The Packers had their chances.
Now the painful question that follows is obvious: How much more chance does Green Bay have with quarterback Aaron Rodgers after a 31-26 loss to the Buccaneers in the NFC Championship game?
Rodgers was quick to add to that narrative during his post-game press conference with a Favre-type response on his future.
Aaron Rodgers: “Lots of guys’ futures, they’re uncertain including me.”
– Matt Schneidman (@mattschneidman) 25 January 2021
Given that Rodgers still has three years on his contract, those comments will fuel the hot plug factory throughout the offseason. The Packers have made back-to-back NFC championship races after 13 winning seasons with coach Matt LaFleur, but it still feels like there’s nowhere to go.
This feeling begins with the second estimate of the offseason. Why did LaFleur choose to throw a basket at the Bucs’ fourth goal with 2:15 to play and his team behind by eight?
Rodgers bowed his head. He looked away from the camera. Everything was uncertain from there after Green Bay’s fourth loss in the NFC Championship in the past 10 seasons.
Could Rodgers have executed it on a possible third failure before the basket? Why did the officials throw a late flag at Green Bay cornerback Kevin King who sealed the game on the next leg? Was it worse than Seattle’s collapse in the 2014 NFC Championship game?
The first two have easy answers. Rodgers brings the ball closer to the goal line, but the Packers have yet to try their luck in fourth. King kept the game going in a game where the officials let the defensive backs play. Time will tell on the third question, but there’s no doubt this one should sting as much as this Q4 breakdown.
This year, Green Bay has instead experienced a last-minute collapse in the first half. Rodgers threw an interception at Sean Murphy-Bunting with 34 seconds remaining. Tom Brady turned that into a 39-yard TD pass to Scotty Miller with a second left for a 21-10 lead at Tampa Bay.
The Buccaneers took a 28-10 lead to start the third quarter after a fumble from Aaron Jones and another assist from Brady TD. It would take a magical act from Rodgers to get the Pack back at this point.
And yet they had their chances.
Green Bay intercepted Brady three times in the second half. The Packers scored a touchdown after the first, but the offense was six plays for under-5 yards after the other two picks. Those three-and-outs led to a Tampa Bay basket, which established the Packers’ final possession.
You can’t blame Rodgers. He finished 33 of 48 for 346 yards, with three touchdowns and one interception, without the benefit of the current game that led to a victory over the Rams in the NFC division playoffs. Green Bay only managed 16 carries for 67 yards, and Jones (chest injury) was out for most of the second half.
This fourth goal from the field will also haunt LaFleur. Rodgers is a good bet to win his third NFL MVP award after going over 4,299 yards, 48 touchdowns and five regular season interceptions, and yet it can be said that the best NFL quarterback of 2020 has not had a chance to take the last shot.
Instead, Rodgers watched Brady – the greatest quarterback ever – reach his 10th Super Bowl with the help of that late flag on King. Brady won the legacy game between the two – a game where the Packers had the field advantage and were favored to win.
You take your own breaks and the Packers have created their own heartbreaking storyline in this loss.
What does all of this mean for Rodgers, who turns 38 next December? That will all be guessing as the 2021 season approaches. Who will the Packers be drafted in the first round this year after passing a first round pick against quarterback Jordan Love last year? Will Green Bay be aggressive enough in free agency? Will defensive coordinator Mike Pettine return?
None of these questions are easy at the moment.
There’s also the uncomfortable scenario where Rodgers ends his career in another uniform. Green Bay has taken this route before with a Hall of Fame quarterback in Brett Favre – who took the Packers to two Super Bowl appearances in the 1990s.
That is the uncertain future that was supported by missed opportunities on Sunday, and Rodgers has every right to be frustrated at this point in his career.
He doesn’t have too many chances, not like this one anyway.
It’s up to the Packers to take advantage of what’s left.