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An even more disappointing ending, but still a great season

Murphy Takes 5 is a monthly column written by President and CEO Mark Murphy

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On the first Saturday of every month, Mark will write about a topic of interest to Packers fans and the organization, and then answer five fan questions. Fans are encouraged to email Mark with their name and hometown at: MurphyTakes5@packers.com.

Last year, in the February MT5 column, I wrote that the loss to the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game was a disappointing ending to a very successful season. Although both seasons ended with losses in the NFC Championship Game, I think this year's ending was even more disappointing for a number of reasons. First, although we had the same record as last year's team, this year's team was better. We had the league's top scoring offense, with Aaron Rodgers playing at an MVP level. Our defense made great strides in the second half of the season, and we were stopping the run better than in 2019. Also, we were the No. 1 seed (and the only team in the NFC with a bye) and played the NFC Championship Game at Lambeau Field. In addition, this year's game was much closer. Last year, the game was really over at halftime. This year, although we were down 28-10 early in the third quarter, we fought back and had a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter. That's part of what made this loss so disappointing. We were in a position to win, but were not able to make the plays needed to win. It is easy to think of things that we could have done differently that would have led to a win. As a result, it has taken me, our players and fans a long time to get over the loss.

I'm very proud of this year's team, though, and thought we had a great season. I was especially proud of how we handled the pandemic. I think we all will learn from this year's experience and I'm confident that we will be able to continue to compete for championships in the future.

Now, on to your questions…

Dan from Minneapolis

There have been comments in the national sporting press regarding the Packers' incentive as a publicly owned organization to go all-in to win a Super Bowl. The general contention is that the coffers are full, based on ticket and merchandise sales, national TV appearances, the Titletown development, etc. That the Packers really don't have much of an incentive to position and commit for a Super Bowl run, when playoff appearances every other year or so would serve the organization just as well. That it takes an invested owner to drive an NFL organization to do the things necessary to win Super Bowls.

I wanted to give you the opportunity to comment on this impression. Thanks for taking these questions on a monthly basis!

I'm glad you brought this up, Dan. I have seen similar comments over the years, that the Packers would be better off with a rich, powerful owner. In my mind, nothing could be further from the truth. We have all the resources we need to win Super Bowls and have consistently been in a position to compete for a championship over the last decade. I don't think our ownership structure hurts us at all in this regard. I would say, though, that both Ted Thompson and Brian Gutekunst have believed in building a championship team while also building for the future (as evidenced by the drafting of both Aaron Rodgers and Jordan Love), but this has nothing to do with our structure.

Sam from Charlottesville, VA

Why did the Packers choose to kick a field goal with such little time left in the Buccaneers game? You can't give the ball to Tom Brady and expect with so little time left to even get the ball back! We deserve better! For years I've waited for another Packers Super Bowl and we came so close two years in a row. It hardly seemed we were trying to call good plays!

This was one of the decisions that I referred to above, Sam. The decision to kick the field goal was one of those 50-50 calls – if it works out you look like a genius and if it fails you will be second-guessed. The situation was fourth-and-goal at the 8-yard line, and we had just thrown three incomplete passes. We had three timeouts remaining and the two-minute warning (four chances to stop the clock…the Bucs' kick returner actually did us a favor by giving himself up before the game clock hit two minutes). Our defense had played better in the second half (three interceptions). Also, even if we had scored a touchdown on the fourth-and-goal (and whether or not we converted the two-point conversion), our defense still would have had to stop the Bucs. These types of decisions are why being a head coach in the NFL is such a challenging job.

A question from Craig

Mark, it would be great to hear an explanation why the team disrespected our flag and stood inside for the NFC Championship Game. Not sure who you answer to but last time I checked the team is owned by a significant number of stockholders that deserve an explanation. It was a poor decision in my view! What did all the millionaires playing a game decide on to do this moronic act? Maybe if they wake up and do some research they will see that the bull---- Black Lives Matter movement is a front for the Democratic National Committee and not one dime they donate or pretend to donate goes to anything that helps the inner cities many of these athletes come from. I am more than anxious to get an explanation from you. You are the head of the franchise and poor decisions like this need to be explained. Not sure why it is that the visiting team had the courage to do what is right and realize the flag represents what it is that gives all you the opportunity to sit in your overpaid positions. I hope you have another record year of dismal earnings if this crap continues. 20 years in the military. Seen many young men and women sacrifice a lot for that flag and you morons take it upon yourselves to disrespect it. Why don't you bring a few wounded warriors in to explain this to your overpaid athletes? 

Thanks for raising this issue, Craig. Actually, our team had been staying in the locker room for the entire season. The NFC Championship Game was the first time that TV showed the national anthem. Our players decided to stay in the locker room this season to bring attention to the systemic racism that still exists in our country, and in no way did they mean any disrespect to the flag or the military. They wanted to act in unison, and thought it was better to stay in the locker room than to come out for the national anthem and have some players kneel and others stand. Our veterans fought and sacrificed to ensure that people, like our players, would have the right to express their views.

Markus and Eileen from Aurora, CO

Dear Mark, what a season! Sadly, Packer backers including shareholders suffered a double heartbreak in January: Ted Thompson's passing and the gut-wrenching loss in the home NFC Championship Game. Looking at how 2020 went, I am excited looking for things to come in 2021, including hopefully an in-person shareholder meeting. Thank you for all the work you and everyone else is doing for the organization! GO PACK GO!

Thanks so much, Markus and Eileen. It was a tough week for Packers fans. Ted Thompson meant so much to this organization. It was an honor to work with him, and I learned so much from him. His imprint was all over this team – I was hoping that we would win the Super Bowl so that people would realize all the great things Ted did over the years in building the team. Next season, we will put Ted's name up in the stadium bowl to recognize all that he did for the organization. This will be a great tribute to Ted, and I'm glad that we were able to communicate our plans to Ted and his family before he died.

A question from Randy

Hello Mark, thanks for reading my email. Though the season didn't end how most of us imagined, it still was an exciting year for the Packers, coming up just short of the Super Bowl. Congratulations to the coaches and players for navigating COVID. It was amazing there were only a couple of players who missed time because of the virus. My question deals with what you foresee as the biggest challenges the Packers face this offseason? The salary cap certainly is one of them, but here must be a few others you and the organization will need to face.

Thanks, Randy. I appreciate your comments regarding how well our team handled the pandemic. This is a real tribute to our coaches and players. Most of the challenges that I see us facing this year are related to the pandemic. You mentioned the salary cap. The cap hasn't been officially set yet for the 2021 season, but the league and the NFLPA have agreed that it will be no lower than $176M (down from $198.2M in 2020). If the cap ends up being $176M (the league and the PA will set the new cap by the start of the new league year of March 17) the Packers (and almost every team) will have to make numerous difficult decisions to get under the salary cap. The moves could include cutting players or restructuring players' contracts. Another challenge we will face this year is attempting to evaluate potential draft picks and undrafted free agents without the combine and visits that have been common in the past. Although the NFL Draft was held virtually last year, the combine was held in normal fashion in Indianapolis. Also, a challenge for us this year, with new defensive and special teams coordinators, will be implementing new systems when most of our contact with players this offseason is likely to be virtual.

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