With all of Aaron Rodgers' talk about energetic goal setting, positive thinking and manifesting his dreams into reality this year, a Packers victory at Lambeau Field and a Super Bowl berth felt like a certainty. In what will likely be his third MVP season, Rodgers played like a man on a mission. He felt unstoppable at times, and his teammates picked up on that confidence and carried it with them.
Though Rodgers approached this season with a different attitude, ultimately the Packers achieved the same result. They lost their fourth of four NFC title game appearances since their last Super Bowl appearance in 2010. Four conference championship appearances is more than most franchises can speak of in the last decade, but when it was Tom Brady standing on the NFC championship stage postgame, headed to his 10th Super Bowl, while Rodgers has only played in and won one, one major question loomed over Lambeau. When will Rodgers get back to the Super Bowl? Will he ever? What does Rodgers do from here?
"I don't know, I really don't," Rodgers said in his postgame press conference. "A lot of unknowns going into this offseason now. I am going to have to take some time away for sure and clear my head and see what is going on with everything, but it is pretty tough right now, especially thinking about the guys that may or may not be here next year. Change is the only constant in this business. It is really tough to get to this point— really, really tough. There is only one bye week, it is a grind just to get to this point, and that makes the finality of it all hit you like a ton of bricks. It is a gutting feeling in your stomach."
Earlier in the press conference, Rodgers spoke more about the uncertain futures of different teammates. "I love Jamaal [Williams], Aaron Jones, a lot of guys' futures that are uncertain, myself included," he said. "That is what is sad about it most. Getting this far, obviously there was going to be an end at some point, whether we make it past this one or not. It's just the uncertainties are tough and the finality of it all."
"So many futures are a little gray right now," he added. "It's definitely sudden."
This was not the kind of answer anyone expected from Rodgers, who is under contract with Green Bay for three more years. It's possible he didn't mean anything by his noncommittal answer. But the ambiguity should be noted, now that we are firmly in an era of quarterbacks controlling their own destiny. See: Deshaun Watson, Matthew Stafford. Whether it was intentional or not, in his postgame press conference, Rodgers opened the door to a future that doesn't include Green Bay in it. And if the Packers hadn't drafted Rodgers' successor in the first round last April, it would be easy to write off his comments as simply an emotional response in the heat of a brutal loss.
Head coach Matt LaFleur took the podium after Rodgers and was asked if his starter will be back next season and what the future holds. "I sure as hell hope so," LaFleur said. "The guy is the MVP of this league. He is the heart and soul of this football team, so, hell yeah, he better be back here. He is our leader."
It seems unlikely that Green Bay would entertain trading Rodgers or that Rodgers would want to play elsewhere right now. The quarterback seemed the happiest he has been in years this season, as he and LaFleur established a trust level and comfortability in the system this season that is difficult to achieve with a veteran quarterback. After reading Rodgers' postgame comments, one scout reached out to say how he is not sure how Rodgers could play elsewhere next season. But as wild as it seems, his postgame comments can't be ignored. Rodgers went out of his way to point out that his own future is uncertain.
And if we are going to read more into things Rodgers has said, let's rewind to last week, in his Wednesday press conference. Rodgers said, "My future is a beautiful mystery."
That could be classic existential Rodgers, or that mystery could apply to a future that is coming as quickly as this offseason.
Guard Lucas Patrick sounded choked up when he answered a question about whether he felt like the team had let down its veteran quarterback, but Patrick talked like the Packers would have another shot with him. "I can't thank Aaron enough for what he has done for my career," Patrick said. "Wanted to go out there and win it for him. Couldn't get it done, and we have to reload and come back next year and hopefully do it for him. That man is a good leader and a good person. Definitely wanted to win it for him."
Everything went right for Green Bay last week in the divisional round against the Rams. Rodgers left the game with a clean jersey and faced virtually zero pressure from the Rams defense. He didn't turn the ball over, and he was in the perfect position to fall onto a loose fumble that could have been a costly turnover.
But the NFC title game was a different story. Tampa Bay sacked Rodgers five times for 32 yards. Rodgers threw an interception, and head coach Matt LaFleur made the controversial choice to kick a field goal on fourth down when down by eight points with 2:09 left. Green Bay had uncharacteristically struggled in the red zone all game, but the field-goal choice was odd, given that Rodgers is a quarterback who can make plays out of nothing.
It must be hard for Rodgers to see another veteran quarterback, another GOAT, who has won it all six times and now has another chance to do it again after uprooting himself from the team he spent his entire career playing for. But it also might represent a blueprint.
Rodgers ended his press conference with the attitude of gratitude that he has preached all season. "I will always be thankful for this season," he said.
Read into that what you will.