Disappointed Packers reflect and look ahead
Greey Bay head coach Mike McCarthy responded in the immediate aftermath with cliches such as "we ran into a buzz saw" and "we ran out of gas." Pro Bowl safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix may have been more apt with his concise summation as players started ...
Greey Bay head coach Mike McCarthy responded in the immediate aftermath with cliches such as "we ran into a buzz saw" and "we ran out of gas."
Pro Bowl safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix may have been more apt with his concise summation as players started to move on Monday from a lengthy, mostly rewarding season that ended abruptly less than 24 hours earlier.
"We just didn't show up," Clinton-Dix said in the Packers' locker room at Lambeau Field.
Rather than having a day to relax and look forward to another game to be played, Clinton-Dix and his teammates were left to pack their belongings.
What would have been a previously unthinkable trip to Super Bowl LI in Houston ended with a thud inside the Georgia Dome on Sunday. The Atlanta Falcons ambushed the Packers 44-21 in the NFC Championship.
"I've done a lot of these (end-of-season) interviews now throughout the years, and it never gets easier. It's always tough," veteran guard T.J. Lang said.
Lang, who might have played his last game as a Packer as an impending free agent after eight seasons, didn't mince words in saying Green Bay "fell short of the ultimate goal."
The most lopsided playoff defeat for the Packers since Brett Favre's six-interception game in a 45-17 loss at the St. Louis Rams in the divisional round 15 years ago, added to what's become a disconcerting drought.
Green Bay has been to the Super Bowl only once in esteemed quarterback Aaron Rodgers' nine seasons as a starter. That lone appearance came six years ago, when Rodgers led the Packers to victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV.
"Let me tell you something, when you have a guy like Aaron Rodgers on your team, you've got to take advantage of it," Clinton-Dix said as the players cleaned out their lockers Monday. "You have one of the best quarterbacks in the game, making amazing throws, winning ballgames for us, you have to take advantage of this window.
"You have a great quarterback like A-Rod, you don't find that in this league," Clinton-Dix added. "We can win 10 games with him by itself."
That the Packers wound up winning 12 games this season, including two in the playoffs, gave many players some comfort coming off the season-ending debacle that was decided by halftime. The Falcons raced out to a 24-0 lead and stretched that to 31 points early in the third quarter before outmatched and injury-ravaged Green Bay finally broke through on the scoreboard.
Matt Ryan, considered the likely winner of the NFL MVP award this season, torched the Packers defense for 392 yards and four touchdowns through the air in a mistake-free performance.
"We just played a hot team," Rodgers said. "You've got to give them credit. Matt's playing incredible right now, and that's a pretty good offense.
"There's a reason they're moving on to the Super Bowl. They're going to be tough to stop."
That latter sentiment was how many viewed the Packers, the No. 4 seed in the NFC, before they were waylaid Sunday. The no-contest culminated a week filled with a flu bug that afflicted a number of players (Rodgers among them) and fog-induced travel issues from Wisconsin to Atlanta on Saturday.
Green Bay had rebounded from a 4-6 record in late November by winning eight straight games, including a knockout of the top-seeded Dallas Cowboys in the divisional round of the playoffs. It did so by overcoming a slew of injuries to key players.
Yet, the "team of destiny" label attached to Green Bay going into the conference championship weekend disintegrated in a hurry Sunday.
"We're not afraid to back away from our expectations, and that's ultimately getting back to the Super Bowl and winning it," veteran linebacker Clay Matthews said. "We're so close (this season) but so far. But, from 4-6 and people writing us off and calling for people's jobs to being one of the last two teams in the NFC is pretty remarkable. (But) it's hard to look at that and really be excited about that after (Sunday's) loss."
Once the disappointment of losing in the NFC title game for the second time in three years wore off Monday, several players spoke in glowing terms as they assessed the season.
"I remember how we started 4-6, but no one (here) ever doubted our team, doubted the process," veteran safety Morgan Burnett said. "It brought us closer together, really, and it was a fun ride. To just pull those wins together like that, still win the (NFC North) division, almost had a chance to go the Super Bowl, so that was special."
"I think everybody's really proud of what we were able to do this year and proud of the way that the guys just stuck together throughout the whole season and just really laid it out for our brothers," Lang said.
And, by knocking on the door of a return trip to the Super Bowl, an optimistic Rodgers feels the Packers can be back in the same position next January with mostly the same cast.
"I don't think we need to rebuild, we need to reload," Rodgers said after Sunday's game.
Lang is among 11 players slated to become unrestricted free agents. Of those, there's a short list of primary starters, including injured halfback Eddie Lacy, tight end Jared Cook, defensive back Micah Hyde, linebackers Julius Peppers and Nick Perry.
Rodgers delivered a parting message to his bosses about what he would like to see done in the coming months to bolster the existing nucleus of talent.
"I think I have a number of years left in me (where) I can play at a high level," the 33-year-old said. "We've just got to make sure we're going all in every year to win. And, I think we can take a big step this offseason."