Aaron Rodgers: 'The window is open for us'

QB Aaron Rodgers
QB Aaron Rodgers

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The game looked a lot like two months ago, and the overall ending was all too familiar, too.

Green Bay's season concluded Sunday one game shy of the Super Bowl for the third time in the last six years, all three times road losses. That's now the larger refrain from which the franchise hasn't broken free.

"I've said it before, we have to get one of these games at home," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said moments after the Packers' season-ending 37-20 loss to the 49ers in the NFC title game at Levi's Stadium.

"It's different when you're playing in 20-degree weather, with snow and wind. It's a different type of game."

Seattle was an inch away from giving Green Bay the No. 1 seed in the NFC this year, but that still would have promised nothing. It would have been a different opponent for the Packers in the divisional round last week – maybe these 49ers – so who knows?

The Packers didn't get this game at home five years ago primarily because of a late-season stumble at Buffalo. Three years ago, they were fighting from the 11th game on just to stay alive in the playoff chase, so home field wasn't really in the picture.

In any event, Rodgers made it a point to say this one doesn't feel like those previous two seasons that fell short, for multiple reasons.

For one, he was a lot younger in 2014, so he wasn't hearing the ticking of Father Time quite so loudly. That might make this one hurt a little longer.

In 2016, he felt as though the roster itself was farther away, and that overhaul finally came this past year, which got the Packers back to this point sooner than almost anyone predicted. That's where the optimism lies.

"It felt like it was something special just because it didn't really make sense," Rodgers said of the team's 13-3 record and first-round playoff bye. "We weren't picked by most people to win the division, and we found a way not only to do that, but win a home playoff game …

"It felt like it was meant to be almost, so that's disappointing. And I don't have the same number of years ahead of me as I do behind me."

But it's that part about the roster, and the team as a whole, that was sticking with Rodgers the most as he gave his final postgame press conference of the season.

He couldn't praise General Manager Brian Gutekunst and the personnel staff enough for all the moves they made – from the big free-agent acquisitions of Za'Darius Smith  and Preston Smith, Adrian Amos and Billy Turner, to the under-the-radar pickups like B.J. Goodson, Tyler Ervin, and Jared Veldheer.

He equally applauded the leadership of Matt LaFleur and his coaching staff in their first year at the helm, bringing all the parts together, empowering the players, and getting them to buy into their roles.

"That's what made it special," Rodgers said. "It was a player-led team and a close-knit group. The pieces are in place.

"Last year I felt we needed to reload. We were 6-9-1. Now it's just adding to, keeping the framework in place. I feel good about our team and our organization."

All those elements made it "fun again" for Rodgers after a rough couple of years. He acknowledged there are never any guarantees a team can get back to where it was, that there will be some forms of change again as there are every year, but he's trusting where the Packers are headed.

The offseason might not be as active as last year as far as player acquisition, but "nobody would mind," least of all the 36-year-old quarterback.

He's confident in the leadership that's in place, from Gutekunst to LaFleur to players in the locker room. That's why this disappointing ending feels a little different from the others, even if it's still tough.

"The window is open for us, and that's the exciting thing," he said. "It doesn't make this feeling any easier, but that's exciting moving forward.

"Like I said, the window is open and I think we'll be on the right side of one of these real soon."

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