GREEN BAY – The day after, the Packers were still dealing with a level of emotional shock.
"It's tough because you don't plan for it," receiver Allen Lazard said Monday, regarding the finality of the prior day's 31-26 NFC Championship defeat to the Buccaneers that ended the Packers' season one game short of the Super Bowl for a second straight year.
"You kind of feel lost in a sense with like what to do next and everything because in a lot of our minds, I think speaking for a lot of people in this building, we were very much set on going down to Tampa and playing in that game."
It's a different day after this year, with the media only getting to speak to a couple of players via Zoom rather than talk with several while they clean out their lockers. Chalk it up to another abnormality in a pandemic-framed season, but the sentiments shared by Lazard and center Corey Linsley seemed to speak for many.
"It stings just because of the way it happened," Linsley said of the loss, which saw the Packers, due to a litany of mistakes, fall behind by 18 points early in the third quarter, only to rally but still fall short. "It sucks. It sucks losing in the NFC Championship three or four times or whatever it was.
"Obviously we just ran out of time there at the end. It is what it is."
Linsley, a pending free agent whose future is uncertain, has now been a part of four losses in the NFC title game, dating back to his rookie season of 2014. The aftermath has never gotten easier.
On the defensive side, big-play breakdowns in the first half and a frustrating third-down penalty with the game on the line late in the second half will stick with the players for a while.
On offense, two turnovers that led to 14 Tampa Bay points, two goal-to-go series that did not find the end zone, and two three-and-outs after defensive takeaways will make for a long offseason mentally.
"Everyone thinks that they probably could've done something better at some point in the game that would've had a better result," Lazard said. "But the truth is we're sitting here today."
Lazard didn't spare himself, taking blame for not breaking up a pass to him that was intercepted, even though he was held by the defender on the play, with no flag thrown. He also admitted to not being on the same page with QB Aaron Rodgers on first-and-goal from the 8-yard line with just over two minutes left on a throw that sailed behind him.
Linsley confessed the offensive line, which had played outstanding all year despite several injuries and moving parts, also wasn't at its best. The late-season absence of All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari had been handled well through two games but was felt against Tampa Bay's pass rush, with Rodgers getting sacked a season-high five times.
"We didn't get the job done up front," said Linsley, lamenting the big deficit but lauding a comeback everyone believed they could pull off. "We've shown this resiliency all year to never quit. We have that to be proud of, but it doesn't make the loss hurt any less."
The reality in the NFL is the roster will change, along with the locker-room dynamics, as players' careers climb and decline. That makes every season its own entity, and while the ending was tough to stomach, over time the memories will turn less bitter.
"I'll remember how proud I am for this team for the different adversities that we fought through this year – the injuries, the triumphs, the glorious season that a lot of people had," Lazard said. "Obviously, very disappointed with the results yesterday, but very lucky and humbling to be able to play with such great teammates and be coached by great coaches and being in a great organization.
"I'm going to remember a lot from this year and hopefully we'll be able to build some more memories, as well."
Lambeau Field hosted the NFC Championship Game between the Green Bay Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021.