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Inbox: It's as mystifying as it is disappointing

The play was there to be made when the Packers had to make one

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QB Aaron Rodgers

Hap from Thomson, IL

THUD! This one really hurts!

And how.

Dan from Rice Lake, WI

The sun rose Sunday morning, it will continue to do so each day. Don't worry, be happy.

I appreciate the sentiment, but I'm going to be honest with everyone from the jump today. This is not a "sun will come out tomorrow" column. I'm not in the mood. I didn't get over it Sunday. I stewed. I'll be able to provide some solace and perspective in the coming days and weeks. Not today.

Dan from New York, NY

Insiders, I really thought this was going to be the year. I thought the only way the Packers were going to lose was if they had a critical mistake late in a game and it happened.

There's no reason that game should've come down to a late mistake, but alas.

Jimmy from Rockford, IL

That was a gut punch, and I'm just a fan. I can't imagine the feeling in the locker room.

I can't either, and I've been in plenty of locker rooms after playoff losses. Not lately, of course, but as much as everyone on the periphery is hurting – fans, support staff, team employees, but especially the fans – I try not to lose sight of how hard it must be for the players and coaches to put in all that work and go out like that, even if there's an inevitable disconnect in the attempt to understand.

Nicholas from Baltimore, MD

That atmosphere was magical. The way we came out of the gates was tremendous. The snow in the second half set up for a storybook ending. And yet, we watched this team completely give it away. From the start of the second quarter the momentum had shifted, and full credit to the defense for hanging on as long as they did, but midway through the third quarter it felt like the result was inevitable. Now it feels like the end of an era. How could this team not rediscover any momentum in this game?

That's the question everyone involved will be asking for a long time. The way the defense was playing, the Packers should've been in command of that game from start to finish. I give credit to the 49ers' defense for keeping them in it, but it's hard to give credit to a team for its victory when it can't score an offensive touchdown. That game wasn't won by the winning team, it was lost by the losing team.

Ron from Broken Arrow, OK

Mike, you mentioned earlier this week that our superstars needed to play like superstars in order to win the game. Had someone told me before the game that San Francisco would score only 13 points, I would have been confident that the Packers would win easily. While I realize that there is plenty of blame to be shared, the last two playoff losses at Lambeau have come down to one of the team's superstars not playing up to that level. Your thoughts?

That's fair, though I put a lot less of last year's loss on Aaron Rodgers than this one. Aaron Jones did his best to atone for the fumble vs. Tampa with a big game, and Davante Adams was probably better than in last January's defeat. So when the quarterback is apparently fully healthy, at home and in this team's kind of weather, with the defense playing lights-out, a lot falls on him for five three-and-outs in a span of eight possessions. The hot start was thwarted by Big Dog's fumble, and any small spark thereafter was quickly extinguished. Everyone wants to know why. It's as mystifying as it is disappointing.

Lambeau Field hosted an NFC Divisional playoff game between the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers on January 22, 2022.

Sandra from De Pere, WI

Coach didn't do enough to prepare them. Nice. Is this the first time he's used this excuse for a HUGE game?

LaFleur owned his shortcomings, as he always does. The offense needed to find something, anything as the game went along, and the play-caller ought to be able to find it if the quarterback can't. LaFleur knows that and it's probably the biggest reason he was disappointed in himself.

Mariano from Cerritos, CA

I was glad to see Billy Turner back, but he had not played in 4-5 weeks. I thought Yosh should have been given the LT start. Why start the playoffs with another O-line combination?

LaFleur adheres to the "best five" mantra. He's made that clear by his words and actions, repeatedly. He's aware he'll be second-guessed about that decision and said so after the game. No one will ever know if fewer changes would've produced fewer than five sacks and better than 3.4 yards per carry against that stout front.

Jeff from Mesa, AZ

Mike, on the blocked punt, Willis pushed Steven Wirtel straight back and was able to block the punt? I thought that the defense was not allowed to touch the long snapper? Willis' 270 pounds appeared to be no match for Wirtel's 228 pounds.

The defense cannot line up anyone over the long snapper nor make contact to his head or neck area. Willis did neither. The 49ers only rushed five players on that punt (5½ if you count the guy lined up 3 yards off the ball who bluffed) and the Packers had eight blockers, including the personal protector, who blocked no one, not even reacting to help out on Wirtel's obvious loss of leverage. The Packers had 8-on-5 and gave up a TD. It's mind-numbingly inexplicable.

Steve from Lake Stevens, WA

Some pundits claim poor special-teams play is indicative of a lack of talent on the back end of the roster, but, I'm guessing, most NFL players were stars in high school and college and didn't play special teams. What do you think?

I saw the 49ers' best offensive player returning kickoffs and their starting safety blocking a field goal. The 49ers played to win the special-teams battle. As Rodgers said, the Packers would just like a "wash" in that area. That's all they needed and failed badly. That's what I think.

Tom from Phoenix, AZ

Another entertaining season in the books…another potential championship down the drain. Inquiring fans would sure like to know how we let that field goal get blocked, or why Corey Bojorquez took an extra step forward on the blocked punt, or why Rodgers sailed a rainbow to Adams in double coverage when Allen Lazard was wide open across the middle for a first down on a potential game-winning drive, or why the Packers only had 10 men on the field for last play of the game. This will be a long offseason.

