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Another Playoff Failure Could Mean End for Packers’ Days as Contender

A tumultuous offseason awaits the Green Bay Packers, who failed again to win the Super Bowl. The latest loss could be the end of the line for a perennial contender.

GREEN BAY, Wis. – In the Traveling Wilburys’ classic “End of the Line,” the song ends with a poignant ending.

Well, it’s alright, even if the sun don’t shine.

Well, it’s alright, we’re going to the end of the line.

On Saturday night, the sun didn’t shine on the Green Bay Packers.

And an era filled with one timeless triumph but too many bitter failures might have come to the end of the line.

Thanks to a colossal special teams disaster and a sputtering offense, the Packers’ season ended with a 13-10 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in an NFC divisional playoff game.

Of course, that starts with the future of Aaron Rodgers. After a tumultuous offseason, he returned for 2021 with a “Last Dance” theme. Maybe Rodgers will return – his insightful “The grass is greener where you water it” line on Adam Schein’s podcast seems to indicate that’s a possibility – but every bit of business the Denver Broncos have conducted over the last several months seems to indicate they believe otherwise.

It's not just Rodgers’ future that’s in doubt. Every year brings a different team, but this team will be incredibly different when they hit the grass for OTAs in May.

The Packers are $50 million over next year’s salary cap. Fifty. Five-zero. That harsh reality doesn’t include receiver Davante Adams, who will be the best player in free agency, and the team’s two season-shifting additions, linebacker De’Vondre Campbell and cornerback Rasul Douglas.

General manager Brian Gutekunst moved heaven and Earth to bring the band back together for one more run this year. This year, he’ll have to move heaven and solar system while ditching Neptune and Uranus to be in compliance with the salary cap on March 16. Will the roster he’s able to cobble together be anywhere close to as good as this one?

Those are matters for a different day. For this day, what matters is the Packers have once again fallen short of the final destination.

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The Packers have enjoyed three decades of the greatest quarterback play in the history of mankind and have just two Super Bowl wins to show for it. Since winning the Super Bowl in 2010, it’s been one big-game failure after another.

In 2011, they went 15-1 but were trounced at home by the Giants. In 2012, they were blindsided by Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers. In 2013, the Packers had their chance for revenge on a bitter-cold night but lost again to the 49ers. In 2014, they choked away a victory in the NFC Championship Game in Seattle. In 2015, Larry Fitzgerald ran through the defense in overtime at Arizona. In 2016, the Packers ran the table but the wheels fell off their injury-ravaged wagon in the NFC Championship Game in Atlanta. After missing the playoffs in Mike McCarthy’s final two seasons, the Packers were run over at San Francisco in the 2019 title game and blew a golden opportunity to topple the indomitable Tom Brady in the 2020 title game at Lambeau.

The greatness that’s been wasted is staggering.

Rodgers is likely to win his fourth MVP but didn’t parlay any of those marvelous seasons into that second championship ring.

Over the last six years, Davante Adams is No. 1 among receivers in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. He’s never reached a Super Bowl.

Matt LaFleur became the first coach in NFL history to lead his team to three consecutive 13-win seasons. But he’s yet to win the two games it takes to get to the Super Bowl.

The Packers had it all this year. They had the best record. They had homefield advantage. They had a jam-packed stadium. They had a healthy roster by football standards. They had the hottest quarterback in the league. And none of it mattered when it was time to go make history.

If Gutekunst and Rodgers agree to give it another shot next year, the Packers of course will have a playoff-caliber team in 2022. If Gutekunst can somehow fit Adams under the cap, too, the Packers might even have a championship-contending team next year.

And if not?

What if Rodgers, noting the watered-down roster he’s going to have to play with, decides to water his grass elsewhere? What if Gutekunst is ready to rebuild behind Jordan Love and a run-centric offense.

If that’s the case, then this loss indeed will mark the end of the line. Year after year after year, the Packers have kicked off the season with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations. Without Rodgers, the Packers would be no different than the Vikings or Broncos or the Saints – teams with enough talent to win some games and perhaps contend for the playoffs but nowhere near good enough to win the games that matter.

That’s the icy reality that faces this franchise. The blackened scoreboard in the south end shows all the championship seasons. There’s room for a few more beneath 2010. At this point, it’s fair to wonder when they’ll ever add to the list.