What if this was it?
What if Aaron Rodgers’ last play as a Green Bay Packer at Lambeau Field was a misfire in a crucial moment, a third-and-goal incompletion into heavy traffic in the final minutes of a conference championship game? What if this was one of Rodgers’ best chances to win a Super Bowl slipping away, with a fastball to Davante Adams whistling toward the goal line but broken up after Rodgers missed a potential opportunity to pick up yardage — or even score — with a scramble to his right?
Absolutely no one was considering that possibility in the moment Sunday afternoon.
What if Rodgers never takes another snap as a Packer? What if he has to live with the anguish from Sunday’s 31-26 season-ending loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a disappointment that intensified because coach Matt LaFleur opted not to go for it on fourth down from the 8 on the Packers’ final possession, instead settling for a field goal that cut their deficit to five points but still required they score a touchdown when they got the ball back?
If they got the ball back …
They never did.
Rather than taking a fourth-and-goal shot with the league MVP, the Packers took Mason Crosby’s 26-yard field goal and kicked off with 2 minutes, 5 seconds remaining and all three timeouts left, hoping the best quarterback in NFL history would give them the ball back with a chance to win.
“That wasn’t my decision,” Rodgers said. “(I) understand the thinking. Above 2 minutes with all of our timeouts. But, yeah, that wasn’t my decision.”
Had it been Rodgers’ decision, of course he would have requested the fourth-down opportunity, one more chance to diagnose and deal, one more opening to make a play with a red-zone offense that had been potent all season.
Instead, LaFleur sent out his kicker for a field goal and a kickoff, then asked his defense to get Rodgers the ball back.
Tom Brady and the Buccaneers ran seven plays, drew a timely pass interference penalty on third-and-4 with 1:41 left and ran out the clock.
Ran out the Packers’ season.
Ran out the final seconds of Rodgers’ time in Green Bay?
That’s where the conversation veered Sunday evening, first to that pivotal decision-making sequence, then to Rodgers’ future. In a 14-minute news conference, Rodgers admitted he was feeling “pretty gutted.” He wouldn’t go so far as to say Sunday’s loss would “haunt” him, but he openly acknowledged his heartbreak.
“I don’t know about ‘haunted,’ ” he said. “That word doesn’t really fit in my vocabulary, I don’t think. This one definitely stings. And it’s going to for a long time, especially with the way it played out and the chances we had and the opportunities to seize that game at various points. Yeah, it definitely hurts. … This won’t haunt me. It’s just going to hurt for a while.”