NFC North: Green Bay Packers

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Not many people know what might have been going through Aaron Rodgers' mind Saturday night, when the Green Bay Packers quarterback accepted his second NFL Most Valuable Player award at the annual NFL Honors on the eve of the Super Bowl in Phoenix.

But Brett Favre probably had the best idea.

Favre and Rodgers are among a short list of NFL players who won multiple MVP awards. Favre, who preceded Rogers as the Packers' quarterback for 16 years, won three of them. He was the league MVP for the 1995, 1996 and 1997 seasons (though he shared the third with Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders).

[+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesOn Saturday night, Aaron Rodgers became the ninth NFL player to win multiple league MVP awards.
Three years after he won it for the first time, Rodgers collected his second MVP on Saturday.

"I think every guy who's had a chance to win even one, for that matter, you can never take that for granted," Favre said in telephone interview this weekend. "I think Aaron is well-deserving. I see no reason why he shouldn't win more. But I think the second and the third one were equally as gratifying."

Regardless of what Rodgers does the rest of his career, his place in history was secured when he became just the ninth player to win multiple MVPs.

Rodgers joined five-time winner Peyton Manning, three-time winners Jim Brown, Johnny Unitas and Favre, and two-time winners Joe Montana, Steve Young, Kurt Warner and Tom Brady as the only players to win multiple MVP awards.

"It's a great list. To be mentioned with those guys is an honor," Rodgers said after accepting the award, which was presented by Manning. "Like I said up there, Peyton, he set the gold standard -- him and Tom Brady, as far as quarterback play in my generation. And Peyton's won it five times -- that's incredible. But twice is nice. It just means that there's been some consistent play, and that's what I've prided myself on, and a consistent approach every week and good preparation and making the plays that my teammates expect me to make."

The Packers are only the second team with two players who won multiple MVPs. The San Francisco 49ers -- with Montana and Young -- are the other.

There's reason to think Favre is right: Rodgers could win more.

At 31, he has said several times he believes he can play between seven and nine more seasons. He has five more seasons on his current contract. He's the age Unitas was when he won his second of three MVPs. Only four of the multiple winners won their second MVP at a younger age than Rodgers. Those were Brown (22), Favre (27), Manning (28) and Warner (30).

Manning won his third, fourth and fifth MVPs at ages 32, 33 and 37.

Rodgers said that if he wins the award next year, he hopes he's not at the ceremony to accept it, but rather, in the team hotel preparing for the Super Bowl.

"Maybe I'm sending in a video message," Rodgers said.
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Before he said anything else late Friday night, Brett Favre wanted to know this: What were the chances his old general manager, Ron Wolf, gets elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame the next day?

Favre had just emerged from two days of hunting in the woods of Alabama with Steve Hutchinson, his former teammate from his two seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, and had not read or heard any of the scuttlebutt surrounding Saturday's Hall of Fame vote.

Foremost on Favre's mind was Wolf's possible induction. Wolf, the former Green Bay Packers general manger, is a finalist in the newly created "contributor" category.

"Man, I sure hope it happens," Favre said during a telephone interview. "Of course, I'm biased to Ron."

And then one of the NFL's all-time greatest talkers – and, of course, all-time best quarterbacks – spent the next 20 minutes telling stories about Wolf, the man who traded a first-round draft pick to the Atlanta Falcons in early 1992 to bring Favre to Green Bay.

That was one of the many moves that Wolf made to resurrect a downtrodden franchise that had not sniffed an NFL championship in nearly three decades.

"People don't think about it now because I played 20 years and had a great career, but he stuck his neck out to go get me," Favre said. "To give up a first-round pick for a guy who was drafted in the second round, who didn't play and was definitely unproven, and my goodness to hand him over to Mike Holmgren, an unproven guy as far as a head coach is concerned. That was his first move, and it ended up being a tremendous move. [Holmgren was] the greatest coach I ever played for at any point in my career. And I think getting me – and I'm not saying getting me because I thought I was great – just the risk was an unbelievable move, one that no one could see but him."

