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Packers process emotions, uncertainty with season over

Day after bitter loss not any easier

RB Aaron Jones
RB Aaron Jones

GREEN BAY – The disappointment didn't diminish overnight.

The Packers were cleaning out their lockers Monday barely more than 12 hours after their late-season run came to an abrupt and unwelcome conclusion with a loss to the Lions that cost them a playoff spot.

The emotional cocktail included regret, mixed with a splash of pride for almost salvaging a lost season, topped with emptiness at not finding out what the missed postseason opportunity might've had in store.

"I don't think many people slept last night," tight end Robert Tonyan said. "I think we're super proud of ourselves to kind of make that run and make it a possibility, but I think overall it's a frustrating disappointment too.

"The talent that we have in this locker room, to not even get in the playoffs … that's the least of our standards is get in the playoffs."

The Packers were one more win away after putting together a four-game winning streak that brought them back from the 4-8 brink. The football gods smiled on them for a month by providing all kinds of outside help, but ultimately squandering that chance blended appropriately with the numerous red-zone and goal-to-go possessions all season that stopped short of the goal line.

"Everything happened exactly how we wanted it to happen to give us an opportunity to fight for what we wanted to fight for," rookie receiver Christian Watson said, "and we just didn't get it done."

Beating themselves with dropped passes, turnovers and undisciplined penalties is a difficult sendoff, but while the players stuck together and rallied through rough times in ways that brought them closer, it all went for naught.

"It's tough," running back AJ Dillon said. "Obviously you go on that run, everything's lining up, everything's looking exactly the way you want it, but that's life sometimes. It's not always going to work out the way you want it.

"There's a lot of good things you can take from it, a lot of life lessons we can take from it, and I think if anything, you just use it as motivation into next year."

As always at this point, that next year is loaded with uncertainty. The questions start with quarterback Aaron Rodgers' future and trickle down to several veterans who also don't know what's next, some with expiring contracts and others with salary-cap concerns.

The hodge-podge of ponderings on and off the field in the coming months applies to so many. Take the case of running back Aaron Jones, arguably the offense's most dynamic playmaker.

He battled through with a banged-up body to play in every game for the first time since 2019 and second time in his career, setting a personal best for rushing yards (1,121) along the way and earning prized off-the-field honors. He also enters the offseason for the second time in three seasons on a costly fumble, and with a contract likely to be examined by the decision-makers.

Green Bay Packers players cleaned out their lockers on Monday, Jan. 9, 2023, as their 2022 NFL season came to an end.

That's not to say Jones will be the center of attention as the spring nears. Far from it. Rodgers will be.

But Jones' current snapshot, which is filled with loads of positive achievement, yet tinged with a season-ending negative and future uncertainty, is representative of the somewhat murky, big-picture cloud that hangs over where things go from here for the Packers.

"It's never how you want it to end when you're right there, you fought through so much and you're so close just to come up short," Jones said. "A little disappointed but proud of all my guys in the locker room. We fought, we never gave up. We'll be better for it in the end."

That was the sentiment following three straight 13-win seasons that for different reasons ended too soon as well. Winning five fewer games and being relegated to full-time postseason spectator has put where the franchise has been in perspective, even as where it's headed has yet to be outlined.

"Just the margin for error is super slim, it's hard to win in this league, and we're blessed to be a part of all those 13-win seasons," Tonyan said. "It kind of brings it to reality that it isn't so easy and you have to be at the top of your game all season, and we just weren't."

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