GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Aaron Rodgers said he’s not sure what his future holds in Green Bay. That was all it took to raise concerns about the Packers’ ability to contend in 2021 and beyond.
Green Bay earned the top seed in the NFC behind an All-Pro season from Rodgers, who at age 37 put his team in ideal position to win its first Super Bowl since the 2010 season and the second of his brilliant career.
But the Packers’ season ended with a dispiriting 31-26 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Sunday’s NFC championship game, and it didn’t take long for questions about the team’s long-term commitment to Rodgers to resurface.
After the Packers’ fourth NFC title game loss in seven seasons, Rodgers said “a lot of guys’ futures are uncertain, myself included.” Rodgers has three years remaining on the four-year, $118 million extension he signed in August 2018, but the two-time MVP has acknowledged on multiple occasions that his hopes of finishing his career in Green Bay were complicated by the Packers’ decision to select Utah State quarterback Jordan Love in the 2020 draft.
“There’s a lot of unknowns going into this offseason now,” Rodgers said. “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 who may or may not be here next year. There’s always change. That’s the only constant in this business.”
Assuming Rodgers returns, the team around him could look quite different. The Packers’ list of potential free agents includes running backs Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams, All-Pro center Corey Linsley and cornerback Kevin King.
Linsley was asked Monday about the progress of contract negotiations.
“My agent hasn’t had any talks with the Packers,” Linsley said. “That’s obviously not to say something couldn’t happen, but up to this point it’s kind of been complimentary but nothing of substance.”
The Packers boasted one of the league’s top offensive lines this season thanks in part to All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari, who suffered a season-ending knee injury on Dec. 31. The Packers initially thrived without Bakhtiari, as they allowed just one sack in a win at Chicago and none in a playoff victory over the Los Angeles Rams.
Bakhtiari’s absence was much more noticeable Sunday. The Bucs recorded five sacks, matching their output from their 38-10 regular-season victory over the Packers. Green Bay allowed a total of 16 sacks in its other 16 games.
TOUGH FINISH FOR KING, JONES
If this was the last game in Packers uniforms for King and Jones, it will be a tough way for them to go out.
King played through a back injury that had prevented him from practicing Friday. He was beaten on two touchdown passes — including a 39-yarder to Scotty Miller with 1 second left until halftime — and committed a pass-interference penalty that helped the Bucs run out the clock.
Jones, who gained more than 3,000 yards from scrimmage and scored 30 touchdowns over the past two seasons, fumbled early in the second half to set up a Bucs touchdown. He suffered a chest injury on the play that knocked him out for the rest of the game.
NO GOLD RUSH THIS TIME
Green Bay had the NFL’s best red-zone offense this season, though the Packers referred to it as the “gold zone” due to offensive coordinator Nathanial Hackett’s love of the movie “Austin Powers in Goldmember.”
That magic was missing Sunday as the Packers twice settled for field goals after having first-and-goal. Rodgers was 2 of 9 with two touchdown passes in goal-to-go plays Sunday. Through the first 17 games of the season, he had been 41 of 59 with 31 touchdowns and no interceptions in those situations.
“Everyone’s obviously just very disappointed, very hurt,” wide receiver Allen Lazard said Monday. “Everyone thinks that they probably could’ve done something better at some point in the game that would’ve had a better result, but the truth is we’re sitting here today. So we’ve got to be able to bottle that up and keep moving forward.”
Packers coach Matt LaFleur is 26-6 in his two seasons, and despite questions about his late-game decisions against Tampa Bay, he remains one of the bright young minds in the NFL and isn’t going anywhere.
LaFleur has had the same coordinators — Hackett, Mike Pettine (defense) and Shawn Mennenga (special teams) for his first two seasons. Now he must decide whether to bring them back.
The NFC championship game reflected the occasional inconsistency of Green Bay’s defense under Pettine. The Packers intercepted three of Tom Brady’s passes and allowed only three points in the last 28 1/2 minutes of the game, but they also gave up that long touchdown pass just before halftime.
Green Bay’s most notable flaw during its seven-game streak was its occasional tendency to have a breakdown on special teams.
Courtesy: AP News