[+] EnlargeMike Holmgren and Ron Wolf
Getty Images/Matthew StockmanFormer Packers GM Ron Wolf, right, helped bring a Super Bowl and staying power to the organization.
Favre wasn't even sure who Wolf was when the phone rang at his parents' home in Kiln, Mississippi, on Feb. 11, 1992. He had just hung up with June Jones, then the Falcons' offensive coordinator. It was Jones who broke the news to Favre that he had been traded to the Packers. Favre and his brother, Scott, were standing in the family kitchen still stunned over Jones' phone call when Wolf called.

"I had heard of Ron Wolf, but I don't even know if I knew he was in Green Bay at that point," Favre said. "He said, 'Look, I'm the GM in Green Bay and we just traded for you and I want you to know that we're very excited about having you and having you lead our team.'

"From Day 1, there was one thing about Ron: He was always ultra-positive with me. Of course, Holmgren, as a coach you see things a little different. You want to win football games with whoever you see fit, but he knew that Ron wanted me to play. I always felt this sense of comfort that no matter what, Ron's got my back."

Favre
The Packers, who went 101-57 (including playoffs) and won one Super Bowl in Wolf's tenure as general manager, went 9-7 in that first season with Wolf, Holmgren and Favre, who became the starter four games into that season. It was just the Packers' fourth winning season since their last NFL championship under Vince Lombardi in 1967.

In Favre's eyes, the change really began the next offseason.

"Just as importantly, he made it cool to come to Green Bay, no pun intended, and that was because he got Reggie White," Favre said. "You know as well as I do – and no one thinks about it now because everybody would love to go to Green Bay and play – getting Reggie White brought serious credibility to coming to Green Bay. It wasn't just a place to be shipped off to in order to finish your career.

"Look, the players ultimately have to play at some point. You stick your neck out there for them, you pay them lots of money, you give up draft picks for them, and there are so many debacles that you can point to in the history of this league that didn't work. But yet his did. He can't win ballgames for anyone, but he can set the table, and that's what he did. I just think when you look at where Green Bay is today – [current GM] Ted Thompson's another one, he learned from the best in Ron and I think Ted's done an excellent job – there's just a filter-down effect from what he did that makes him unquestionably deserving of a Hall of Fame induction."

2015 Hall of Fame finalist: Ron Wolf

January, 30, 2015
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Even if Ron Wolf's career included only his 10-year run as general manager of the Green Bay Packers, his impact on the NFL would have been monumental.

 What he did in Green Bay had a long-lasting impact. He saved a franchise that was going nowhere. In between the Packers' last Lombardi-era championship in 1967 and Wolf's first full season in 1992, they had only three winning seasons.

After Wolf hired Mike Holmgren as head coach and traded for quarterback Brett Favre in early 1992, the Packers didn't have another losing season until 2005 -- four years after Wolf had retired.

"I think it's one of the great resurrection jobs this league has ever seen," said Bob Harlan, the former Packers president who hired Wolf on Nov. 27, 1991. "We had 24 years of mediocre football, and we had a fan base that was very upset and a fan base that was thinking we were never going to succeed again."

Wolf's impact on the Packers was so great that in 2006 Harlan put his name up on the ring of honor in the newly renovated Lambeau Field, something that previously had been reserved only for those in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

"The fact that we were successful on the football field in the late 1990s was a big factor in us passing the stadium [renovation] referendum," Harlan said. "If we didn't have that stadium, I don't know where this franchise would be. It totally stabilized the financial future, and Ron and the success we had was a big part of that."

