Before Sunday's devastating overtime loss at Arizona, there was Brett Favre's overtime interception in the NFC championship game loss to the Giants. There was the fourth-and-26 loss at Philadelphia, when destiny seemed to be on the Packers' side. There was the Jerry Rice non-fumble and Steve Young's last-second touchdown pass to Terrell Owens at San Francisco. There was the Super Bowl loss to Denver.
To find a silver lining, we go back to two of the Packers' most painful playoff losses.
The first is the 1960 NFL championship game. The upstart Packers, in their second season with Vince Lombardi as coach and with Bart Starr settling in as their starting quarterback, won their last three games to finish 8-4 and win the Western Division. That got them to the championship game, where they lost 17-13 at Philadelphia. In one of the most famous endings in NFL history, the Packers' Jim Taylor was tackled at the Eagles' 8-yard line. Linebacker Chuck Bednarik laid on top of Taylor as the final seconds ticked away.
The second was the Packers' 38-27 loss at Dallas in the NFC championship game following the 1995 season. It was the third consecutive year in which the Packers' season ended at Dallas, but at least this time, they were competitive. After 27-17 and 35-9 losses to the Cowboys the previous two years, Robert Brooks' 1-yard touchdown reception from Brett Favre put the Packers in front 27-24 after three quarters. But just like the Packers had no answers for Kurt Warner on Sunday, they had no answers for Emmitt Smith in that game. He rushed for 150 yards and three touchdowns, including scores of 5 and 16 yards as Dallas rallied in the fourth quarter. Favre, who had won his first league MVP award, threw three touchdown passes but his fourth-quarter interception killed a chance to put the Packers back in front.
That leads to Sunday's remarkable 51-45 loss at Arizona. Aaron Rodgers led an offense that put six touchdowns on the scoreboard, which should be enough. His 422 passing yards obliterated the franchise playoff record. He rallied the team from 21 points behind. He did practically everything possible to win the game by leading the team to five consecutive touchdowns in the second half, but he'll be haunted by his first-quarter interception and his overtime bomb that whistled over an open Greg Jennings that could have won the game — just like Favre did on the first snap of overtime at Denver midway through the 2007 season.
Rodgers ducks under pressure.
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
The good news is Rodgers is a rising star at 26 years old. His future is impossibly bright. His two turnovers notwithstanding, his big-game credentials have been solidified.
When Starr lost to the Eagles, he was 26. While nobody else might have known it, Lombardi knew he had his field general. The Packers won the next two championships, then won three straight from 1965 through 1967. In 10 career playoff games, Starr threw 15 touchdown passes and only three interceptions.
When Favre lost in the playoffs for the third consecutive year at Dallas, he also was 26. The Packers won Super Bowl XXXI the following year, when Favre claimed his second straight MVP and cemented his status as a future legend by throwing five touchdown passes and one interception in the playoffs.
Certainly with the way the Packers closed this season, they should be championship contenders next season. If they can fill the obvious holes, they'll be right at the top of the preseason pecking order. In the yo-yo climate of today's NFL, the only certainty is there is no certainty.
"The thing about a team is it's never the same team the next year," he said. "That's the tough part, and it's going to be a tough flight back."
Still, history is on his side — not that history means a hill of beans on a football field. But he'll be 27 next year, He's had a taste of the playoffs, and that taste isn't enough.
"Our goal is to win the Super Bowl," Rodgers said. "That's the reason you show up in March and put in the time and put in the hours, because that's everybody's goal."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and 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 twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.