The Green Bay Packers' 2003 season may have ended in an instant -- when Philadelphia Eagles kicker David Akers nailed a 31-yard field goal in overtime -- but the pain of Sunday's 20-17 loss in NFC divisional playoff action will take significantly longer to go away.
Monday, the Packers returned to Lambeau Field for an end-of-the-season team meeting. And as players cleaned out their lockers afterward, the hurt and the frustration and the shock of the previous day's loss was unmistakable.
"I thought we were in Houston," center Mike Flanagan said, referring to the site of Super Bowl XXXVIII, Feb. 1. "The mentality in this locker room and the coaching staff was just what it needed to be, that we were going to win (at Philadelphia), and we were going to win next week (at Carolina) and we were going to be in Houston.
"Usually guys maybe start packing up stuff (before a playoff game). Nobody even thought about it. Nobody had any doubt. We were planning on being here and working on Wednesday."
Instead the Packers head home earlier than that, some to Green Bay residences, some farther away, but all to an offseason that came sooner than expected.
"I think we had a lot of talent and we didn't maximize on that and it's hard," said wide receiver Robert Ferguson, who accounted for both Packers touchdowns Sunday with catches of 40 and 17 yards.
"I felt like this was our year and we didn't make it happen."
The Packers had plenty of opportunities Sunday against the Eagles, and there are a handful of moments that players said they would turn over and over again in their minds this offseason, from the run on fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line that was stopped short, to the drive that reached first-and-goal at the 7-yard line and produced only a field goal, to the pass on fourth-and-26 that the Eagles converted for a first down.
"We did everything we could to lose that game," Flanagan said. "We gave that game to them. We played our asses off, we did everything we could, but when it mattered, when it was crunch time, we didn't do it."
The divisional playoff loss was the third in six seasons for the Packers, and although there's a consensus inside the locker room that this is a team continuing to improve, the 2004 season is a long way off.
The Packers haven't been to an NFC championship game since their Super Bowl season of 1997, but were just an Akers field goal away from going back.
"As you get older, you realize that those chances are pretty special and to squander one like we did yesterday is obviously tough," left guard Mike Wahle said. "This group isn't going to be together again as it is this year and we've had a good run of it.
"It's been a real interesting year. It's been exciting in a lot of ways. It's sad for everyone it has to end."