But there's more to Wolf than just his decade-long run with the Packers, which included two Super Bowl appearances (with one victory). He spent 23 years helping to build the Raiders' roster that won nine division titles and played in eight AFL/AFC Championship Games and three Super Bowls. At age 37, he was hired as GM of the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Wolf and Bill Polian are finalists in the contributor category.
GREEN BAY, Wis. – It might be more than a week before we know coach Mike McCarthy's plan to fix the Green Bay Packers' dreadful special-teams unit.

McCarthy would not offer specifics on Wednesday, when he held his season wrap-up news conference, other than to say everything will be scrutinized before any decisions are made.

All the assistant coaches, including embattled special-teams coordinator Shawn Slocum, were given this week off.

"It's important to evaluate," said McCarthy, whose offseason work was delayed by the unexpected death of his younger brother last week. "I obviously haven't had that opportunity. So we'll look at everything. We'll look at every job description, every job responsibility, performance – mine included – and we'll look to make changes."

McCarthy said it usually takes him a week to conduct his end-of-season meetings and evaluations with his coaching staff.

[+] EnlargeJon Ryan
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsJon Ryan's fake-punt touchdown pass in the NFC Championship Game was another special-teams breakdown for the Packers.
There's reason to think McCarthy could keep Slocum, but possibly in another capacity or with other changes to help his special teams, which was ranked last in the Dallas Morning News' annual rankings.

McCarthy and Slocum have a long history, having first worked together at the University of Pittsburgh in 1990, and McCarthy has fired only one coordinator in his nine seasons as head coach and none since he parted ways with Bob Sanders, who ran the defense from 2006-08.

Last offseason, the Packers fired special-teams assistant Chad Morton and hired veteran coach Ron Zook to help Slocum. They also assigned another member of the staff, Jason Simmons, to assist with special teams.

A poor season on special teams, which included having seven kicks blocked in the regular season, became worse in the NFC Championship Game loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Two plays – the Seahawks' fake field goal in the third quarter and their onside kick in the fourth quarter – turned out to be major turning points.

McCarthy discussed the fake field goal at length on Wednesday but was not asked about the onside kick, which went off the hands of tight end Brandon Bostick, who was supposed to block on the play, and was recovered by the Seahawks with 2:07 left in regulation.

At the Super Bowl this week, Seattle punter Jon Ryan, who played for the Packers from 2006-07, said the key to pulling off the fake field goal was to dupe linebackers Brad Jones and A.J. Hawk. Jones sold out hard for the block, and Hawk was left to decide whether to play Ryan as a ball career or drop into coverage against eligible lineman Garry Gilliam, who caught the 19-yard touchdown pass from Ryan with 4:44 left in the third quarter for Seattle's first points of the game.

It appeared to be a case of Seahawks special teams coordinator Brian Schneider outdueling Slocum.

"Fakes are risky," McCarthy said. "And Jon Ryan can run; we know that. I think from the responsibility standpoint, pursuit and so forth, I think it would've been a foot race for the first down. We did not execute our particular responsibilities as best we can, and they had a better play call than what we had called.

"Special teams has been no different than offense and defense," McCarthy added. "It comes down to healthy scheme, knowing your opponent. You're looking for the personnel matchups and ultimately executing the fundamentals. Our special-team errors have been critical more because of the timing of it. It definitely showed up in the Seattle game."

McCarthy said Wednesday that continuity on his coaching staff is important but added that "there's devils involved with that, too. You have to fight to complacency."

"We'll look to adjust or change and whatever we need to if we think it’s going to help us be better," McCarthy said.

That process starts now.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The biggest task for Mike McCarthy -- after he decides whether or not to fire special teams coach Shawn Slocum -- might be to figure out how to keep the Green Bay Packers' overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game from ruining his team for the future.

There may no more important task facing him this offseason.

[+] EnlargeMike McCarthy
Jeff Haynes/AP Images for Panini"The only way you benefit from that experience is you have to be able to learn from the victories and defeats," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said at his season-ending news conference.
"The 2015 football team will not bear the burden of what happened in 2014 or before that," McCarthy said Wednesday during his half-hour news conference to wrap up the season. "That's not the way we operate. We won't internalize the things that go on outside our building. We're going to create another opportunity to build the best football team that we can in 2015, and we're going to go for it."

