Rodgers Sees Super Bowl Return ‘Real Soon’

Bill Huber

If it’s possible, Aaron Rodgers emerged from the rubble of the Green Bay Packers’ latest NFC Championship Game debacle hurting and hopeful all at once.

With a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, the Packers were smashed by the San Francisco 49ers 37-20. The outcome was about as lopsided as in 2016, when the Packers were routed at Atlanta 44-21. After the game in the bowels of the soon-to-be-detonated Georgia Dome, Rodgers said, “We just have to make sure we're going all in every year to win.”

That didn’t happen, and the Packers won a combined 13 games in 2017 and 2018. With general manager Brian Gutekunst taking an aggressive approach to personnel acquisition, starting with the free-agent shopping spree that netted Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Adrian Amos and Billy Turner and continuing throughout the season with the additions of B.J. Goodson, Tyler Ervin and Jared Veldheer, the Packers won 14 games and reached the NFC Championship Game this season.

So, while a third NFC Championship Game loss in six seasons for the 36-year-old Rodgers certainly stung, he left Levi’s Stadium feeling optimistic about what’s possible.

“The (championship) window’s open and I think we’re going to be on the right side of one of these real soon,” Rodgers said.

To win an NFC championship and get back to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2010 likely will take another big offseason by Gutekunst. The 49ers led 23-0 at halftime in Week 12 and 27-0 at halftime on Sunday, so it’s not as if they were fortunate to win either game. In November, the Rodgers-led offensive attack was the overwhelming issue. On Sunday, it was a defense that finished ninth in the league in points allowed – just 0.2 points per game behind San Francisco – but was blown off the field. Raheem Mostert ran for 220 yards and four touchdowns. The beating was so thorough that quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo barely worked up a sweat with just eight passing attempts.

“It looks pretty big,” Rodgers said of the gap between the teams.

However, that’s not how he views it. As he said after losing championship game at Seattle in 2014 and Atlanta in 2016, the difference could be location, location, location. This was Rodgers’ fourth conference championship game but none of them have been at Lambeau Field.

“They got us a couple times but I don’t think it’s that big,” he continued. “I think we’re really close. I think we’re just a little more consistent performance away from consistently playing with these guys. But we got them at their place twice. I’ve said this before: We’ve got to get one of these at home. It’s a different ballgame. It’s different playing in 20-degree weather and snow. Cold and wind is a different type of game than playing here.”

Can the Packers make it happen? That will be up to Gutekunst to keep the core intact and then add to it. It will be up to coach Matt LaFleur to squeeze more production out of the offense as a whole and Rodgers in particular. It will be up to defensive coordinator Mike Pettine to find the answers that eluded him in two games against the 49ers. It will be up to LaFleur and the team’s leaders to try to re-create the camaraderie.

While confident in the future, at some point, a realization is certain to hit Rodgers that this might have been his last chance to win a second Super Bowl. Maybe he can be like Tom Brady and play well into his early 40s. Maybe an improved roster will have the same winning chemistry. Maybe the team will stay incredibly healthy again.

Or maybe not.

“It’s a little raw right now, for sure, but it definitely hurts a little more than early in the career, just because you realize just how difficult it is to get to this spot,” Rodgers said. “With all the changes this offseason and with all the installation of a new system and a new program, to get to this point, you felt like it was something special because it just didn’t really make sense. We weren’t picked by most people to win our division and we found a way to not only do that but win a home playoff game and get to this spot. Just felt like it was meant to be, almost, so that’s a little more disappointing. Then you realize I don’t have the same number of years ahead of me as I do behind me, so it’s slightly more disappointing.”