By STEVE MEGARGEE
All the concern about how well Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur would work with veteran quarterback Aaron Rodgers have disappeared near the end of their second season together.
LaFleur, who came to Green Bay after one unremarkable season as the Tennessee Titans’ offensive coordinator, has teamed with Rodgers to make Green Bay one of the NFL’s most dynamic offenses.
“We’ve had a great time together,” Rodgers said. “We’ve been laughing all the way to the NFC championship (game) last year and back in the playoffs this year about any question about our working relationship. It’s been a lot of fun working together.”
The 41-year-old LaFleur has emerged as one of the league’s bright young coaches as he prepares to face his former boss Sunday night when the NFC North champion Packers (11-3) host the Titans in a matchup between two of the NFL’s highest-scoring teams. Mike Vrabel has the Titans (10-4) on the verge of a second straight playoff berth.
LaFleur has a 24-6 record at Green Bay and is one of only six coaches in NFL history to win at least 24 of their first 30 games. He’s come a long way since that 2018 season at Tennessee, when the Titans ranked 25th in yards per game and 27th in points per game while going 9-7 and failing to reach the playoffs.
Yet LaFleur says he learned plenty from that year working with Vrabel, who held everyone accountable, from his coaches to every player on the roster.
“He was really direct in his communication, laid out the expectations,” LaFleur said. “(They) were crystal clear for everybody. You knew where you stood and what your responsibilities were and what the expectations were. I thought he did an outstanding job with that. It’s something I’ve tried to carry over, as well.”
Last season, Green Bay went 13-3 and won plenty of close games by leaning heavily on its defense.
When the Packers struggled to score last season, it led to questions on how long it might take for Rodgers to get comfortable with LaFleur’s offense. The move from Mike McCarthy to LaFleur after the 2018 season was Green Bay’s first head coaching change since Rodgers took over as starting quarterback in 2008.
When the Packers traded up four spots to draft Utah State quarterback Jordan Love in the first round in April, speculation intensified about Rodgers’ long-term future in Green Bay.
Rodgers and LaFleur have responded by helping the Packers (11-3) boast one of the NFL’s most high-powered offenses. They jump on teams early by scoring 31 points per game, up from 23.5 last season.
And Rodgers has produced one of the finest seasons of his Hall of Fame-caliber career by throwing 40 touchdown passes and only four interceptions.
LaFleur has praised Rodgers throughout the season and called him the MVP front-runner last week. Rodgers has complimented LaFleur’s play-calling while noting how the team’s offseason Zoom sessions helped them build chemistry. Rodgers also credited LaFleur for assembling a quality group of assistant coaches.
“He’s got a great group of teachers, and I enjoy the working relationship, enjoy the friendship, enjoy the communication,” Rodgers said. “We’ve had a good run so far.”
Green Bay’s offense had one of its few hiccups last week, as the Packers scored touchdowns on their first three drives, but gained only 49 yards after halftime in a 24-16 victory over the Carolina Panthers.
That gives the Packers plenty of incentive as LaFleur gets ready to match up with Vrabel, who has noticed how well his former offensive coordinator has fared in Green Bay.
Sunday’s game will mark the first time the third-year Titans coach has matched wits with a head coach who once worked on his staff.
“I think Matt’s got a confidence to him about what he believes in,” Vrabel said. “I think he’s a hard worker. I think he’s got a toughness to him, having been in a lot of different places, worked his way up. Not afraid to move his family for another opportunity and then turn that opportunity into something else. Those are all really strong qualities. I do think he has learned from the people that he’s been around, and he’s been around a lot of great coaches.”
LaFleur looks forward to showing Vrabel how much he’s grown over the past couple of seasons.
“I really enjoyed my time in Tennessee, like I said, learned a lot,” LaFleur said. “Now I hope we come up with a good game plan, play our best football and go beat their butt.”
NOTES: Center Corey Linsley, who has been on injured reserve with a knee problem since Dec. 5, has been practicing this week. His status for Sunday’s game remains uncertain. “We’re still going to give it the week to see where he’s at, but he’s looked good in the limited action he’s been in there,” LaFleur said Thursday. … Running back Jamaal Williams (quadriceps), tight end Jace Sternberger (concussion/illness) and safety Will Redmond (concussion) haven’t practiced the past two days.
AP Pro Football Writer Teresa M. Walker contributed to this report.