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Packers processing tough ending, strong memories of 2019 season

Building another locker room as cohesive as this one will be no easy task


GREEN BAY – As the Packers finished their final team meeting of the season Monday and began cleaning out their lockers, a combination of finality, uncertainty and camaraderie hung over the annual proceedings.

The season is done, ending agonizingly close to a Super Bowl. But who will or won't be back to make another run at it? And can that group approach the closeness of this one?

As for the finality part, the players take a lot of pride in what they accomplished under a first-year head coach and with a roster that underwent major change. Outside expectations were exceeded while internal belief remained a constant.

But one game away is never easy to process.

"You definitely leave on a decent note, knowing able walk away with 14 wins, you're able to get all the way to the NFC Championship Game," said right guard Billy Turner, one of the positive new additions in 2019. "But with that being said, it's a (rotten) feeling, leaving with a loss and not being able to get over the hump."

To some, the fact Sunday's loss to San Francisco came in convincing fashion, 37-20, doesn't really factor into the emotional equation. No matter how it played out, it was an opportunity they didn't seize.

"Honestly, whether we lost a game like we did yesterday or we lost a game by two points, it's all going to feel the same," said veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis, who got his third chance in the playoffs in a 14-year career. "Once you get into the postseason, the goal is to get to a Super Bowl and win a championship. Once you fall short of that, it's all going to feel the same in the morning."

What won't be the same is the roster moving forward, because every offseason inevitably brings personnel changes. That's where uncertainty comes in.

Lewis is one of a baker's dozen (13) pending unrestricted free agents on whom the Packers will be making contract decisions, a list whose most prominent names include right tackle Bryan Bulaga, cornerback Tramon Williams, kicker Mason Crosby and linebackers Blake Martinez and Kyler Fackrell, among others.

It's impossible to say right now, with the start of free agency nearly two months away, who will be staying or going. But however it shakes out, the challenge for the 2020 Packers will be to build a squad as tightly knit as this one was.

From Head Coach Matt LaFleur on down through the veteran leaders and the youngest players, no one denied the role the team's chemistry and togetherness played in their success.

"The camaraderie this team had starting last April and what we were able to build in such a short period of time with a lot of new pieces will always be special," Crosby said. "This locker room, the way guys played for each other and came together so quickly, the chemistry that we had, I'll definitely remember this team forever.

"It's tough whenever it ends. You want to get to these moments. You want to be in the playoffs, but whenever it ends so abruptly … you build for something so long and it ends so quickly, it's tough."

The memories will matter, and from the sounds of it, the locker room dynamic will be as big a part of those memories as the victories themselves. How the Packers "find what 2020 now will be," as Crosby put it, will start sometime in the spring.

Replicating what 2019 was may not be realistic, but those who'll be back will know the camaraderie they had, so the reference point should serve the team well.

"Everyone jived well together, everyone meshed well," Turner said. "What we created was something special and something that's not ever going to be forgotten."

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