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To play or not to play? For Packers coach Matt LaFleur, that is the question | Pro football

GREEN BAY — Randall Cobb still remembers what happened at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh on Aug. 23, 2015. The Green Bay Packers veteran wide receiver also still remembers what happened six days later at Lambeau Field.

So now, seven years later, as coach Matt LaFleur mulls whether to play quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Cobb and other veterans in Thursday’s preseason finale at Kansas City — a decision LaFleur said Sunday he’s yet to reach — Cobb’s memories of 2015 are at the top of his mind.

That summer, the Packers were clear-cut Super Bowl contenders, with Rodgers coming off his second NFL MVP season and the roster motivated by an NFC Championship Game meltdown in Seattle that had cost them a shot at the team’s second championship in five years.

Then All-Pro wide receiver Jordy Nelson, after catching 98 passes for 1,519 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2014, tore the ACL in his right knee against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Not only were the Packers’ championship hopes essentially dead, but the organization flipped a switch on its approach to preseason games.

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From then on, the risk far outweighed the reward.

The next week against the Philadelphia Eagles, Rodgers didn’t play at all, and the rest of the offensive starters played just one series — three plays, as it turned out. And on that third play, a third-and-9 from the Green Bay 21-yard line, backup quarterback Brett Hundley threw a pass to Cobb who caught the ball, landed on his shoulder, had a defender land on top of him — and Cobb suffered a dislocated A/C joint in his shoulder, an injury that would affect him all year.

“Every time we take the field, there’s risk. So, it’s all about the mindset. Don’t tell me I’m going to go out and play three plays,” Cobb explained after practice Sunday. “My mind can’t be in it that way. Either tell me I’m going to play or tell me I’m not going to play.

“If I’m going into the game, I can prepare myself for a quarter or a half. That’s great. But if you tell me I’ve just got a couple plays, I think that’s pointless. But if I can get in there and get into a rhythm and I can lock my mind in … because it’s kind of hard to know you’re only playing three plays. ‘All right, let me just tip-toe around for these three (plays).’”

LaFleur said he was planning to survey the veteran players to get their input, and admitted he’s been in the better-safe-than-sorry crowd since working as Sean McVay’s offensive coordinator with the Los Angeles Rams in 2017.

“It’s the guys that are veterans that you truly trust (that you talk to),” LaFleur explained. “I think the philosophy started to shift a few years back when we were in L.A. with Sean. Especially thinking about just how long of a season it is and how important it is to keep everybody healthy.

“I don’t want to use the term ‘meaningless games’ — because every opportunity out there is a chance to get better and improve — but when they don’t count against your record, what’s the risk? What’s the reward?”

LaFleur’s struggling with the decision because his team got blown out 38-3 by the New Orleans Saints in Jacksonville (after the game was moved because of Hurricane Ida) in last year’s regular-season opener — after LaFleur played it safe and held Rodgers and other veteran starters out of all three preseason games.

LIVE: Head Coach Matt LaFleur meets with the media ahead of Sunday’s #PackersCamp practice 🎥 https://t.co/FCt8bztHnR

— Green Bay Packers (@packers) August 21, 2022

“You look back a year ago and you’re like, ‘Well, if you would’ve played the guys at all in the preseason, would you have gotten whipped like you did in Week 1 vs. the Saints?’ I don’t know what the answer is. Maybe, maybe not,” LaFleur said, adding it will not be a day-of-the-game decision. “To me, a lot of it comes down to your gut feeling of what you need to get out and what you want to see and where you’re at as a football team.

“If you ask 32 head coaches, they’re all going to have a little different opinion on what you should do in that situation. As far as what is the right answer, I don’t think anybody knows.”

Even inside LaFleur’s locker room, there were differing opinions Sunday. Veteran defensive tackle Kenny Clark, wants to play. Veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis doesn’t see the need.

“We’ve been getting a lot of great work in practice. For me, being in the trenches, being 38, I think for me at this point, as far as what I do and my role, I don’t think I have anything to prove in the preseason,” Lewis said. “But at the same time, it’s team-first, and if that’s what Coach feels like he needs to do, great. If not, cool. I’ll be ready for the season.”

