BURLINGTON — Tony Romo paused last week during the press conference he holds at his annual football camp and owned up to his miscalculation with a sheepish smile.
One year earlier, as he stood at that same podium at Don Dalton Stadium in Burlington, Romo was predicting great things for the Packers.
“I think the Packers probably got better more than any team I saw this offseason,” Romo said in June 2018. “It’s too early — things can happen, injuries can happen — but right now, they’re right at the top for me as far as a team you wouldn’t want to see in the playoffs.”
It didn’t work out that way, as anyone with an interest in the Packers painfully realizes. Following a stirring 24-23 season-opening victory over the Bears, during which Aaron Rodgers suffered a leg injury that dogged him the rest of the year, the Packers imploded and won just five more games.
The last two of those victories were after longtime coach Mike McCarthy was fired. He was dismissed within hours after the Packers hit rock bottom with an unthinkable 20-17 loss to the crummy Cardinals Dec. 2 — at Lambeau Field, no less.
One year later, Romo has solidified his celebrity status as CBS Sports’ No. 1 color analyst, with last February’s Super Bowl on his resume and glowing reviews from nationwide critics. He attained superstar status last Jan. 20, when he consistently predicted plays during the AFC Championship game between the Patriots and Chiefs.
Call him Tony the Prognosticator.
When it comes to the Packers, though, Romo is going to back off from any grandiose predictions as far as their fortunes this time. The one prediction he did make during this year’s press conference was this: Packers fans are going to love what they see from new Packers coach Matt LaFleur.
And then he went into detail to explain why, speaking from the perspective of a former Pro Bowl quarterback who saw all there is to see while he was wearing No. 9 for the Cowboys.
“I’ve always said, that system is going to help a quarterback,” Romo said. “The key is a quarterback at Aaron’s level or (Tom) Brady’s level, they’re going to be fine on third down. You need help on first down getting chunk plays.
“If you always have to be perfect as a quarterback, the game’s tougher. The idea is to get a bunch of chunk plays on early downs. You can’t just go out there and do that without throwing perfect throws.
“The system needs to create people who are open. If you can do that two to four to five times a game, you have a huge advantages because now you don’t have to have five, six, seven plays go correctly to get from the 20 to the 30.”
“Instead, you have one run of six yards and then a 30-yard pass after a play-action. And, really, the quarterback didn’t do a whole lot other than just drop back and throw to a guy who was wide open. He threw to that guy, who was supposed to be wide open.”
That’s where LaFleur comes in with his cutting-edge X’s and O’s.
“There are only a few coaches who can get people that open,” Romo said. “But for the two, three, four guys in the league who can, that gives the quarterback a huge advantage. Then, on third down in the red zone, that’s when the quarterbacks take over. It can be scary good.”
LaFleur is an extension of a coaching tree that has most recently produced Sean McVay, who revitalized the career of quarterback Jared Goff and led the Rams to the Super Bowl last February, and Kyle Shannon, who coached Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan to an MVP season and the Super Bowl during the 2016 season before being hired as the 49ers’ head coach.
Romo believes LaFleur will resuscitate the career of Rodgers, who turns 36 in December. Will Rodgers, who admitted to having major differences with McCarthy at times, be difficult for LaFleur to win over?
“I don’t think it will be that big of a deal,” Romo said. “I think the reality of it is Matt will learn very quickly that Aaron’s special. And I think Aaron will learn very quickly that the system is special and that they will just easily co-exist.
“They’ll use Aaron’s abilities on third down and they’ll use Matt’s on first and second downs.”
Rodgers’ predecessor as Packers quarterback, Brett Favre, had a late revival, putting together what was statistically the finest season of his career at the age of 40 for the Vikings in 2009.
If Romo is right about LaFleur, the same may be in store for Rodgers. And if that happens, what Romo had in mind for the Packers in 2018 could happen this time.