Preaching to the choir with that last line. The blocked field goal was a blatant disregard of the inside-out rule in protection. The outside guy was blocked while the inside guy was not. Inexcusable. I'm not sure on Bojo's steps, so I'll have to study that more, and the 10 men on the final snap was, sadly, fitting. The last offensive play is haunting to see on film, but that's what happens when a defense has you out of sync and out of rhythm for at least three quarters – a game-changing opportunity that a Hall of Fame QB seemingly sees in his sleep gets missed.

Mike from Santa Fe, NM

As bad as special teams play was (historically), were you more shocked that Jimmy G could lead his team to a winning 4Q FG and MVP Aaron Rodgers could not?

I wasn't shocked the 49ers got a shot at the winning kick, not due to any lack of faith in the Packers' defense, but because that defensive effort was so tremendous I began to dread as the fourth quarter rolled on that it was going to be wasted somehow, some way. It was a script contrary to how the Packers have bowed out of so many postseasons past, and that's why I focused my postgame editorial on it. As for Rodgers, the Niners' defense arguably had a worse breakdown than any the Packers suffered down the stretch, leaving Lazard wide open over the middle on the final third-and-11. That play might've gone for 30-plus yards. One glance could've changed everything. For all the struggles, the play was there to be made when the Packers had to make one.

Jake from Albuquerque, NM

How much misery does Packer Nation need to endure before this thing concludes with a positive outcome?

I fully understand being fed up with frustration. I do. I will give this to Packer Nation, though – a tip of the hat to the Lambeau faithful Saturday night. That crowd brought it, from the get-go. That's the loudest I've heard the stadium in years.

Jim from Maple Grove, MN

Congratulations to the toughest division in the NFL on the upsets this weekend. Not only did the NFC West send three teams to the playoffs, but the Super Bowl representative from our conference will be from the NFC West. On top of that, the only losses an NFC West team will suffer this postseason (through the conference championship anyway) will be at the hands of an NFC West team. Has any other division pulled all of that off before?

Since the advent of the current division format in 2002, I'm not aware of a year one division sent three teams to the playoffs and had two of them meet for the conference title. The NFC West looked like the toughest division all year and proved it the last two weeks. The Packers swept that group 4-0 in the regular season, but all it got them was the game that mattered most at home, and that wasn't enough.

Geoffrey from Rosemount, MN

Stafford to Kupp on that final throw looked like Rodgers to Nelson in Chicago a few years back.

A carbon copy, plus about 70 degrees, right? What a moment for Stafford. Two big-time throws to Kupp covering 64 yards to win the game while almost everyone else on his team was trying to fumble it away, and after he almost fumbled himself on the opening play of the final drive, no less. Stafford won his first playoff game last week after multiple losses for Detroit (plus a turnover-filled end to the regular season), and suddenly he looks in his element in the postseason.

Ben from Argonne, WI

Hi Insiders, I still have a bitter taste in my mouth from Saturday night, but my goodness what a weekend of football! That was by far the most intense weekend of playoff games I remember.

No shortage of drama and entertainment. Bills-Chiefs rivals Chargers-Dolphins in the '81 AFC Divisional for best postseason game I've ever watched. Incredible.

Eric from Kenosha, WI

Understandably a lot of Packers talk here early this week, but can we also take a moment to acknowledge Mahomes vs. Allen is glorious?

Welcome to the new Brady vs. Manning in the AFC playoffs. They're just getting started.

Donna from Darien, WI

I think the Bills fans may be more heartbroken than us Packers fans. Wow, what a game between the Bills and Chiefs.

All four teams that fell this weekend lost in heartbreaking fashion, but there are degrees of agony, and the Bills and Packers were at the top of the scale for sure. I do feel for Buffalo fans. 13 seconds was all Mahomes had left, and the Bills couldn't stop him. 13! The decision not to squib kick will be discussed forever. And I don't want to hear about the overtime rules. The Bills allowed 44 yards in two plays covering 10 seconds. You can't ask for a better opportunity to win a game than the one they had.

Eric from Denver, CO

Considering how far the team fell below expectations in the postseason and the upcoming salary cap issues, where do the Packers go from here?

There's a ton of work to do and even more uncertainty. The Packers have to start with Rodgers and Adams. When those decisions are made, whatever they are, then constructing the 2022 team can move forward. How those first two dominoes fall will impact everything else.

Ryan from Sheboygan Falls, WI

Will Aaron Rodgers be with us next year?

You can ask this a million times, as I'm sure everyone will, over the next several weeks and my response will be the same: I don't know. I could see the answer being yes. I could see it being no.

Keith from Bakersfield, CA

Regardless if the season ended in victory or defeat, GB is at a crossroads. Bringing Rodgers back will mean sacrificing talented young players. Coming off back-to-back MVP seasons, AR will never be worth more in trade than he is now. The team has an ascendant defense and dominant O-line, with a very talented run-first HC. Much as I love watching AR play, I think it's time to focus on the next chapter of Packers football. Is the choice as stark as that?

Perhaps.

Izzi from Raleigh, NC

This one hurts more than the others. Seems like I say that every year. But this time, I think it's true. Right?

Yeah, especially with all the potential future implications surrounding it. The Packers had everything they wanted – the weather, the crowd, key players coming back – and they beat themselves. As Rodgers said, they had the team that didn't need a bunch of stuff to "go their way" this year. The 49ers did a lot of things to give that game to the Packers, and the Packers handed it right back. Just when you think you've seen every way for a season to end, another appears.

Greg from Long Beach, CA

Serenity now.

Unhappy Monday.

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