Countered Clark: “I’m not going to step out there if everybody else doesn’t want to play, but I for sure want to play. Just because, the game intensity, compared to like practice intensity, it’s just different. You never get into football shape unless you’re playing football; you don’t really get in game shape unless you’re out there in an actual game. Knowing myself, I’m a guy that needs reps. I need to hit somebody.”

Lewis indicated that Rodgers’ opinion will weigh heavily into the conversation and, like Cobb, Rodgers said earlier in camp that while he doesn’t see the value in playing in a preseason game, he’d like to play more than one series if LaFleur deems playing necessary.

At “bare minimum,” LaFleur said, the full team will dress for pre-game warmups, even if he ultimately decides not to have key veterans play in the game.

“I see benefits on both sides, but I also see some things that you’d be kicking yourself if something went wrong in a game,” LaFleur said. “I want to go through these next couple days and see where we’re at and then make a decision.”

And Cobb suspects last year’s clunker of an opener is a big factor in that decision.

“Obviously, we don’t want to not play and then go to Jacksonville like we did this past year and New Orleans beat up on us,” Cobb said. “Obviously, it’s a fine line — and every time you take that field, you’re flirting with it.

“But it’s all about getting us prepared for the season. Whatever the coaching staff feels is best for us, I’m going to go out there and do what I need to do.”

Extra points

The Packers released center Ty Clary and linebacker Chauncey Manac, leaving the roster at 83 players. The team must get down to 80 by Tuesday’s NFL deadline. … The team may need to add another safety in advance of Thursday’s game, with Vernon Scott (shoulder) sidelined after going down on Friday night against New Orleans. With Darnell Savage (hamstring), Tariq Carpenter (knee) and Dallin Leavitt (shoulder) also out with injuries and Innis Gaines (hamstring) just returning to practice Sunday, they’re thin at the position. … Kicker Mason Crosby (knee) remains on the physically unable to perform list and has done some kicking, but LaFleur said the Packers “wouldn’t anticipate” him kicking against the Chiefs. … Rookie wide receiver Christian Watson took part in 11-on-11 work for the first time since coming off the PUP list last week.

Photos: Packers take down Saints in preseason battle at Lambeau Field

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Packers personnel check helmets before Green Bay’s 20-10 win over the New Orleans Saints in a preseason game Aug. 19, 2022, in Green Bay.



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Packers offensive tackle David Bakhtiari greets fans before Green Bay’s 20-10 win over the New Orleans Saints in a preseason game Aug. 19, 2022, in Green Bay.



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Packers offensive tackle David Bakhtiari walks on the field before Green Bay’s 20-10 win over the New Orleans Saints in a preseason game Aug. 19, 2022, in Green Bay.



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Rain clouds moved over Green Bay during the Packers’ 20-10 win over the New Orleans Saints in a preseason game Aug. 19, 2022, in Green Bay.



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Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers walks on the field before Green Bay’s 20-10 win over the New Orleans Saints in a preseason game Aug. 19, 2022, in Green Bay.



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Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, left, watches third-string quarterback Danny Etling, right, warm up before Green Bay’s 20-10 win over the New Orleans Saints in a preseason game Aug. 19, 2022, in Green Bay.



Saints Packers Football

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers walks on the field before Green Bay’s 20-10 win over the New Orleans Saints in a preseason game Aug. 19, 2022, in Green Bay.



Saints Packers Football

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers watches warmups before Green Bay’s 20-10 win over the New Orleans Saints in a preseason game Aug. 19, 2022, in Green Bay.



Saints Packers Football

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers walks on the field before Green Bay’s 20-10 win over the New Orleans Saints in a preseason game Aug. 19, 2022, in Green Bay.



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Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has a laugh on the field before Green Bay’s 20-10 win over the New Orleans Saints in a preseason game Aug. 19, 2022, in Green Bay.



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Packers backup quarterback Jordan Love throws during the first half of Green Bay’s 20-10 win over the New Orleans Saints in a preseason game Aug. 19, 2022, in Green Bay.



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Packers backup quarterback Jordan Love throws during the first half of Green Bay’s 20-10 win over the New Orleans Saints in a preseason game Aug. 19, 2022, in Green Bay.



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Packers wide receiver Juwann Winfree catches a pass during the first half of Green Bay’s 20-10 win over the New Orleans Saints in a preseason game Aug. 19, 2022, in Green Bay.



