The Green Bay Packers were blasted out of the 2019 postseason in embarrassing fashion, getting their doors blown off, 37-20, by the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. The final score felt closer than the contest.
Despite the playoff humiliation, quarterback Aaron Rodgers chose to see the positive side of his team’s campaign, which included a 13-3 record, an NFC North division title and a home playoff victory.
“This one will always be special,” Rodgers said, via the team’s official transcript. “Because it became fun again.”
Some readers will read that as a shot at former Packers coach Mike McCarthy, who just started a new job for the Dallas Cowboys. The other way to view it is the veteran quarterback desperately needed change to shake him out of a funk after years of functioning in the same system, and a brighter hope for the future.
The hire of Matt LaFleur proved to be a smashing success, even if the Packers fell short once again of the ultimate goal. Green Bay hasn’t returned to the Super Bowl since winning it after the 2010 season.
“You realize how difficult it is to get here,” Rodgers said. “The beauty of this sport is that it’s a true team sport. You rely on so many other people. As we move into the offseason, the reliance is on guys doing their responsibilities and doing their part to be ready for next season. Who knows what can happen.”
LaFleur finished tied for the third-most wins by a rookie head coach in NFL history, including playoffs, with 14 — only George Seifert (San Francisco, 17) and Jim Caldwell (Indianapolis, 16) earned more.
In 2016, the Packers fell in the NFC Championship Game to the Atlanta Falcons and missed the playoffs the next two campaigns. Rodgers says he sees a different outcome following the latest postseason loss because the current staff is just getting going.
“It’s a different feeling,” he said. “I just remember in those moments the emotion compared to this. I feel really confident with [Packers General Manager] Brian Gutekunst and the job he’s done with his staff. They went all in as much as they could this year with the pieces they’ve brought in. I’m confident that he’s going to continue to add to his squad. To that part it is very exciting.”
Where Rodgers became frustrated with the last administration’s lack of free agent moves, the QB made it clear after Sunday’s loss, he doesn’t believe Gutekunst will sit on his hands this offseason. The Packers are currently scheduled to have around $28 million in effective cap space this offseason, per Over The Cap.
The combination of a GM willing to make key offseason acquisitions, like Gutekunst did in acquiring Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith in 2019, and a young coach still growing has Rodgers ebullient about the future in Green Bay, viewing the Packers’ window as wide open.
“The one thing that is constant in this game is change, and I know there will be some changes this offseason,” he said. “The excited thing is I have a lot of faith and trust in Brian and his staff. I think [Packers head coach] Matt LaFleur deserves a lot of credit for the way that we performed week in and week out. He even set the vision every week. Very simple messaging. With his leadership and empowering guys the way that he did, and with Brian adding pieces as he did this offseason and will continue to do, the window is open for us. That’s the exciting thing. It doesn’t make this feel any easier, but that is very exciting moving forward.”
Heading into his 16th NFL season, Rodgers hopes that moving forward comes with another trip to the Super Bowl, finally.