It didn’t take long for the emotions to catch up with T.J. Lang.
His broken foot was injured again.
The Green Bay Packers’ season was stumbling to the finish line.
If this was going to be his final game in a Packers uniform, this was about the worst scenario imaginable.
With his game over, the season practically over and his Packers career potentially over, tears flowed on the Packers’ sideline.
“it was everything combined — pain, obviously a lot of unknowns this offseason,” Lang, leaning on his suitcase to take some of the weight off his left foot, which was in a walking boot, said in the Packers’ locker room following a 44-21 loss at Atlanta in the NFC Championship Game. “I think everything hit me at once. It’s a tough, tough situation.”
Lang, long one of the NFL’s most underappreciated offensive linemen, was selected for his first Pro Bowl this season. He did it during one of the most difficult seasons of his career. Lang had offseason shoulder surgery, battled a hip injury throughout this season — surgery is set for Friday — and then broke his left foot against Tennessee in Week 10. He missed three games before returning for the final four regular-season games and the three playoff games.
Then, late in the third quarter on Sunday, Lang crumpled to the turf. His left foot was injured again, and it felt like it did when he broke it against the Titans.
“I never really gave it the time to completely heal,” Lang said. “The past six, seven games, it’s been hurting pretty bad but good enough where I could play. Today just set me back all the way to the beginning. Obviously, that doesn’t help on top of the loss.”
The emotional pain was equally intolerable. The Packers had risen from the depths of a four-game losing streak and a 4-6 record by winning eight consecutive games to reach the NFC Championship Game. Lang was a backup on the 2010 team that won the Super Bowl. For the second time in three years, Lang was a starter in the NFC Championship. For the second time in three years, he was denied his chance at starting in a Super Bowl.
“There’s so many different things running in your mind,” he said. “This magical run we’ve had the past eight games, I think it hurts that much more that we couldn’t get the job done today and give ourselves a chance to be champions. It’s a tough day, physically and emotionally. A lot of thoughts going through my head. Proud of the way this team fought, though. We were down in the dumps after 10 games but sticking together, fighting, pulling off an incredible run and getting to this point, you can’t ignore that. It’s disappointing the way today ended and the season ended. It’s just tough. Tough.”
Making matters even tougher is the uncertainty that lies ahead. Lang will turn 30 on Sept. 20. General manager Ted Thompson historically has been reluctant to re-sign aging players with injury histories. Coming off a Pro Bowl season, there’s little doubt Lang will find plenty of suitors in free agency. He’d love to return to Green Bay. The feeling, however, might not be mutual.
It was a reality that hit Lang quickly affter he hit the turf in agony.
“I’ve been here eight years. This is my home. I’ve raised my children here. I have a family,” Lang said on Monday. “I just love my brothers here, some of my best friends on this team. I love the city. I just love putting on that helmet every weekend. It’s an honor to represent this team. So, yeah, it’s definitely something that, it’s not up to me, not my call, but I think everybody here knows that this is where my home is and this is where I want to stay. So, hopefully, things will work out in the next couple of months.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.