The magnitude of the defeat -- one that quarterback Aaron Rodgers said after the game is "going to be a missed opportunity that we'll probably think about for the rest of my career" -- has not diminished in the 10 days since the 28-22 overtime loss occurred.

The details of the collapse -- from the fake field goal the Seahawks ran for a touchdown to safety Morgan Burnett's decision (at Julius Peppers' behest) to go down rather than return his fourth-quarter interception to a pair of three-and-out possessions with a 12-point lead in the final six minutes to the botched onside kick recovery and so on -- have been rehashed ad nauseam.

That's not likely to change between now and when training camp opens next season.

"It will be a positive," McCarthy said. "Every game you compete in is a unique experience, and the only way you benefit from that experience is you have to be able to learn from the victories and defeats. That's the mind-set of an alpha; that's the mindset of a champion. That will never change."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Coach Mike McCarthy will speak to reporters this afternoon for the first time since his news conference immediately following the Green Bay Packers' loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game.

He was scheduled to do so last Wednesday, but his season-ending news conference was postponed following the unexpected death of his brother in Pittsburgh.

Before McCarthy's news conference, he issued the following statement:

"On behalf of the entire McCarthy and Grumbine families, I would like to thank all those who have offered their condolences and support since my brother Joseph passed last week. The outpouring of support we have received from the Pittsburgh and Green Bay communities, the Packers family and fans, as well as the NFL community, has been overwhelming and greatly appreciated. Thank you for the love and respect that you have shown our families, and may God bless you all."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Veteran punter Tim Masthay struggled down the stretch last season, and the Green Bay Packers are bringing in some competition.

They signed first-year player Cody Mandell on Monday, the team announced.

Mandell spent part of last offseason with the Dallas Cowboys. The former University of Alabama punter played in one preseason game last summer before he was released just two weeks into training camp. He punted three times against the San Diego Chargers, averaged 43.7 yards and placed all three punts inside the 20.

At Alabama, where he first joined the team as a walk-on in 2010, he averaged 42.6 yards per punt in 52 career games. He was a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award as a senior.

Masthay, who has been the Packers' punter since he beat out Australian Chris Bryan in 2010, is under contract through the 2016 season as part of the four-year, $5.465 million extension he signed in 2012. The Packers' career leader in both gross (44.3 yards) and net average (38.3 yards), Masthay’s net average in 2014 was the lowest of his career at 37.0, which ranked 30th in the NFL.

He struggled late in the season, when he averaged just 32.9 net yards per punt over the final eight games of the regular season. The Packers have not had another punter on their roster since Bryan was released at the end of the 2010 preseason.

This does not mean Masthay's time in Green Bay is running out.

In fact, it is probably just a combination of two things: to get a look at Mandell and also to give Masthay some competition. That helped get kicker Mason Crosby turned around in 2013. After Crosby's career-worst season in 2012, when he made just 63.6 percent of his field goals, the Packers put Crosby through a head-to-head competition in training camp. Since then, Crosby has made 85.7 percent of his field goals in the regular season.
GREEN BAY, Wis. – When Clay Matthews was fined $22,050 for his blindside block on Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson in Sunday's NFC Championship Game, it closed the door on the Green Bay Packers' fines from the 2014 season.

There were a total of six known fines for actions on the field, not including uniform violations. The total from those fines was $88,197.

There also were at least two known uniform fines – one to Julius Peppers and one to Matthews, both for wearing unapproved shoes.

We have to write "known fines" because the league does not volunteer all information on fines. Rather, they will confirm inquiries about specific players.

