach noticed something wholly unexpected on the other side of the play: Star receiver Davante Adams, who had already burned the Seahawks for a pair of touchdowns, broke off of a slant route from the slot toward the middle of the field and faded back to his right, drifting diagonally toward the Packers’ sideline.
Rodgers — gasp — had called an audible, and now, with four Seattle pass rushers collapsing the pocket and safety Ugo Amadi trailing Adams, it was going to take a pinpoint throw with a high degree of difficulty to keep the Pack from punting the ball back to the ‘Hawks.
As Rodgers would tell me as he stood at his locker following the Packers’ 28-23 victory, which propelled them into Sunday’s NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers in what figures to be a far more temperate Northern California setting, “I had a pretty good feeling about it before I let it go. It was my kind of night — cool and crisp — and the ball was coming off my hand pretty good.”
On this play, Rodgers summoned sheer perfection: Leaning slightly backward, he uncorked a glorious spiral, and 78,998 frozen fans skipped a heartbeat, and everything converged on LaFleur and crystallized in his field of vision: The ball; Adams; Amadi; safety Delano Hill, who was closing from the middle of the field; and the fate of a flawed but flourishing football team looking to obliterate a few unfriendly narratives and reach its first NFC title game in three seasons.
“Yeah, it was actually an audible,” LaFleur told me an hour after the game as we sat in his private office across the hallway from the Packers’ locker room. “I didn’t know that, until I saw the ball in the air. I looked up and saw Davante running past his defender, and I thought, ‘Oh, he must have called the pump (fake).’
“That was a hell of a call by Aaron. I called a quick-game
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