The Green Bay Packers forced two turnovers in the fourth quarter and scored zero points off of them, but in the final half of the fourth quarter, they were knocking on the door of the end zone.
Then, Matt LaFleur elected to kick a field goal.
It wasn't as simple of a decision as that, of course, but the outcome is what Packers fans will remember when they reflect on the painful finish to Sunday's NFC Championship Game. Green Bay needed a touchdown and a two-point conversion to complete an unlikely comeback effort, and had the ball on Tampa Bay's 8-yard line with first-and-goal. Three straight incompletions later, LaFleur was faced with a key decision, and sent out Mason Crosby to drill a 26-yard field goal.
The kick cut the lead to five, and the Packers never drew any closer. The Buccaneers ran out the remaining clock, buoyed by a timely pass interference on third down that ended Green Bay's chances.
"Anytime it doesn't work out you always regret it, right?" LaFleur said afterward about not going for it. "It was just the circumstances of having three shots and coming away with no yards, and not only needing the touchdown but the 2-point."
Rodgers had what appeared to be an opening to attempt to run for the needed touchdown on third down, escaping the pocket right with room to gain yards before unsuccessfully throwing across his body toward Davante Adams, who was in traffic. Rodgers admitted he thought he might have a chance to run with the ball on the play, but also said afterward he'd thought he would get a fourth chance at scoring, considering the circumstances.
When it came to fourth down, the call was out of his hands.
"I didn't have a decision on that one," Rodgers said before pausing before explaining further. "That wasn't my decision. I understand the thinking with above two minutes and having all our timeouts."
The call made sense analytically -- take the three, kick it back to Tampa Bay with three timeouts and the two-minute warning still coming -- but didn't play out in Green Bay's favor. After recording three takeaways in a tight game, the Packers couldn't force a fourth, or a desperately needed stop.
Kicking also stunned the Buccaneers, who realized they'd gotten off easy.
"I couldn't believe it honestly because there's no guarantee that you can make it back down there again," Buccaneers edge rusher Shaquil Barrett said.
Rodgers never received a chance to make it back down there, telling reporters afterward he felt "pretty gutted." Green Bay will have months to reflect on the decision to kick, and perhaps more importantly, the opportunities wasted earlier in the quarter when it couldn't convert turnovers into points. And after sending Packers fans home with many months of disappointment loaded into their vehicles, the Buccaneers are headed back to Tampa with joy after becoming the first team to play a Super Bowl in their own friendly confines.