Here's a list of the known Packers' fines this season:
  • Matthews: $22,050 for a blindside block vs. Seattle in NFC Championship Game
  • T.J. Lang: $8,268 for unsportsmanlike conduct vs. Dallas in NFC divisional playoff game
  • Sam Barrington: $16,537 for roughing the passer vs. Detroit in Week 17
  • Barrington: $16,537 for horse-collar tackle vs. Buffalo in Week 15
  • JC Tretter: $16,537 for leg whip vs. Philadelphia in Week 11
  • Andrew Quarless: $8,268 for fighting vs. the New York Jets in Week 2
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- This week, we looked at the Green Bay Packers' upcoming free agents on both the offensive side of the ball and the defensive side and noted that general manager Ted Thomson has some difficult choices to make.

He's also facing some decisions about players under contract for next season.

Not that the Packers are hurting for salary-cap space -- they already have $18,361,430 in available room for 2015, according to ESPN Stats & Information salary data -- but they could pick up a lot more room if they decide to release some players already under contract.

If the Packers make salary-cap related moves, they usually do so before free agency begins in March.

Here's a look at three possible salary-cap casualties:

A.J. Hawk, LB
2015 salary-cap charge: $5.1 million
Cap savings if released: $3.5 million
Hawk
Why he could be released: In his ninth season, the former first-round pick saw his role greatly reduced late in the season. He played only 31.1 percent of the defensive snaps over the final seven games (including playoffs). In the first 11 games, he played 94 percent of the snaps. He has only the 2015 season remaining on his contract. If the Packers released him, they would have to absorb $1.6 million -- the remaining proration from his last signing bonus -- on their salary cap, but they would wipe out his $2.45 million base salary and bonuses of $800,000 (roster) and $250,000 (workout). Age and a lack of speed appears to have caught up to Hawk, who turned 31 this month. However, injuries could have been a factor. Although he denied he was hurt, quarterback Aaron Rodgers, one of Hawk's best friends on the team, said several times during the season that Hawk was battling health issues.

Brad Jones, LB
2015 salary-cap charge: $4.75 million
Cap savings if released: $3.75 million

Jones
Why he could be released: Like Hawk, Jones' role was significantly reduced as the season went on. He played every snap in the season opener, then missed three games because of a quadriceps injury. When he returned, he played only 15.9 percent of the defensive snaps the rest of the reason. Those snaps came mostly as the lone inside linebacker in the dime package, but he was benched from that role before the NFC Championship Game and didn't play a snap on defense in that game. He has only the 2015 season remaining on his contract. The Packers would wipe out his $3.25 million base salary and $500,000 in bonuses by releasing him. They would have to count only $1 million -- the remaining proration from his last signing bonus -- on their cap.

Julius Peppers, OLB
2015 salary-cap charge: $12 million
Cap savings if released: $7 million
Peppers
Why he could be released: Peppers had a productive season with 9.5 sacks, six forced fumbles and two interceptions, including playoffs, while playing 73.8 percent of the defensive snaps. But the three-year, $26 million contract he signed last March was structured so that the Packers could move on after one year and save cap space if they desired. On the flip side, if they keep him, it will be costly. His base salary for 2015 would be $8.5 million, and he has another $1 million in bonuses. That $9.5 million would be wiped off the books if he were released, and the Packers would have to count $5 million in remaining signing bonus proration (or they could designate him as a post-June 1 cut and count $2.5 million on 2015, and the other $2.5 million on the 2016 cap).
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- For a short time on Thursday morning, the Twitterverse was abuzz over the idea that the Seattle Seahawks had lined up in an illegal formation on their onside kick in Sunday's NFC Championship Game.

Dean Blandino, the NFL's vice president of officiating, put an end to that.


It's right there in Rule 8, Article 3, Section C, which states: "At least four players of the kicking team must be on each side of the ball. At least three players must be lined up outside each inbounds line, one of whom must be outside the yard-line number."

So the Green Bay Packers have nothing to gripe about, at least not from an officiating standpoint on that play.

