End Of Season Story.... Packers Upbeat On Future

Mark87

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I’ve been writing about the Green Bay Packers full-time since 2008. That means I’ve been there for a lot of season-ending media sessions.

Other than 2010, when the Packers won the Super Bowl, the mood is usually filled with sadness and disappointment. With Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, every playoff loss was a failure at winning a Super Bowl. Months upon months upon months of hard work, of the cliché-but-true blood, sweat and tears, not leading to the ultimate reward. I’ll never forget 2011, when the Packers overwhelmed just about everyone in their path en route to a 15-1 record but were upset at home in the divisional round. Or 2012, when Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers destroyed the Packers. Or 2013, when they lost at home to the 49ers on a last-play field goal. Or 2014, when the Packers were on their way to the Super Bowl until disaster struck in Seattle. Back in Green Bay a day later, Brandon Bostick didn’t dodge a single question about the worst moment of his football life.
And on and on it went, from the run-the-table Packers running out of healthy bodies at Atlanta in the 2016 NFC Championship Game, to last year, with the unmistakable specter of the ending of an era when the Packers were eliminated by the Lions in Week 18.

It’s not just the losses that hang heavy. The team’s free agents face uncertain futures. Friendships and bonds will be broken.

Put simply, there’s nothing like the joy and jubilation of a winning locker room, of a group of men pulling successfully toward a final goal. There’s also nothing like the sour, sullen mood of a season that just ended, a group of men parting ways after spending just about every day together for the past five months.
Monday’s final locker room, no matter the disappointing ending of the playoff loss at the San Francisco 49ers, was different. Incredibly different.

Yes, Saturday’s game marked the end. The end of the season. The end of careers in Green Bay. On Monday, there was the incredible scene of guard Jon Runyan unsuccessfully fighting back tears. Drafted by the Packers in 2020, he’s headed toward free agency. Having split snaps through the second half of the season with 2022 draft pick Sean Rhyan, Runyan is smart enough to see the reality of his situation.
“It was awesome,” he said. “I don’t know if there’s a better organization out there,” Runyan said. Wiping his eyes, he continued, “I think it’s just the brotherhood is unreal. This organization, everybody inside, the people out of the facility, the fans, it’s a special place. There’s some really good people here. I hope I don’t leave. It’s a good time. I really appreciate it.”

Otherwise, the mood was positively upbeat, the team’s upward trajectory outweighing the sting of falling a game short of the NFC Championship Game.
And why not? The players see the same reality as most of you. They’re young, talented and ascending. And they’ve got a great quarterback.

With a great quarterback, anything is possible. You know it. I know it.

The players in the locker room know it.

With Rodgers, every season started with Super Bowl expectations. With Love, it seems the same will be true.
“To take it all the way,” guard Elgton Jenkins said of his expectations for next season. “Most definitely. Get better as an offense, trust in the process and get better individually so collectively we can be better and take it all the way.”

Immediately after the game, outside linebacker Preston Smith said the team needs to attack the coming months with a “championship offseason.”

That’s the intent. The youngest roster in the NFL this season and the youngest team to win a playoff game since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger has gotten a taste of success and wants more.
“It's not underdog mentality. It’s a championship mentality,” Rhyan said. “Training like we're going to go win the Super Bowl next year and training hard with that mentality that we got a long season next year and we're going to go out there and do it.”

After falling short of the summit with Rodgers in 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022, coach Matt LaFleur was filled with disappointment, a Lombardi Trophy within his reach turning out to be a mirage.
How does he view this season from the perspective of falling short once again but also having helped pave the way for what could be another sustained run of contending teams?

“At the end of this thing – and it’s hard to see that perspective – is only one team is truly happy,” LaFleur said. “I’ve only been to one Super Bowl, and it ended in epic failure and disaster when we lost to New England when I was in Atlanta. So, I’ve felt that. That one stung for a really long time. I mean, shoot, it still stings.
“But you try to keep perspective and, you know, I don’t know. I don’t know how to answer that because it’s just so fresh. I’m really disappointed that we’re not preparing right now for Detroit. The thing I keep going back to is just everything we had to navigate through and just the team staying together. For that, I’m very proud of the guys in that regard.”

There will be challenges ahead. The Packers once again have more holes on the roster than salary-cap dollars available. Moreover, success isn’t guaranteed. It must be earned. Three teams that reached the divisional playoffs in 2022 failed to even reach the playoffs in 2023. The NFC North could become an elite division if the Vikings re-sign Kirk Cousins and the Bears draft Caleb Williams and he become the real-deal quarterback they’ve lacked in decades.
But with Love and his fleet of young pass-catchers, a defense with some top-tier talent and five draft picks in the first three rounds of the 2024 NFL Draft, the Packers seem to be on the precipice of greatness.

That belief outweighed every other feeling coming off what might have been a crushing season-ending loss.

“We’re coming. We’re coming with a purpose,” Jenkins said. “We want to win it all. Feel like we could have did it this year but next year I’m very optimistic. We’ve got the guys in the building. We’ve got everything that we need to get it done. We’ve just got to go do it. We set a good foundation this year. We’ve just got to go win.”
 
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