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New Orleans’ Chris Olave runs past Green Bay’s Keisean Nixon during the first half of the Packers’ 20-10 win over the New Orleans Saints in a preseason game Aug. 19, 2022, in Green Bay.



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Packers tight end Josiah Deguara can’t catch a pass during the first half of Green Bay’s 20-10 win over the New Orleans Saints in a preseason game Aug. 19, 2022, in Green Bay.



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New Orleans’ Ian Book runs during the first half of the Green Bay Packers’ 20-10 win over the Saints in a preseason game Aug. 19, 2022, in Green Bay.



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New Orleans’ Ian Book throws during the first half of the Green Bay Packers’ 20-10 win over the Saints in a preseason game Aug. 19, 2022, in Green Bay.



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New Orleans’ Ian Book throws during the first half of Green Bay’s 20-10 win over the New Orleans Saints in a preseason game Aug. 19, 2022, in Green Bay.



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Packers third-string quarterback Danny Etling runs for a touchdown during Green Bay’s 20-10 win over the New Orleans Saints in a preseason game Aug. 19, 2022, in Green Bay.



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Packers third-string quarterback Danny Etling runs for a touchdown during Green Bay’s 20-10 win over the New Orleans Saints in a preseason game Aug. 19, 2022, in Green Bay.



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Packers third-string quarterback Danny Etling celebrates his touchdown run during the second half of Green Bay’s 20-10 win over the New Orleans Saints in a preseason game Aug. 19, 2022, in Green Bay.



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Green Bay’s Ishmael Hyman moves up field during the second half of Green Bay’s 20-10 win over the New Orleans Saints in a preseason game Aug. 19, 2022, in Green Bay.



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Green Bay’s Amari Rodgers fields a punt during the second half of the Packers’ 20-10 win over the New Orleans Saints in a preseason game Aug. 19, 2022, in Green Bay.



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Packers backup quarterback Jordan Love throws during the second half of Green Bay’s 20-10 win over the New Orleans Saints in a preseason game Aug. 19, 2022, in Green Bay.



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Packers head coach Matt LaFleur watches from the sidelines during the second half of Green Bay’s 20-10 win over the New Orleans Saints in a preseason game Aug. 19, 2022, in Green Bay.



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Packers third-string quarterback Danny Etling does a “Lambeau Leap” to celebrate his touchdown run during the second half of Green Bay’s 20-10 win over the New Orleans Saints in a preseason game Aug. 19, 2022, in Green Bay.



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Green Bay’s Sal Cannella moves up field with the ball during the second half of Green Bay’s 20-10 win over the New Orleans Saints in a preseason game Aug. 19, 2022, in Green Bay.



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Packers backup quarterback Jordan Love looks to throw during Green Bay’s 20-10 win over the New Orleans Saints in a preseason game Aug. 19, 2022, in Green Bay.



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Packers linebacker Kingsley Enagbare rushes during Green Bay’s 20-10 win over the New Orleans Saints in a preseason game Aug. 19, 2022, in Green Bay.



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Packers running back Tyler Goodson runs the ball during Green Bay’s 20-10 win over the New Orleans Saints in a preseason game Aug. 19, 2022, in Green Bay.



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Packers center Jake Hanson blocks during Green Bay’s 20-10 win over the New Orleans Saints in a preseason game Aug. 19, 2022, in Green Bay.



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Packers safety Shawn Davis runs with the ball after a fumble recovery during Green Bay’s 20-10 win over the New Orleans Saints in a preseason game Aug. 19, 2022, in Green Bay.



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Packers wide receiver Juwann Winfree catches the ball during Green Bay’s 20-10 win over the New Orleans Saints in a preseason game Aug. 19, 2022, in Green Bay.



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Packers running back Aaron Jones looks on during Green Bay’s 20-10 win over the New Orleans Saints in a preseason game Aug. 19, 2022, in Green Bay.



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Packers wide receiver Amari Rodgers prepares for a punt during Green Bay’s 20-10 win over the New Orleans Saints in a preseason game Aug. 19, 2022, in Green Bay.



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Saints quarterback Ian Book throws during the Green Bay Packers’ 20-10 win over the New Orleans Saints in a preseason game Aug. 19, 2022, in Green Bay.



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Packers running back Dexter Williams rushes during Green Bay’s 20-10 win over the New Orleans Saints in a preseason game Aug. 19, 2022, in Green Bay.



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