The play will go down as one of the most agonizing in Packers playoff history given that they almost certainly would have advanced to the Super Bowl had they secured the ball. Instead, it went through the hands of tight end Brandon Bostick -- who was supposed to be blocking on the play to allow sure-handed receiver Jordy Nelson to field it -- and the Seahawks recovered and scored the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It's not as long of a list as last year, when the Green Bay Packers had 19 players headed toward free agency, but general manager Ted Thompson still has plenty of decisions to make about which players to try to keep and which ones to let walk.

Thompson may already have made up his mind about some. Others will come down to price. But this much is certain: Not all of the 14 upcoming free agents (11 unrestricted and three restricted) will be back with the Packers next season. Last year, eight of the 19 returned.

Here's a look at the Packers' free-agents-to-be on offense (to be followed later by the defensive players):

Unrestricted

Bulaga
Bryan Bulaga, OT: This was an important year for the former first-round pick, who missed the last half of 2012 (hip injury) and all of 2013 (knee), to show he can stay healthy. And he did, although it looked iffy early on when he sustained a knee injury in the season opener. However, he missed only one start (Week 2 vs. the Jets) and was part of an offensive line that started the same five players in 17 of the 18 games (including playoffs). Despite the injury history, he's still young (he will turn 26 in March). He allowed just four sacks, two of which came in one game (at Miami). The Packers already have big money invested in their guards, Josh Sitton ($4.85 million base salary in 2015) and T.J. Lang ($4.2 million), so it could be tough to keep another high-priced player on the line. 2014 base salary: $2,565,500.

Randall Cobb, WR: Back in November, a high-ranking NFL executive said the feeling around the league was there's no way Cobb would hit the open market. Since then, the price to keep him has gotten higher. Cobb finished with 91 catches for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns -- all career highs. Jordy Nelson’s extension last summer averaged $9.75 million per season. Cobb may not get that much, but it could be close. 2014 base salary: $812,648.

Matt Flynn, QB: The Packers brought back Flynn as an insurance policy after he went 2-2 as a starter last season during part of the time Aaron Rodgers was out because of his broken collarbone. But the Packers didn't need Flynn this time. He played only in mop-up duty except for two meaningful series in the Week 17 game against Detroit after Rodgers left briefly because of his calf injury. If Flynn returns, it likely will be under another one-year deal. 2014 base salary: $730,000.

Kuhn
John Kuhn, FB: At a dying position, Kuhn still managed to make a significant impact, especially late in the season when the Packers tried to run the ball more, and was selected to the Pro Bowl. However, he's no longer a sure thing in short-yardage situations. Still, he's a Rodgers favorite and could come back under another one-year deal. 2014 base salary: $855,000.

Scott Tolzien, QB: After a strong showing in the preseason, outplaying Flynn, he spent the entire season as the No. 3 quarterback, marking the first time since 2008 the Packers opened the season with three quarterbacks on the roster. Coach Mike McCarthy invested nearly two years in Tolzien, so it's unlikely the Packers would let him walk without seeing if he could handle the No. 2 job. 2014 base salary: $645,000.

Restricted

Don Barclay, OG/OT: After starting 18 games over the previous two seasons, mostly in place of Bulaga, Barclay was expected to be the utility lineman who could play either inside or outside. But he tore the ACL in his right knee in early August and missed the entire season. Still, he likely will be tendered at the minimum level and given another chance to compete for a roster spot. 2014 base salary: $570,000.

Jarrett Boykin, WR: Perhaps the most disappointing player on the Packers' offense this past season, Boykin had as many dropped passes (three) as he did receptions (three for 23 yards). That followed a 2013 season in which he caught 49 passes for 681 yards and three touchdowns. He lost the No. 3 receiver spot to rookie Davante Adams in the first month of the season. Given that the minimum restricted free-agent tender will be around $1.5 million, it's possible the Packers won't even make him an offer. 2014 base salary: $570,000.

