GREEN BAY, Wis. – Aaron Rodgers walked off Lambeau Field feeling “gutted” after losing the NFC Championship Game for the fourth time in the past seven seasons and wondering about his future with the team.
“A lot of guys’ futures that are uncertain—myself included,” Rodgers said following the Green Bay Packers’ 31-26 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Even as he’s likely to receive his third NFL MVP award in 13 days, Rodgers hinted that the unthinkable—the possibility of this loss being his last game with the Packers–isn’t so unthinkable, after all.
General manager Brian Gutekunst traded up in the first round last year to land quarterback Jordan Love. That transaction immediately put Rodgers’s future with the club in limbo.
Rodgers responded with perhaps the best season of his Hall of Fame-worthy career. With Rodgers leading the NFL in passer rating, touchdown passes, touchdown percentage, interception percentage and completion percentage, Green Bay finished 13-3, earned the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs and led the NFL in scoring.
But it all came to a screeching halt against the Buccaneers. Back-to-back interceptions of Bucs quarterback Tom Brady resulted in three-and-out punts, and a first-and-goal at the eight-yard line resulted in only a field goal that made it a five-point game.
He never got another chance with the ball.
Now, what’s next? How does the 37-year-old Rodgers pick up the pieces after coming up short after finally getting the NFC Championship Game on the home turf? How does the team take the next step with major salary-cap challenges looming?
“I don’t know, I really don’t,” Rodgers said. “There’s a lot of unknowns going into this offseason now. I’m going to have to take some time away, for sure, and clear my head and just kind of see what’s going on with everything. But it’s pretty tough right now, especially thinking about the guys that may or may not be here next year. There’s always change. That’s the only constant in this business. It’s really tough to get to this point. Really, really tough, especially with there being only one bye week in the playoffs. It’s a grind just to get to this point. And that makes the finality of it all kind of hit you like a ton of bricks. That’s why it’s a gutting feeling in your stomach. Ugh.”
Rodgers went on to thank reporters–something he’s never done. Knowing the weight of what he says, Rodgers always delivers thoughtful, measured comments. That he went so far as to say even his future is uncertain spoke volumes of his perception of his future.
For what it’s worth, coach Matt LaFleur made it clear he wants Rodgers back. Maybe LaFleur knows what Gutekunst is thinking on that subject. Or, maybe LaFleur is ratcheting up the pressure on Gutekunst to give the quarterback-coach tandem at least another shot after losing a second consecutive conference championship.
“I sure as hell hope so,” LaFleur said. “I mean, the guy’s the MVP of this league. He’s the heart and soul of our football team. So, hell yeah, he better be back here. He’s our leader. Just so appreciative of him buying into what we’re trying to get done around here and leading that group. His voice carries a lot of weight in that locker room and I feel for him. Him being in this situation and for us not to get it done, man, it hurts.”