(WFRV) – For the second straight year the Packers season ended a game short of the Super Bowl. This time with a 31-26 defeat at the hands of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“I’m just pretty gutted. It’s a long season. You put so much into it to get to this point. We had our chances. We (were in a) different position than the last couple of these where we got blown out and you have a chance. They went up three scores and we got them back a couple scores. The defense came up with some big turnovers. Yeah, we had a lot of chances, but yeah overall (I’m) just pretty gutted,” said quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
There will be plenty of debate about the end of the game. Head coach Matt LaFleur chose to kick a field goal on fourth down while trailing by eight right before the two-minute warning. Then a late flag against cornerback Kevin King on the Buccaneers final drive prevented Green Bay from getting the ball back.
“Yeah, anytime it doesn’t work out you always regret it, right? But it was just the circumstances of having three shots and coming away with no yards and knowing that you not only need the touchdown, but you need the two-point. The way I was looking at it was we essentially had four timeouts with the two-minute warning, and we knew we needed to get a stop. I thought we were going to have a stop there at the end but we got called for the PI. And it didn’t work out, so I think anytime something doesn’t work out, do you regret it? Sure. But we’re always going to be process driven here. The way our defense was battling, the way our defense was playing, it felt like it was the right decision to do and it just didn’t work out,” said head coach Matt LaFleur.
The game turned in the second quarter, and early in the third. Aaron Rodgers was picked off by Sean Murphy-Bunting by midfield. A few plays later Tom Brady connected with Scotty Miller on a 39 yard touchdown to give Tampa Bay a 21-10 lead at halftime.
Green Bay got the ball to start the third quarter, but a fumble by Aaron Jones proved to be costly. Jordan Whitehead forced the ball loose, and returned to the eight yard line by Devin White. A play later Tom Brady connected with Cameron Brate on what seemed like an early back-breaker.
“There were a lot of plays in that game that could have been made, that could have changed the outcome of the game. But the ones that really hurt us the most were that play and then to come out to start the second half, had the fumble and they score to make it 28-10, that really was the big difference in the football game. You just can’t do that stuff. I blame us as coaches for putting our guys in that situation. That’s inexcusable,” said LaFleur.
The Packers were able to chip away at the deficit. Touchdowns from Aaron Rodgers to Robert Tonyan, and Davante Adams in the third quarter helped make it a five point game.
Green Bay’s best opportunities came in the fourth quarter. A pair of interceptions by Jaire Alexander got Brady and the Bucs offense off the field, and kept the Packers in the game. Ultimately, though, the Packers offense was unable to take advantage.
Meanwhile Tampa Bay was able to extend their lead with a Ryan Succop field goal to make it an eight point game yet again.
Green Bay was able to get into another goal-to-go situation, but for the second time on Sunday they were unable to capitalize. Settling for a field goal instead of going for the touchdown will be debated quite a bit.
Now the Packers head into the offseason for a second straight season after coming up a game short of the Super Bowl, but this time on their own field.
“They are all special for sure, but I think this one as much as any of them, I found some really special friendships, with Marcedes, Davante, and especially Tim (Boyle) and I have become really close over the years. Jamaal, I love Jamaal. Aaron Jones. A lot of guys’ future are uncertain, myself included. That is what’s most sad about it. Getting this far, obviously there’s going to be an end at some point whether we make it past this one or not, but just the uncertainty is tough and the finality of it all,” said Rodgers.