Green Bay Packers season report card

January, 21, 2015
Jan 21
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Was this the start of another run of great chances to get back to the Super Bowl or something that could begin a downward spiral?

How the Green Bay Packers come back from the stunning end to this season, the NFC Championship Game collapse against the Seattle Seahawks, will alter how history views the 2014 season.

"It's going to be a missed opportunity that we'll probably think about for the rest of my career," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said after the 28-22 overtime loss to the Seahawks. "We were the better team today, and we played well enough to win, and we can't blame anybody but ourselves."

Can the Packers get back to this position next season?

"Yes, we can," veteran safety Morgan Burnett said.

If so, then perhaps Rodgers and his teammates won’t have to think about it for the rest of their careers.

Team MVP: Forget team MVP. Rodgers should be (and probably will be) the NFL's MVP. Rodgers threw just five interceptions in the regular season to go with 38 touchdowns. His touchdown-to-interception ratio of 7.6 was more than double what second-best Tony Romo's was, at 3.78. At home, Rodgers was unbeatable, going 9-0. In those games (playoffs included), he threw 25 touchdowns without an interception. His last interception at Lambeau was 418 passes and 36 touchdowns ago. His performance against the Cowboys in the divisional playoff game, playing on a badly strained left calf, was one for the ages. His season-long production was even more remarkable considering he had only two consistent weapons in the passing game, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb.

Best moment: R-E-L-A-X. On Sept. 23, Rodgers went on his weekly radio show on ESPN Milwaukee and said: "Five letters here just for everybody out there in Packerland: R-E-L-A-X." Rodgers added, "Relax. We're going to be OK." At the time, the Packers were two days removed from a 19-7 loss at the Detroit Lions that dropped them to 1-2. That one word served as an unofficial theme for the season. In the next game, Rodgers threw four touchdowns in a 38-17 road win over the Chicago Bears that began a stretch in which the Packers won nine out of 10 games and 11 out of their last 13 to close the regular season. They won the NFC North for the fourth straight season.

Worst moment: Take your pick, but most of them happened in the final minutes of Sunday's NFC Championship Game. You can start with Seattle burning the Packers for a fake field goal. Then there were the back-to-back, three-and-out possessions (and some ultra-conservative play calls) that began with 6:53 and 5:04 remaining. The Packers led 19-7 to start both of them. Then there was the botched onside kick recovery in which backup tight end Brandon Bostick, who was supposed to be blocking on the play, went for the ball and couldn't corral it. And finally the defense allowing touchdowns on Seattle's last two possessions of regulation and in overtime. If you want to look at another game, try Week 15 in Buffalo, where Nelson dropped a potential touchdown pass in a 21-13 loss that cost Green Bay home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

2015 outlook: At age 31, Rodgers still has plenty of good years left, so the Packers' championship window would seemingly remain open for a while. However, there are some key issues general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy need to address. First, Thompson must find a way to re-sign Cobb, who would be a free agent in March. Then, he needs to find another weapon or two for Rodgers. McCarthy must fix the special teams and defensive issues that have plagued the Packers since their Super Bowl win four years ago. This is a team that has shown it's the class of the NFC North, but is not in the class of recent NFC Super Bowl participants.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Back in September, Aaron Rodgers had just the thing to calm down Green Bay Packers' fans concerned over the team's 1-2 start. Four months later, he couldn't come up with anything comparable to his R-E-L-A-X message to help ease the pain of Sunday's overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game.

Rodgers
"I don't have any catchy, spell-out phrases at this point," Rodgers said Tuesday on his ESPN Milwaukee radio show. "Everybody's hurt and disappointed and frustrated and shocked, Packer fans and players and coaches alike. It's tough. It's a long year and I know the fans out there, you guys put a lot into it as well. You guys live and die emotionally with our every play, and we appreciate you guys so much.

"We're hurting just like you guys are, and resolute in our determination to get back out there and have a better result next year."

Rodgers talked at length about Sunday's loss during his 36-minute radio show, and he didn't try to downplay the significance of the defeat.

He admitted that he can't help thinking that had any one play gone differently, he might be preparing right now for his second Super Bowl appearance.

"We all play the what-if game," Rodgers said. "It's a terrorizing game because it can really mess with you mentally. Of course, you go through the different plays throughout the game. A lot of times, we're sitting here and thinking, you know, we've lost some playoff games where, yeah, we probably needed to make a few more plays — more than one. You look at the game on Sunday, really one play here or there could have made the difference. Could have been a play in the first quarter or a play in the last quarter."

Some of those plays can be attributed to Rodgers himself. He threw two interceptions, although on one he was convinced he had a free play, and his passer rating of 55.8 was the second lowest among his 11 playoff starts.

"For sure, it's disappointing," Rodgers said of his performance. "It's a great defense but missed a couple throws and then had the couple miscommunications. Yeah, it's frustrating. We were so close. Just a play here or there that would have sealed it."

How will the Packers bounce back?

Even Rodgers isn't sure.

"That's the million-dollar question right there," Rodgers said. "You have to be able to refocus. It's getting away, whether physically or mentally, and kind of refreshing your mind and then getting ready. Every year you get older in the league, you know the chances become fewer. That's why it stings probably a little bit more. I'd love to play, like I've said, another seven or eight, nine more years, but you just never know how your body's going to hold up, how the team's going to hold up and your opportunities you're going to have.

"We had a great opportunity right in front of us to do something special. That's what makes it hard. I remember Ray Lewis talking about losing that AFC Championship, I believe it was to New England, and then how that kind of spurred them on the next year to come back and win it. That's obviously the goal, but so much has to happen between now sitting here in January and getting back to this point. You realize it's a tall task, but we'll be up for it when we get back together."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Few quarterbacks, if any, are better at taking advantage of free plays than Aaron Rodgers. He thought he had one in the first quarter of the Green Bay Packers' NFC Championship Game loss on Sunday when he saw Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett cross the line of scrimmage.

So he took a shot and threw to rookie receiver Davante Adams in the end zone, but cornerback Richard Sherman picked it off.

Rodgers
Since there was no flag for on offside penalty, so the interception stood.

Two days after the game, Rodgers remained convinced the officials missed the call.

"I think it's pretty evident on the film," Rodgers said Tuesday on his ESPN Milwaukee radio show.

A review of the game film shows Rodgers has a legitimate gripe.

It potentially cost the Packers points because it was a third-and-10 play from the Seahawks' 29-yard line. At worst, an incompletion there would have set up a 47-yard field goal by Mason Crosby, who was 5-for-5 in the game. A penalty would have given the Packers a third-and-5 play from the 24 yard line.

It was one of two interceptions Rodgers threw in the 28-22 overtime loss.

After the game, he explained them both.

"Felt like we might have had an offsides on the first interception," Rodgers said at the time. "Corey [Linsley] snapped it early -- I figured it was a free play -- and Davante was the only route that was going in the end zone. Sherm made a good play. The second one, just miscommunication between Cobb and I."

Aaron Rodgers pulls out of Pro Bowl

January, 20, 2015
Jan 20
12:30
PM ET
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- When Aaron Rodgers said last week that he had 120 minutes left in him this season with his injured calf, he surely wasn't talking about the Pro Bowl.

Rodgers
Two days after the Green Bay Packers' overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Sunday's NFC Championship Game, Rodgers pulled out of the Pro Bowl, citing his calf injury. Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton was added in his place.

Rodgers said after Sunday’s loss that he "felt it the whole game" when asked about his injured calf, although he appeared to be more mobile as the game progressed.

"The fourth quarter, I just kind of let it go," Rodgers said in his post-game press conference. "I need to push it and run a little bit and just kind of let it go."

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